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Engraving of a sunflower from 'The Florist' | © Laurie Skrivan
Engraving of a sunflower from 'The Florist' | © Laurie Skrivan
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A Rare Copy of One of the World's Oldest Coloring Books Has Been Found

Picture of Michael Barron
Books and Digest Editor
Updated: 16 June 2017
A copy Robert Sayer’s The Florist was discovered in a library archive completely preserved and…uncolored.

Sometimes a bit of research pays off with big discovery. That’s what happened recently when The Florist by illustrator and botanist Robert Sayer, a 256-year-old coloring book, was uncovered by a contemporary botanist Amy Pool, who, according to CNN, discovered the existence of the book while doing research at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s library.

A related St. Louis Post-Dispatch article highlighted the history of the book. Printed about 1760 in London, The Florist includes 60 images of flowers with instructions for “drawing and painting according to nature.” The printer, Robert Sayer, explains right up front: It’s a “new work intended for the use & amusement of gentlemen and ladies delighting in that art.” The article goes on to state that “‘the printer also sold pigments for watercolors, describing recommendations such as ultramarine and sap-green. The brown was “gall-stone.” The yellow apparently came from a common buckthorn bush, although its fruit was confusingly called both “French berries” and “Persian berries.” Gentlemen and ladies would use the paints with “hair pencils.”’

While the copy, one of fewer than 10 known in the world, was listed in the library, apparently it had gone forgotten. What’s especially remarkable about this copy is its near uncolored and pristine condition, though it had apparently been used to press plants and had been scribbled upon by a small child.

Believe or not, coloring books were initially an adult fad before they became a beloved past time for children, dating back 400 years when poet Michael Drayton commissioned illustrator William Hole to provide maps, intended for professional and amateur coloring, for his work Albion’s Glorious Ile first published in 1612 and reissued just last year.