The McDermott Library’s copy of Flora Londinensis is an exceptionally clean first edition that is virtually free from transfers.
Printed in 1777, it features more than 400 hand-colored engraved plates. No more than 300 were produced, and the
McDermott volume is one of the few surviving complete copies. It also marks the library's one-millionth acquisition to its holdings.
One of the great names in botany, William Curtis (1746-
99), was a pharmacist, botanist and entomologist. He set
up a botanical garden of British plants at Bermondsey in
1771. Two years later, he was appointed demonstrator of
plants at the Chelsea Physic Garden.
Although the stated purpose of the Flora Londinensis is
to depict plants growing within a 10-mile radius of London,
the work is much more comprehensive in scope than its
title suggests, for it embraces most of the English flora. As
a result, it should be regarded as the first color-plate national
flora. It is an impressive work with handsome engraved
illustrations and wonderfully rich coloring. It contains
some of James Sowerby’s first botanical illustrations as
well as the work of William Kilburn, Sydenham Edwards,
Francis Sansom and perhaps other unsigned illustrators. By
the 1790’s, Sowerby was considered to be the finest botanical
artist in England.
Flora Londinensis was not a financial success and was
cut short for lack of subscriptions. No more than 300 of
any single signature are believed to have been printed. The
work, nonetheless, was appreciated by Curtis’ fellow naturalists.
Because the book normally was put under considerable
pressure during binding, many copies show color and
ink transfers. The McDermott Library edition was not
pressed and is virtually free of transfers.