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© Georita Harriott 2005

 

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Curtis's Botanical Magazine
A short history

The Botanical Magazine, later called Curtis's Botanical Magazine, and usually known affectionately as Bot. Mag. was founded by William Curtis in 1787. In the original preface to the first part, published on February 1st, Curtis wrote that it was produced in response to the to "the repeated solicitations of several ladies and gentlemen, subscribers to the author's Botanic Garden" for "a work in which Botany and Gardening, or the labours of Linnaeus and Miller, might happily be combined", and further expecting that the subscribers should "wish to become scientifically acquainted with the plants they cultivate". The first part contained three plates, hand coloured engravings of Iris persica, Echinacea purpurea and Eranthus hyemalis, and the Magazine was an instant sucess, soon reaching over three thousand subscribers.

Curtis himself was the son of a tanner in Alton, Hampshire who trained as an apothecary and became in 1773, Praefectus Horti and demonstrator at the Apothecaries' garden in Chelsea, now in the Chelsea Physic Garden. The first illustrators were William Kilburn, James Sowerbury and later, Sydenham Edwards. After William Curtis's death in 1799, Dr John Sims, who had studied in both Leiden and in Edinburgh, became editor and under his guidance the magazine became more scientific and the name became Curtis's Botanical Magazine. Sims relied on experts for the descriptions of many of the new species illustrated, and several, such as William Herbert, Dean of Manchester, an expert on the Amaryllidaceae, also provided the paintings for the engraver.

In 1827 William Hooker, then Professor of Botany at Glasgow, became editor and so began an association with the Hooker family, after 1841 with Kew, when Hooker became the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Hooker brought with him from Scotland a young artist, W. H. Fitch, who became the main illustrator until 1878 when he resigned after mounting disagreement with Sir Joseph Hooker, son of Willliam and then also Director of Kew. Fitch was incredibly proficient and prolific, initially producing paintings for the engravers, later becoming an accomplished and prolific lithographer himself.

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