British Butterflies, A History in Books
This is the first book to overview the development of literature about British butterflies from Thomas Moffett’s great work of 1634 to the multitude of books which have appeared in recent decades. The beauty and mystery of colourful butterflies has fascinated and inspired the curiosity of writers and artists throughout the ages. Their dedicated skills have been an inspiration for a rich and diverse range of books – some lavish with beautiful illustrations and others meticulously detailed academic studies.
The book opens with a brief account of the growing a awareness and the discovery of butterflies in the 16th century which slowly lead to the publication recording these early observations. The reader is then given a rundown on the reference works enabling more detailed study of the various aspects of British butterflies and the books about them. Further background and sources of information are identified in relation to the systems whereby the naming and classification of insects gradually brought order to the discovery of butterflies and their identification
The Golden Age of Discovery from 1600 to 1799 in Section 2 is a fairly simple chronological account of book publication, which, during the seventeenth century, related to the discovery and observation of butterflies. For the next hundred years, we see emerging a variety of interwoven subject matter. The importance of naming of species, descriptions, life cycles, classification, distribution and status were slowly recognised and began to be recorded in a more orderly manner.
Broadening the horizons in the 19th century, Section 3 records a proliferation of literature with a divergence of topics and types of books. The spectrum ranges from learned scientific works and lavishly illustrated Victorian books with hand-coloured plates to small mass-produced publications including fanciful and educational books for children.
Section 4 covers the period from 1900 to 2008 with an even greater diversity of evolving topics relevant to the study and enjoyment of butterflies. Catching, collecting and preserving butterflies has become an emotive issue although for several centuries it was largely accepted without question. All that has rapidly and dramatically changed in the last two decades. The theme of many books now reflects the concerns about butterfly extinctions and decline in numbers and has turned to their conservation, habitat protection and the effects of climate change.
Section 5 sweeps up a variety of disparate topics where butterflies have taken to paper. The butterfly image lends itself readily to the artist who imitates, adapts and fantasises in the media of their choice. The illustrators have been kept busy over the years to design wall charts and identification guides, cigarette cards and stickers.
The book is illustrated with reproductions of fine prints from old butterfly and insect books as well as showing styles of typical bindings and book design. Additionally, the lepidopterists’ collecting equipment and other artefacts are included together with examples of mapping techniques for displaying the distribution and status across the country.
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