As Nature Shows Them

by John Holbo on November 23, 2017

If you are like me, you have Abebooks ‘wants’ out there – hopeful lines dragging through the stream of books. Here’s one that nibbled, but it’s still too rich for my blood. It’s As nature shows them : moths and butterflies of the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains : with over 400 photographic illustrations in the text and many transfers of species from life, by Sherman F. Denton (1900). Only $400. (Anyone wants to buy it for me?)

It’s an amazing curiosity in the history of color printing. I would love to see it in person. But for now the Internet Archive will have to do. What makes it so remarkable, you ask?

From the Preface:

The color plates, or Nature Prints, used in the work, are direct transfers from the insects themselves: that is to say, the scales of the wings of the insects are transferred to the paper while the bodies are printed from engravings and afterward colored by hand. The making of such transfers is not original with me, but it took a good deal of experimenting to so perfect the process as to make the transfers, on account of their fidelity to detail and their durability, fit for use as illustrations in such a work. And what magnificent illustrations they are, embodying all the beauty and perfection of the specimens themselves!

As I have had to make over fifty thousand of these transfers for the entire edition, not being able to get any one to help me who would do the world as I desired it done, and as more than half the specimens from which they were made were collected by myself, I having made many trips to different parts of the country for their capture, some idea of the labor in connection with preparing the material for the publication may be obtained.

I’m sure someone can make use of this peculiar mode of auto-iconographic representation for some weird Wittgenstein philosophy of language example.