Lot 11
  • 11

Banks, Joseph

15,000 - 25,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Banks, Joseph
  • Banks' Florilegium: A Publication in thirty-four parts of seven hundred and thirty-eight copperplate engravings of plants collected on Captain James Cook's First Voyage Around the World. London: Alecto Historical Editions and the British Museum [Natural History], 1980-1990.
  • ink, paper
35 boxes [including Supplement], broadsheet folio (785 x 606 mm).
743 copper-engraved plates in titled window mounts, color printed "à la poupée" in up to 17 colors with additional watercolor touches from the original eighteenth-century copperplates (18 x 12 in.; 457 x 305 mm), engraved by D. MacKenzie, G. Sibelius, G. Smith and others after T. Burgis, J. Miller, J.F. Miller, F.P. Nodder, S. Parkinson... The supplement engravings being modern replications (the original 5 plates were stolen in 1973).
Plates mounted in Somerset mould paper mats with letterpress captions and separated by loose tissue guards and housed within linen-backed tan board portfolios. Letterpress broadsides of title-pages, list of engravings, and method of production in each portfolio. Green buckram folding cases, printed paper labels on upper boards and spines.
[Together with:] Catalogue of Banks' Florilegium. London: 1990. Folio (552 x 381 mm). 8 uncolored engraved plates numbered in pencil 21, 121, 221, 321, 421, 521, 621 and 721. Green cloth, morocco spine lettered gilt. 
[With]: Banks' Florilegium's Prospectus, Subscription form and Publishing timetable. 


The Morgan Library and Museum

Catalogue Note

The epic story of this publication involves many people and spans a period of over 200 years. Between 1771 and 1784, 743 copperplates were engraved to the finest detail under the close supervision of Joseph Banks, who personally funded the project for a sum of over £7000. Daniel MacKenzie, G. Sibelius, and Gabriel Smith were the principal engravers, producing nearly three-quarters of the total number of plates; sixteen other engravers completed the balance. A set of proofs was struck in 1784, but formal publication never reached fruition in Banks's lifetime. His failure to publish has been long a subject of speculation, but it is most likely that the depressed economy of the 1780s discouraged him from entailing the staggering expense of so ambitious a project. Shortly before his death in 1820, Banks bequeathed his herbarium and library - including the copperplates - to the British Museum where they have remained readily accessible to scholars and scientists. In 1905, with the approval of the Museum trustees, James Britten completed his limited edition of 300 copies entitled Illustrations of Australian Plants, printing the plates from lithographic stones prepared from the eighteenth-century proofs on that subject. In 1973, thirty engravings from each of the main geographical areas were printed in black-and-white under the erroneous title of Captain Cook's Florilegium. During publication of this work, five of the original copperplates were stolen but would be reworked for the Alecto edition from the original proofs by Master banknote engravers from the Bank of England.

The Alecto edition, a monumental contribution to the graphic Arts of the 20th century and "a debt magnificently discharged to the memory of Banks, to Solander and Parkinson and to their engravers" (The Times). In 1979, Alecto Editions signed an agreement with the Museum trustees to produce an edition of up to 200 impressions of the plates. Although initially conceived as a monochrome publication, the work was ultimately printed in color directly from the plates. The technique, known as "à la poupée", derives from a method developed by Johannes Tayler in the 17th century and revived by Pierre-Joseph Redouté in the early 19th century. The involved process of inking with a rolled up "dolly" of cotton tarlatan, printing, and cleaning the plates can take upwards of three hours for each impression. The first two parts, published in an edition of 110 copies, were completed in 1980; by 1988, 650 of the 743 engravings had been finished. The balance of the plates and the index were accomplished in 1990. The trustees decided that no further impressions will be taken from the plates from this date for a period of fifty years. In practical terms, a second edition employing the same printing technique is exceedingly improbable. "There can be very few things more exciting for a publisher than the opportunity to bring to completion a piece of history. And when that history involves two of the great men of the 18th century and one of the epic voyages of discovery of all time one can only marvel at one's good fortune" (J. G. Studholme, Editions Alecto Limited).