Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Sp Coll Periodicals

One of the greatest scientific periodicals of all time, Curtis's Botanical Magazine was first issued in 1787 and is still being published to this day. It is the oldest periodical in existence featuring coloured plates, of which more than 11,000 have now been produced. The work of many acclaimed botanical artists, its volumes provide an exceptional pictorial record of floral fashions and plant introductions in Great Britain over the past two centuries. The journal was founded by William Curtis (1746-1799). Designed to portray ornamental and foreign plants, its first issue consisted of three hand coloured plates accompanied by brief letterpress descriptions; the plates were drawn 'always from the living plant, and coloured as near to nature, as the imperfection of colouring will admit'. It was an immediate success. Many renowned botanists and artists have been involved in the journal's subsequent production. In 1826, William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) took over the editorship. Hooker was Professor of Botany at Glasgow University (1820-1841) until becoming Director of Kew in 1841. A botanist of great ability, he was also a skilled draughtsman: the plate for Justica Carnea shown here is based on one of his drawings. The specimen from which the drawing was taken came from the botanical gardens in Glasgow.

Production of the magazine was plagued by economic difficulties throughout the nineteenth century thanks to the expense of the plates. In 1921 the magazine was saved from extinction when H. J. Elwes bought the copyright and presented it to the Royal Horticultural Society which agreed to continue publication. Incredibly, the plates were all hand coloured until as late as 1948 when a shortage of colourists forced the periodical to adopt photographic reproduction.

For more images and background information on this book, see the Special Collections October 2004 book of the month article.

Flesh-coloured Justicia

Previous page ; next page