The Old Print Shop

Elizabeth Blackwell

c. 1700-1758

An important eighteenth century botanical artist, Elizabeth Blackwell is reported to have initially taken her profession in order to obtain funds to free her husband (Dr. Alexander Blackwell) from debtors' prison. Learning that a major work upon plants and herbs with medicinal qualities was needed, she made frequent excursions to the nearby Chelsea Physic Garden to examine and draw the specimens. Thus Elizabeth Blackwell compiled 'A Curious Herbal', with the financial support of Sir Hans Sloane and the encouragement of Philip Miller and others. She was also among the first botanical artists to personally etch and engrave her own designs rather than hiring a professional engraver. In total, the enterprise took Blackwell six full years to complete and in the end she was able to release her husband from prison. Unfortunately, he journeyed to Sweden several years later and became involved in a political plot which led to his execution. The first edition of Elizabeth Blackwell's art was published in London in 1739 under the above mentioned title of 'A Curious Herbal'. Between 1750 and 1760, however, Jacob Trew in Nuremberg published a much expanded second edition under the title of, 'Herbarium Blackwellianum Emmendatum et Auctum'. This original Elizabeth Blackwell engraving hails from this second edition. Each engraving was hand-colored by botanical artists before publication. Besides the obvious artistry of these original engravings, examples from the Herbarium have long been cited as perhaps the most important delineations of herbs and other medicinal plants created during the eighteenth century.