METAMORPHOSIS INSECTORUM SURINAMENSIUM OFTE VERANDERING DE SURINAAMSCHE INSECTEN
BY MARIA SIBYLLA MERIAN (1647 -1 717). FIRST EDITION, PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR AND GERARD VALAK,
ILLUSTRATED AND COLOURED BY THE AUTHOR AND DOROTHEA MERIAN
ENGRAVED BY JOSEPH MULDER (1658 - 1728?), jan PIETER SLUYTER
(1675 - 17??)
and daniel stoopendaal (1672 - 1726)
This book caused a Europe-wide sensation when first published in 1705. Nothing
like it had been seen before and certainly prior to its publication no one
had taken the trouble properly to examine insect specimens and record them
accurately. It set the standard for entomological illustration for next 120
years until the advent of John Curtis's British Entomology (see below).
Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium was the result of a two year journey,
commencing in 1699,
to Surinam by Maria and her daughter Dorothea. They
went at the invitation of the Governor General with their expenses funded by
a grant from the City of Amsterdam.
Maria's poor health (malaria)
forced their return to Amsterdam in early 1701, where they completed work on
the text and 60 illustrations. Maria oversaw the entire printing and
publication process from start to finish. She and her daughter, Dorothea
coloured the engravings themselves, but neither was an experienced colourist
and the work fell short of the highest standards of the day. A good
proportion of the restoration work has been devoted to reducing
the effects of their somewhat clumsy application of colour which is evident throughout the
The original watercolours (on
vellum) in the British Royal Collection have
provided a valuable reference in respect of the colours of the more obscure
insects. Being on vellum these images have not discoloured to the same
extent as other contemporary works on paper and, apart from one or two extreme cases
of obvious colour change (some leaves now showing as bright blue for example), they
provide indisputable evidence of the brightness of colour that prevailed
these prints were originally published.
These original watercolours are the same size as the
engraved print plates, 14 x 10½ inches, but are laterally inverted (mirror imaged),
indicating that a tracing-transfer method of engraving was used. The first
edition prints are on sheets usually
bound and trimmed to approximately 19 x 13 inches. Complete original copies
of the first edition are extremely rare and very much sought after by
collectors and museums. We are very fortunate in having had
unrestricted access to one of the finest complete, surviving copies.
Maria Sibylla Merian was born in
Frankfurt in 1647, the daughter of a Swiss engraver, Mattheus Merian. Her
father died in 1650, soon after which her mother married Jacob Marrell, a
successful painter of flowers. Her step-father fostered Maria's interest in
entomology and in particular the life cycles and metamorphosis of moths and
butterflies. The general belief at the time was that months and butterflies
spontaneously generated from fermenting mud and were, therefore, "dirty" and
not worthy of investigation. In 1675 Maria published her first book, Neues Blumenbuch
(New Book of Flowers) . Her full life story is readily available in the public domain, so
enough said here other than that she died in January 1717 at the age of 69
ENTOMOLOGY: BEING ILLUSTRATIONS AND DESCRIPTIONS
OF THE GENERA OF THE INSECTS FOUND IN GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND
LONDON 1824 - 1839 BY JOHN CURTIS (1791 - 1862)
ILLUSTRATED, ENGRAVED, COLOURED AND PUBLISHED BY THE
This superb publication is without doubt the finest 19th
century work on the subject and probably the finest such work ever produced. Published in 16
each comprising 12 monthly parts issued from January 1824 to December 1839.
Each of the 192 parts comprised 3 or more (usually 4) plates with their attendant texts.
Of the initial 146 subscribers, 87 committed to
purchase the entire work. The total
cost in today's terms was roughly £5,000. Eventually, only 31 subscribers
stayed the course, purchasing the entire work directly from Curtis.
Nevertheless, by December 1829 Curtis was obliged to commence a reprint of parts
1 - 30 as additional demand from later subscribers and casual purchasers exceeded
his initially anticipated requirement of around 200 copies.
were sold at a cost of 4/6d each coloured, or 3/6d uncoloured. A great many were sold to
casual buyers mainly interested in the more showy plates that were destined to be framed and set
upon study walls and as a result have long since been lost or destroyed.
Those sold to entomologists would have experienced a demanding life as this
publication was the main reference work for a period of over 75 years during
which time entomology and entomological taxonomy were something of a craze within
Consequently, complete sets of the entire work comprising the full initial print run
are extremely rare with only three copies having been positively identified in
the last 105 years.(1)
It was, and still is, also universally acknowledged as being a masterpiece of
the engravers' and colourists' art; described by the
eminent French naturalist Georges Cuvier as the "paragon of perfection".
One only has to look at a single illustration drawn at random from the work
to appreciate the exquisitely accurate detail, fine rendering and breath-takingly
precise hand colouring. This is
due in part to the particularly fine and expensive J. Whatman and Rye Mill
laid paper used
for the plates.
The copper-plate engraved and hand-coloured plates are just 8 x 5 ¾ inches (202
x 146 mm) in size. The limbs of some insects and much of the finer detailing
within the botanical elements are less 1/64th of an
inch (0.4mm) across; yet all are precisely and accurately coloured and finished.
In many instances Curtis engraved to a resolution of more than 300 lines to the
inch with the finer lines frequently being much thinner than a human hair. Due to
printing wear on the soft
copper plates, the reprints (identifiable by an underscore to the plate number)
are often lacking this super-fine detail.
comprises a total of 770 plates (numbered 1 to 769 plus 205*) each with
a minimum of two text pages that contain the precise technical
description and a more personal narrative of when and where found. Many
species are described for the first time. Almost all plates include an
illustration of an appropriate or associated plant or fungus as
carefully rendered as the main subject.
quality of the prints made them a prized target for uncaring print
dealers and collectors to the extent that many of the originally complete
sets have long since been broken up. One of the very rare, original and complete survivors(1)(2)
is unconditionally available to us and so we are able to offer the
complete range of plates. This set also happens to be the only known
surviving, complete set of proofs, so the quality of the originals is
second to none and this is carried over into the prints that we can offer.
for particular plates are encouraged. The associated technical and
anecdotal text will also be made available for downloading from these
pages. As the majority of plates also include an exquisitely rendered
plant, the more attractive of these are available
via the Flora gallery
as separate, plant-only prints or plant and insect prints
less the technical dissection line drawings.
original drawings, 778 in total, were considered to be
so important that they were purchased by Lord Rothschild who then donated
them to the
Natural History Museum ("NHM") in London where they remain to this day.
These were at one time available on the NHM website but
surprisingly the NHM had incorrectly catalogued them under "Botanical", possibly
in the mistaken belief that they were produced for Curtis's Botanical Magazine
(by an unrelated author, William Curtis).
The Smithsonian Institution Library has
very generously elected to make their
copy available on-line.
Sadly, this copy is not in prime condition, exhibiting extensive text off-set, ink creep and shadow blocking to most
images (damp storage in the past, perhaps?). It includes reprints and has been incorrectly bound
making it difficult to find specific plates, 117 of which appear to be
absent. Kings College, London has recently made their copy available, but
sadly, this seems also to be in poor condition, which is not surprising
considering that it has spent a great part of its life exposed to the
devastating effects of old London's seriously polluted atmosphere. Happily, it
appears to be free of reprints and copies and is correctly bound and complete.
Curtis's 1835 notes to his
customers and their book binders make for an interesting diversion:
Mr. Curtis has the pleasure to announce that this Work will be completed
in 4 more volumes.
For an explanation of the terms used in this Work, the reader is referred
to Kirby and Spence’s Introduction to Entomology, Samouelle’s Useful
Compendium, and Stewart’s elements of Natural History.
Purchasers are recommended to have their volumes put in Boards only, until
the work is completed, when a systematic arrangement of the whole will be
Binders are requested not to beat the Volume, until it has been published
a sufficient time to prevent the ink being transferred by pressure, and on
no account to damp the Book, as it will cause the Plates to stick to the
In consequence of the heavy expenses incurred in the publication of
British Entomology, the Author is desirous of disposing of the original
drawings, amounting to upwards of 500. The last eleven years he has
devoted to the execution of them; the Insects have been drawn from British
specimens; in the dissections he has delineated nothing but what he has
himself observed; and the Plants have been executed from living specimens.
Of these there were only four sets, one of which is not subscribed for.
Gentlemen who may wish to possess the Drawings or Proofs may learn the
price, &c., by applying to Mr. Curtis, 57 Upper Charlotte Street, Fitzroy
Curtis mentions the "heavy expenses" of
production. In a note to his close friend James Dale he records that the cost of colouring of the prints "exceeded £3,000". In today's terms this is the
equivalent of more than £350,000 (US.$425,000). When examining any plate in
detail it is easy to see just how well spent this staggering sum turned out to
Short biography(3): John Curtis was born in Norwich,
England in 1791, the son of an engraver (father) and horticulturalist (mother),
he initially joined a local law firm but soon his main
interest in entomology took control and had him supplementing his income by
collecting insect specimens for wealthy collectors. At the same time he
developed his extra-ordinary artistic talent, encouraged by his father who also
taught him copper-plate engraving. His stay with the law firm was short-lived as
he was soon able to put his training and talents to good use illustrating the best selling
Introduction to Entomology by Kirby and Spence (published 1815-26).
He could then afford to move to London where he quickly became acquainted with
the leading naturalists of the day. Soon afterwards he commenced his main work,
British Entomology. His reputation by this time being sufficient to
enable him to attract enough wealthy subscribers to give him the confidence to
embark upon the entire engraving, printing and publishing process in his own
Curtis had a troubled relationship with the the natural
history establishment whom he thought to be petty-minded and obstructive.
Nevertheless, he published his enormous Guide to the Arrangement of British
Insects in 1829 and Farm Insects in 1860. The Guide catalogued and scientifically
described 10,000 insects and was a landmark of scientific endeavour. How he
found the time and energy to prepare and publish the former work concurrently
with the production of British Entomology is a mystery.
He was a member of the Linnean Society from 1822 to 1833 and was president
of the Royal Entomological Society of London for two years commencing 1855.
His dedication to minute detail had a profound effect upon his eyesight in later
life, to the
extent that for the last six years he was completely blind. He was granted a civil
list pension of £100 for his major contribution to the study of agricultural
pests. This was later raised to £150 when his eyesight failed him completely. He
lived out his last years at Belitha Villas, Islington, London as a "Gentleman
Annuitant" attended by his second wife Matilda (Née Durrant) whom he married in Norwich
in 1839, she was 30 years his junior.
As a result of the extremely fine detail found in these prints and because
we use very high resolution techniques we normally offer the quite small images
(originally just 8 x 5 inches) slightly enlarged so as to sit comfortably within
an A4 sheet ( 8¼ x 11½ inches). There is no resulting loss of definition and
this makes the lovely fine detail more readily visible to the unaided eye.
(1) After extensive research
commencing with Sherborn and Durrant in 1911, only nine complete sets of British
Entomology have so far been
located, the last of which only came to light in
February 2017. However, all but three of these have been assembled from partial
sets, reprints and later lithographed copy plates.
Original subscriber: James Wadmore of 40 Chapel Street, Paddington, London. A
beautifully and systematically bound set between Morocco quarter calf and onagar
shagreen leather covers.
(3) Further details of the author and his work are
available at the excellent
Watson and Dallwitz website with further reading at
which also owns his diaries, one of the complete, original sets and a major part
of Curtis's life-time collection of some 85,000 British
THE NATURALIST'S LIBRARY: ENTOMOLOGY
- British butterflies
EDITION, VOLUME XXIX AND PART I VOLUME XXX, PUBLISHED LONDON 1855
Illustrations by JAMES DUNCAN
(1804 - 1861)
SERIES EDITED BY SIR WILLIAM JARDINE (1800 - 1874)
The Naturalist's Library was the brain-child of William
Jardine, an amateur naturalist who, conveniently, was also of independent means
by way of being a Scottish baron. The concept was that of a library comprising a
series of small, affordable books to describe the natural world in
semi-scientific terms readily understandable by an educated lay person. Each
volume to be lavishly illustrated by the finest wildlife artists of the day with
the plates presented in full colour. No mean objective when considering that
the entire work eventually comprised some 1,300 individual illustrations, each of
which was to be hand-coloured.
Jardine engaged Lizars, the Edinburgh and London printers
and publishers together with a select group of professional artists that
included Edward Lear, James Duncan and others of similar merit. The books are
small, octavo with pages just 7¼ by 5 inches, necessitating some extraordinarily
detailed and precise artwork and colouring. Lizars was well up to the job and
the books sold extremely well. Inevitably there was some cost-cutting and this
is most obvious in the way that many of the pigments used in the illustrations
have now lost saturation and changed to completely unexpected
tones. Unfortunately, good quality paper was extremely expensive in the
first half of the 19th Century and so whilst of reasonable quality the pages
were not really large enough to accommodate many of the images and it is
frequently the case that significant portions are missing, trimmed off in the
binding process. Fortunately, the later editions suffer to a lesser extent both
in terms of image loss and paper quality, so it is from the second edition that
our butterfly images have been sourced. Even so, reference to several examples
was frequently necessary in order to recreate a complete image.
Forty separate volumes were published over 10 years
commencing in 1833. The British Butterflies volume was so much in demand that a
Second Edition was published in 1855 using the original plates but with some
minor modifications to backgrounds to lessen the losses in binding. The
images are often described as engraved but having examined in very close detail
over 300 original plates it is quite clear that they were aquatints on steel or
more probably steel plated copper. The quality of the hand colouring is
beyond reproach. In spite of image detail sometimes bordering on the
microscopic, it is rare to find seriously over-coloured areas or missed detail.
We are indebted to Peter Eeles whose superb
provided us with an invaluable colour reference resource frequently used in the
restoration of these prints.
MICROGRAPHIA OR SOME PHYSIOLOGICAL OBSERVATIONS OF MINUTE BODIES
MADE BY MAGNIFYING GLASSES WITH OBSERVATIONS AND ENQUIRIES
BY ROBERT HOOKE
M.A., F.R.S. PRINTED BY JOHN MARTYN & JAMES ALLESTRY
PUBLISHED BY THE ROYAL SOCIETY, LONDON 1665.
Robert Hooke was a founder member of the Royal Society, London (in 1660). He
was appointed Curator of experiments in November 1661 when aged just 26 years,
and it was in this capacity that in 1663 he set about exploring the world of the
minute and microscopic making use of a Galileo type of microscope made for him
by Christopher Cock of London
(now at The National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington DC., USA..).
The Royal Society arranged for his journal to be published with the drawings
being copper-plate engraved to the highest standard of the day. Interestingly,
some of Hooke's cosmological observations were also included in a book entitled
and about microscopy! The book, Micrographia, was published in 1665 and
was an immediate best seller. Hooke had investigated everything he could find
and place under the lens, from fossils and coal to bluebottle flies and fleas.
His descriptions of insect body parts and plants cells set a new standard of
scientific description, not least because he wrote in English rather than in
Latin thereby making the work accessible to those outside an elitist academia.
His cosmological observations were not ground-breaking but they made an
interesting diversion to those who easily tired of lice, fleas and flies. The
fact is, star-gazing was all the rage in the mid 17th
Century and there may have been a certain cynicism in including this subject in
a book that might not otherwise have sold so readily.
Surviving copies of Micrographia, like
most pre-18th Century paper books, are
generally in poor condition with the paper having toned to very deep ochre and
the inks having faded and migrated to a great
extent. Some of the illustrations were in a fold-out format which inevitably
means that over the centuries they have become severely creased, torn, stained
and rubbed. Much of the restoration work on both The Blue Fly and The Great Belly'd Gnat was dedicated to
removing evidence of these major faults.
All restored images are copyright. All rights reserved.