The Old Print Shop

Mark Catesby


Mark Catesby (1682-1749) was an English naturalist who studied the flora and fauna in British-colonized North America. His first expedition began in 1712 in Virginia. He spent seven years exploring, studying and collecting samples. His work attracted the attention of William Sherard, a leading English botanist, who ultimately helped sponsor his second expedition in 1722.

Catesby was not only dedicated to his research, he was committed to depicting the plants and creatures of the New World as truthfully as possible. He learned engraving to maintain a degree of creative control over his project. His monumental efforts came to fruition upon the publication of "The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands." The first volume was issued in 1731 with the second arriving a little over a decade later in 1743. Catesby created most of the 220 plates himself, but hired other well-known artists, such as Georg Dionysius Ehret, to assist.

The series is considered one of the most important and comprehensive natural history surveys of the 18th century, not only because of the engravings but because of the incredible detail in which Catesby described each specimen.

Volume 1 contains one-hundred plates and is largely dedicated to plants and birds. Volume 2 also contains one-hundred plates in the main section of the book, but has an additional twenty added into the appendix. The volume is largely comprised of animals, such as fish, snakes and "beasts", with a few birds.

Despite the incredible amount of work put into the project, Catesby would not live long enough to see his book become a commercial success, passing away in 1749. The series was printed in four editions; 1731 - 1743, 1754, 1771 - 1774, and 1800.