Gesneriads have been represented in prints dating from the late 18th Century. Many of these are excellent examples of the artist’s and print-maker’s art, providing a more useful and more beautiful representation of the plants than is often possible with photography. In most cases, prints made prior to 1850 (and sometimes later) were individually colored by hand. Most of the prints here are hand colored.

The process for these early hand colored prints was multi-stage. First, an artist created a “drawing”, really a full-fledged water-color painting of the subject, usually from life (they had the live plant in front of them), occasionally from dried material. An engraver (sometimes the same artist, usually someone different) than created an engraving on a copper plate of this drawing. The engraving was then used to create the basic print, in black and white. The number of prints created depended on the number that had been subscribed in advance.

These basic black and white prints were then handed off to “colorists”, usually women, who applied color to each individual print. If the subscription for a particular publication was 3000, and there were 30 plates in the particular edition or folio, that meant there were 90,000 plates to color by hand! Variation in the colors inevitably occurred, which is why no two plates are ever identical.

Eventually, the printing process migrated to lithography, which didn’t require copper-plate engraving, but even then hand coloring was required. Eventually, color lithography became the dominant process, but Curtis’s Botanical Magazine continued to hand color its plates into the middle of the 20th Century.

Some of our prints were the first publication of the species represented. They are thus not only fine art, but significant fragments of botanical history.

The links below are to a selection of antique prints from several personal collections. More will be added over time, as they are acquired.

Please note that the prints are presented alphabetically by the name under which the print was published. In most cases we have identified the proper current name for the species, but cannot guarantee that all of these identifications are current or correct. If you need confirmation of a proper current name, please contact us. And if you want to see all prints of a particular genus, for instance, go to Advanced Search at the top of the page where you can search the “current name” field, and do much more.

Most of these prints are presented at moderately high resolution, typically 2000 pixels on the longest side. Our zoom function allows you to hover your cursor over an image to zoom in to see detail, or to click the image and then click again to see the image at full size, which can be moved around the screen to see all the detail.

Most of the print pages have a link to a downloadable version of the image. You are free to download and to use however you wish, as the images are long out of copyright. Most should print quite nicely at the size they were published at, typically about 9″ x 6″.

If you re-publish them in any way, please credit the Gesneriad Reference Web, and give the URL for the print you are using.