Constantly clearing copyright: Colour prints from the Banks’ Florilegium

Rights Manager Victoria Leachman highlights the latest items to be cleared for Collections Online: a series of beautiful, hand-coloured Banks’ Florilegium copperplate engravings.

Part of the role of the rights team at Te Papa is to clear copyright in collection items so Te Papa staff can take and use images. The latest licence negotiated by Catriona McPherson, Media & Image Researcher, grants permission for Te Papa to reproduce images of the colour prints of the Banks’ Florilegium copperplate engravings.

Images of these beautiful, hand-coloured prints from Te Papa’s collection have been published in Collections Online.

Sketching foreign discoveries

These prints have a fascinating history. Sir Joseph Banks traveled with Captain Cook on his first voyage around the world. Banks was very wealthy and was accompanied by a number of employees including the artist Sydney Parkinson.

While Banks and his fellow botanist, Daniel Solander, collected specimens, Parkinson sketched and painted the people, places, flora, and fauna the voyage encountered.

After returning to the UK Banks paid for line engravings on copperplate to be created from the botanical drawings and sketches by Parkinson. Banks was intending to use the plates to illustrate a book on the flora collected during the voyage.

The book was never printed and the plates ended up in the Natural History Museum, London.

Printing the plates: A massive undertaking

Two hundred years later, during the 1980s, the project to print colour prints from the copperplate engravings started. It was a huge undertaking and was a result of a collaboration between the Alecto Historical Edition printers and typesetters and the Natural History Museum staff.

Each of the 738 copperplates needed up to 10 colours of ink to be worked into the engraving by hand by an expert printer before each print was made. This process was repeated 100 times per plate to create the first edition. The project took nine years to complete.

This video shows the project in action:

Te Papa doesn’t hold an entire edition of the Florilegium, but focused on collecting the prints of New Zealand specimens. Te Papa also holds some of the original specimens collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander during the first voyage of Captain Cook and some of the black ink prints reproduced from the same engraved plates in 1895.

The images of the colour prints have joined images of these other collection items in Te Papa’s Collections Online.

Excerpts from Banks’ Florilegium:

One Response

  1. Penny Griffith

    I’m pretty sure the Turnbull Library has the complete set (743 plates). It was a wonderful publishing achievement — and insight into the earliest scientific recording of our flora.

    Reply

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