About the Banks' Florilegium Copperplate Engravings

 The Florilegium in original cloth-backed portfolios contained within dark-green, cloth-covered Solander boxes by G. Ryder and Co. Ltd.  The dust-proof Solander boxes are from Dr. Solander's original design.

Banks' Florilegium is a collection of copperplate engravings of plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander while they accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage around the world between 1768 and 1771.

Banks' and Solander's specimens were studied aboard the Endeavour by the botanical illustrator Sydney Parkinson. He made 674 detailed drawings of each specimen with notes on their colour, and completed 269 watercolour illustrations before dying of dysentery after the Endeavour left Batavia. When they returned to London in 1771, Banks employed five artists to create watercolours of all of Parkinson's drawings, and 18 engravers to create 743 copperplate line engravings from the completed watercolours at a considerable cost. The engraving work stalled in 1784, and the Florilegium was not printed in Banks' lifetime. On his death in 1820 he bequeathed the plates to the British Museum.

The first complete full-colour edition of the Florilegium was published between 1980 and 1990 in 34 parts by Alecto Historical Editions and the British Museum (Natural History).  The edition was limited to one hundred numbered sets, with an additional ten sets Hors Commerce for the two publishers, three Exhibition Sets and three sets of Printers’ Proofs. The hundred numbered sets were fully subscribed.

The first volume was issued in 1980, with the final 'Catalogue' volume appearing in 1990. The appearance of the final volume, and the completion of this most ambitious artistic and scientific enterprise, was described thus in the The Book Collector: 'It is now just over ten years since the great scheme to print the Florilegium began: ten years later, and 100 sets of 738 plates, each print individually coloured, have come into existence. It is a triumph on many scores: a triumph of imagination, to conceive such an enterprise; a triumph of aesthetic sensibility, to realize that plates originally intended to be printed in black could be rendered in colour with such magical beauty, yet truth to nature; a triumph of technical skill, to restore the tarnished plates and print them with unerring precision, maintaining the same high standard from first to last [...]; a triumph, above all of tenacity to bring such a colossal enterprise [...] to a final successful conclusion' (p.9).

The engravings were printed using a 17th-century technique known as à la poupée  (i.e. by applying up to 17 different colours to the plate with a cotton ball, and then adding further colour if necessary with a brush); colour accuracy was checked against Parkinson's notes.  Each engraving took from one week to two months to proof.

The plate-marks are virtually uniform in size: 18 x 12 inches (457 x 305 mm), and the paper is Somerset mould-made 300gsm, each sheet watermarked 'AHE' and produced specially for this edition by the Inveresk Paper Company. The sheet of paper on which the image is printed measures 28½ x 21 inches (724 x 556 mm), and each of the engravings is protected within a titled, double-fold sheet of the same acid free paper which has been cut to form a window mount. Every print includes watercolour embellishments added by artists working directly from Banks' own notes.

Each engraving is embossed with the chops (signatures) of the two publishers, AHE and BM (NH) (for the Natural History Museum), the Welsh Dragon of the Master Printer,  the copyright symbol and date.

The Plate and Edition number (83/100) together with the initials of the printer responsible for the particular print, are recorded in pencil. 

What quality can be expected from an AHE Print?

The Florilegium plates are unique because Banks insisted that every botanical detail should be cut into the copper plate, so that even when printed in black the impressions could be used for scientific study. Every turn of a leaf or twist of a stem is determined by the width and depth of the engraved line. This gives the Florilegium plates unparalleled levels of detail.

Will you get new stock?

No. We have only one of each, Edition number 83/100. The Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), to whom Banks bequeathed the plates, have undertaken not to allow any new printing from the plates before 2040. In practice it is extremely unlikely that anyone will print a second edition.

How did you acquire your Edition 83/100?

Of the 116 sets of Banks' Florilegium printed, 3 were printers' proof sets (of which number 1 is at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), 3 were to be used for exhibition purposes, 10 were hors commerce (of which number 7 was split, when 120 plates from it were sold by Sotheby's, London in 1988 to benefit the Banks Alecto Endeavour Fellowship, and numbers 9 and 10 went to The British Museum, Natural History), and 100 were for sale (of which 43 went to institutional collections worldwide and 19 parts of set number 83 were sold by Sotheby's, New York, 12 December 1995, lot 195).  Reference from christies.com here

Will I receive a Certificate of Authenticity?

No. The Banks' Florilegium was originally published and sold as a collection, therefore individual certificates of authenticity were never issued by the Publishers.

To check the authenticity of your engraving, look for the AHE watermarked paper, the size of the plate: 18 x 12 inches (457 x 305 mm), and the paper is Somerset mould-made 300gsm. The sheet of paper on which the image is printed measures 28½ x 21 inches (724 x 556 mm), and each of the engravings is protected within a titled, double-fold sheet of the same acid free paper which has been cut to form a window mount. Each engraving is identified by a blind embossed stamp on the recto, recording the publisher's and printer's chops (ie: their signatures), the copyright symbol and date. The initials of the individual printer, the plate number and the edition number are recorded in pencil.

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