ENGRAVED BY JOSEPH MULDER (1658 - 1728?),  jan PIETER SLUYTER (1675 - 17??)
 and daniel stoopendaal (1672 - 1726)

Banana      Capsicum

Black and Red Cricket      Groote Atlas Moth

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 publication.

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 when 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



BY  JOHN CURTIS (1791 - 1862)

Dytiscus marginalis      Orchesia undulata

Dascillus cervinus      Papilo podalirius

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 annual volumes 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.

Eventually, over 40,000 parts 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 middle-class society. 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.

The work 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.

The outstanding 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.

Requests 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.

The 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 given.
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 opposite leaf.


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 Square, London

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 be.


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 name. 

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.

(2) 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 Museum Victoria 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 insect specimens.


TEXT & Illustrations by JAMES DUNCAN (1804 - 1861)


Red Admiral

Painted Lady & Small Tortoiseshell

     High Brown and Queen of Spain Fritillaries

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 website provided us with an invaluable colour reference resource frequently used in the restoration of these prints.


The Blue Fly, Robert Hooke from Micrographica

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.

R e s t o r e d P r i n t s . c o m