Janet L. McCoy


AUBURN -- An anonymous donor has presented Auburn University Libraries with a collection of very rare and beautifully elaborate scientific publications, Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

"As a journal of science, the publication is one of the pre-eminent in its field," says Dale Foster, head of the Special Collections Department of AU Libraries. "As a work of art, its exquisite hand- colored images exemplify the development of printing techniques through time."

The collection is available for viewing during normal business hours in the Special Collections Department on the ground floor of Ralph B. Draughon Library. An exhibit highlighting some of the illustrations will be displayed in the department until Sept. 12.

The hard-bound magazine is the oldest continuously published journal of color illustrations in the world, the first issued being produced in 1787.

While not well known by the general public -- with a subscription base of only 1,000 customers -- it has been one of the most influential publications in British and American gardening for more than 200 years.

The collection is a complete set of the magazine, dating from 1787 to 1983. The magazine ceased publishing after that, but years later it was restarted and AU is working to retrieve those as well.

"This accession makes Auburn University Libraries' collection one of the most comprehensive sets in the U.S. and one of the very few libraries in the world with the earliest issues," Foster said.

One reason the collection is rare is that "the magazine is a highly sought-after prize by book dealers who tend to remove the elaborate illustrations and sell them as individual works of art," he said. "But that leads to the loss of the valuable scientific information contained in the volumes."

Each magazine contains a four-part volume featuring 24 botanically-precise plant portraits reproduced from watercolor originals by some of the world's leading botanical artists. Detailed but readable texts combine horticultural and botanical information with information such as history, conservation and economic uses of a world-wide range of plants.

"At first look, the most distinctive feature of the magazines are their spectacular hand-painted illustrations of plants and flowers," Foster said. "However, the publication has the distinction of being one of the most authoritative scientific publications in the field."

Jerome Ward, a botanical consultant and former curator of AU's Department Herbarium, said "the most significant reason for utilizing Curtis's Botanical Magazine is to help provide an important bridge between art and science.

"It provides a crucial benchmark for reassessing and redefining our mission and our overall approach to botanical science," Ward said. "It should renew our vision and offer a fresh perspective on the beauty of plant life, the wonder of floral symmetry and deepen our ability to see plant features."

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CONTACT: Foster, 334/844-1755; Ward, 826- 8627.