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Now Published! British Butterflies - A History in Books


The Entomologist's Library


Sponsor of
UK Butterflies

The Entomologist, An Historical Account

“The Entomologist” is an amusing but strange character of the early 19th century. The artist portrayed a satirical image of an insect collector of slightly ambiguous sexual orientation and foppish appearance. His body and limbs are a composite of an assorted collection of insects ingeniously arranged to resemble, at least from a distant glance, the figure of a man holding a butterfly net with each caterpillar arm.

Tiger and geomitrid moth wings, kept in place by a wasp belt, make up his shoulders and torso. An elaborate hat design constructed with a grasshopper, beetle and damselfly creates an ostentatiously fashionable demeanour. Dragonfly and damselfly legs are shoed by a smart pair of beetles! He is attempting to catch what appears to be a fancifully large blue butterfly in an impracticably small net.

The original hand coloured lithographic print was one in a series by George Spratt (1784-c.1840) who was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Medico-Botanical Society of London. It was published in January 1830 and printed by George Madeley in Wellington Street off the Strand. The colouring may have been executed by Spratt’s wife or daughter both of whom were known to be involved with his business.

Spratt was a man-midwife but also a highly skilled artist who combined these talents to produce innovative medical and botanical illustrations. His best-known work was probably the 2 volume Flora Medica (1829-1830) and his Obstetric Tables (1833 with two later editions). In collaboration with Madeley they also supplied the plates for Woodville’s Medical Botany and a number of other works.

No known record of a complete set of the prints exists although 16 have been identified in a similar style which were published in 1830 and 1831. Additional to the Entomologist were The Antiquarian, Apothecary, Botanist, China, Circulating Library, Conchologist, Connoisseur, Crockery, Fish(wife), Fruiterer, Gamester, Greengrocer, Mineralist, Physiognomist and Poultry. It is quite possible that others remain to be discovered.

Perhaps the reason for their extreme rarity is that they were never published in book form or as a set but sold individually probably from only one outlet, namely, Charles Tilt’s famous print shop in London’s Fleet Street. They cost 1/6d each (7.5p) and it is reasonable to assume that very few copies were produced. Examples of the prints, sometimes painstakingly cut out, have been found pasted in scrapbooks which gained great popularity from the 1820s particularly as a pastime among the well-to-do ladies of the time.

It is speculation as to how many copies of The Entomologist still exist but no more than a handful have been located and there is no copy in the British Museum, Natural History.

References

  • Antenna, Bulletin of the Royal Entomological Society, July 1988 volume 18 number 3, contains short article by John Badmin with a monotone copy of the print on front cover
  • Figuring it Out, (2006) Editors, Ann B Shteir and Bernard Lightman published by Dartmouth College Press. Chapter 7 by Professor James A Secord examines the work of George Spratt including his composite prints.

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