Nuttall, Thomas, and François André Michaux. The North American Sylva; Or, A Description of the Forest Trees of the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia, Not Described in the Work of F. Andrew Michaux. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1841.
One of the collections I have been working on cataloging is a collection of books printed in color in the Americas between 1800 and 1910. (I have a forthcoming article about this collection in the Spring 2013 issue of Art Documentation.) The Audubon previously discussed is also in this collection, as are many other notable books printed in color. Many books (like the Audubon) that deal with science and natural history were printed in color, and were printed using a variety of methods. Engravings, etchings, and several types of lithography are represented in the collection.
The use of engraving for color illustrations waned with the advent of etching and lithography but some later examples still used this method. Michaux’s North American Sylva is a prime example of this, with a captivating history as well. Michaux’s study of trees, co-issued with Nuttall’s Sylva…Not In The Work of Michaux not only stands as a late example of color printing using engravings, it also is indicative of the fascinating backstory behind the production of some of the books in this collection. Originally engraved by the noted French flower painter, Redoute, and his associate, Bessa and published in France, both in 1810-1830 and in 1817-1819, the latter under a false Philadelphia imprint.
The plates were purchased by William Maclure, prominent naturalist and president of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Maclure brought the plates with him to the utopian settlement of New Harmony, Indiana, where the first American edition of this work was published in 1841. The collection includes this rare printing of the book. Though few of the titles in the collection have such a rich story, they were all the result of remarkable efforts by the authors, publishers, and printers.
The more up-to-date method of using colored lithographs for the plates was employed in the Nuttall volumes, since the publisher did not have engraved plates in stock, as was the case with the Michaux work. Michaux’s work is based on his travels in the eastern half of America, and those of his father. Both men were friendly with Thomas Jefferson and other leading figures, who aided them in their work and travels. Sabin says of the work, “It is no exaggeration to remark that it is the most complete work of its kind, and is a production of unrivaled interest and beauty.”
Here are some references for more information:
- MacPhail, Ian. André & François-André Michaux. Lisle, Ill: Morton Arboretum, 1981.
- Wilson, William E. The Angel and the Serpent; The Story of New Harmony. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964.
- Douglas, Jeffrey. 1991. “William Maclure and the New Harmony Working Men’s Institute”.Libraries & Culture. 26, no. 2: 402-414.
- Oak Spring Garden Library, Sandra Raphael, and Greg Heins. An Oak Spring Sylva: A Selection of the Rare Books on Trees in the Oak Spring Garden Library. Upperville, Va: Oak Spring Garden Library, 1989.
- Savage, Henry, and Elizabeth J. Savage. André and François André Michaux. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986.
- Graustein, Jeannette E. Thomas Nuttall, Naturalist; Explorations in America, 1808-1841. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.