Flora Graeca: “The Most Costly and Beautiful Book Devoted to Any Flora”

plants

Title page. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 1 (1806). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

John Sibthorp’s Flora Graeca (1806-1840) has been described as “the most costly and beautiful book devoted to any flora” [1]. Dedicated to the plants of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, only 30 subscriptions for the first edition were sold and of those, only 25 were completed. While each copy was sold for £254, the cost to produce each copy was about £620 [2, 176].

Flora Graeca arose out of botanical expeditions carried out by English botanist John Sibthorp in Greece and Asia Minor between 1786-87 and 1794-1795. Sibthorp employed Austrian artist Ferdinand Lukas Bauer to accompany him on the first expedition and serve as illustrator. During the expedition, Bauer created around one thousand plant sketches, using a color coding process to record the exact colors of the specimens he observed in the field, allowing him to produce accurate final drawings based on his field sketches [3].

plants

Plate 473. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 5 (1825). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

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Plate 606. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 7 (1830). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Unfortunately, Sibthrop contracted tuberculosis during the return from his second expedition. He died on 8 February 1796 in Bath, before the work could be completed. His will, however, provided an endowment to ensure the completion of the publication [4].

Sibthorp’s friend and fellow botanist, James Edward Smith, and Sibthorp’s brother-in-law, John Hawkins, oversaw the publication of the first six volumes between 1806-1828. Volume seven was published in 1830, and volumes eight through ten were edited by John Lindley and published between 1833-40. The first nine volumes included 100 plates each, with the final volume consisting of 66 plates [5]. The hand-colored plates were engraved on copper by Bauer, James Sowerby and James de Carle Sowerby after Bauer’s drawings [2, 175].

plants

Plate 334. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 4 (1823). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

plants

Plate 202. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v.3 (1819). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

The Lloyd Library and Museum is fortunate to own one of the 25 complete copies of the first edition of this title. This copy was digitized by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County as part of the BHL Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project (funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services) and is freely available for all to enjoy in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. A volume from this title is also currently on display at the Lloyd Library & Museum as part of the current exhibit Treasures of the Lloyd, which is open until 21 February 2020.

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Plate 952. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v.10 (1840). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

plants

Plate 504. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v.6 (1828). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

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Plate 736. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 8 (1833). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

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Plate 824. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 9 (1837). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

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Plate 163. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 2 (1813). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

References

[1] Stearn, W. T. (1960). “Franz and Ferdinand Bauer, masters of botanical illustration”. Endeavour 19(73).
[2] Stearn, W. (1967). Sibthorp, Smith, the ‘Flora Graeca’ and the ‘Florae Graecae Prodromus’. Taxon, 16(3), 168-178. doi:10.2307/1216982
[3] Walsh, H. (2003). “Ferdinand Lukas Bauer”. Rare Books from the MBG Library. 23 October. Accessed on 4 February 2020. http://www.illustratedgarden.org/mobot/rarebooks/author.asp?creator=Bauer, Ferdinand Lukas&creatorID=96.
[4] Christie’s. (1997). “Flora Graeca”. Lot 138, sale 8690. Accessed on 4 February 2020. https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/sibthorp-john-james-edward-smith-and-john-228372-details.aspx.
[5] Europeana. (2020). “Flora Graeca”. Accessed on 4 February 2020. https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/record/92002/BibliographicResource_1000093325414_source.html.

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Grace Costantino is the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library. In this capacity, she developed and manages BHL's communication strategy, oversees social media initiatives, and engages with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL.