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Printing, publishing and circulating books across Joseph Banks's empire

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The publication Joseph Banks (1743–1820) is remembered for is the Florilegium, a series of copperplates that represent the plants he and Daniel Solander (1733–1782) collected during the Endeavour voyage to the Pacific (1768–1771), which remained unpublished until the 1980s. However, from the early 1780s, Banks published and oversaw the production of several works concerning the botany of the West Indies, Japan, India, China, Africa and species cultivated in Kew Gardens.

This talk concentrates on two of Banks’s books, Reliquiæ Houstounianæ (1781), on the plants of the West Indies, and Icones Selectæ Plantarum (1791), on the plants of Japan. Initially, I examine the processes employed to produce a work of natural history in the late 18th century. Banks’s publications were privately printed, using the highest quality materials and most skilled craftsmen available in London. Secondly, I examine the distribution of these materials. Banks had a small number of copies printed that he circulated to a specific group within the Republic of Letters and to those undertaking fieldwork in Asia and the West Indies. An analysis of these publications from their inception to distribution gives a new understanding of the methods and incentives for producing and circulating a work of natural history in late 18th-century Britain.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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