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News: “The Catesby” in the GCA’s Rare Book Collection at the NYBG


October 31, 2019

The twenty-sixth oldest book in the collection...

The LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is home to the GCA’s rare book collection – 717 volumes ranging in age from 1612-2012. The twenty-sixth oldest book in the collection and meticulously restored is Mark Catesby’s, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1771), affectionately known as “The Catesby.

English naturalist Mark Catesby (1683–1749) came to Virginia in 1712 to collect and draw in detail species never before seen in Europe. After seven years he returned to England to solicit sponsors who enabled him to return to the Americas from 1722-1726. Between 1729 and 1747 he published 220 hand-colored plates, followed by second and third editions in 1754 and 1771 respectively. His subscribers read like a “Who’s Who” of early plant collectors.

Stephen Sinon, Mertz Curator of Special Collections, Research and Archives, said “It is important to think of (the) Catesby as the first full-color flora and fauna published about the New World. This is quite a feat if you consider there are some 250 years between Columbus and Catesby.”  

The book and documentary, The Curious Mister Catesby, provide further insights into this unique man; and the catalog of the 2013 Grolier exhibition Gardening by the Book offers a first-hand view of the GCA’s Rare Book Collection.

The collection was housed at GCA Headquarters in New York City until 2016 when it was moved to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the NYBG. The move allowed the collection to be housed in a safer, climate controlled environment and readily accessible to interested scholars. 

Above: Catesby drew live plants and animals in their natural habitats which added to the whimsical nature of his subjects. He was the first to discover that birds migrated instead of hibernating and that species could be affected by habitat degradation and destruction.

Top left: The Beaux Arts LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building


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