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Elizabeth Blackwell's Herbal

To pay off his debts Elizabeth, a skilled illustrator, decided to produce a new herbal – a description of plants and their medicinal uses – including unfamiliar plants as well as those found in Britain.

Elizabeth drew the images, made the copper engravings and coloured the printed pictures, then took them to Alexander for their Latin names and medical information. Supported by prominent physicians and horticulturalists Elizabeth produced A curious herbal, containing 500 plates. The first volume was published in London in 1737; the second in 1739. It was a great success, enabling her to secure Alexander's release. However, there was no happy ending for the couple: on 24 July 1747 Alexander Blackwell was executed in Sweden on a charge of treason.

Elizabeth's Herbal was translated into German by Christoph Jacob Trew, a doctor and botanist, who also added more information. The drawings were corrected according to the recent teachings of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carl Linnaeus; Nikolaus Friedrich Eisenberger re-engraved the plates; and this six-volume edition was published between 1750 and 1773. The Library acquired this beautiful set in 1802 as part of the Fagel Collection.

Shelfmark: Fag.GG.3.5-10

Helen McGinley

Helen McGinley has worked in the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections since 2004. She has a love of books in general, and children's and illustrated books in particular, and enjoys sharing her excitement through the department's blog and Twitter feed.