Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Rare and Exquisite $30,000-$50,000 Flower Seed Catalogue

by Stephen J. Gertz

April.

A very attractive copy of Robert Furber's classic, Twelve Months of Flowers (1730), comes to auction at Bonham's-New York Fine Books and Manuscripts sale, October 10, 2011. It is estimated to sell for $30,000-$50,000.

It's a glorified seed catalogue, and glorious it is.

August.

Furber's intent was "to make the Love of Gardening more general, and the understanding of it more easy, I have from time to time published Catalogues, containing large Variety of Trees, Plants, Fruits, and Flowers, both Foreign and Domestic, cultivated by me for Sale" (Short Introduction to Gardening). The flowers were grouped into bouquets according to the month they bloomed, and referenced with numbers and captions so that Furber's customers could order particular specimens. In this regard, the publication follows in the tradition of Emanuel Sweert's Florilegium (1612-1614), a similarly elaborate sale catalogue.

Furber spared no expense, commissioning the celebrated Antwerp-born painter Pieter Casteels and the skilled engraver Henry Fletcher. The illustrations transcended their original commercial purpose and were reprinted throughout the 18th century to capitalize on their decorative appeal.

December.

"In the years 1730 and 1732, there appeared two extremely important series of plates, both published by Robert Furber, a nurseryman in Kensington, then outside of London. One series is entitled, Twelve Months of Flowers and the other, Twelve Months of Fruit. These are sales catalogues in the grand manner, consisting of arrangements of flowers or fruits according to the months in which they bloom or ripen. Each flower or fruit bears a small number and its name is to be found by referring to a the key at the bottom of the plate. From these prints patrons actually ordered their new plant material.

February.

"These plates were engraved by Fletcher after drawings by Casteels, a Flemish painter who had settled in London, and were 'colored to the life,' as Furber tells us. In all, some four hundred flowers are depicted and three hundred and sixty-four kinds of fruit. The catalogues of twelve plates, one for each month, were issued without texts. In the case of Twelve Months of Flowers, a list of the four hundred and fifty subscribers was engraved within a delightful floral border of the favorite flowers…

January.

"This catalogue was so well received that in 1732 Furber issued a volume, quarto in size, entitled The Flower Garden Displayed

March.

"Furber's customers evidently had encountered the same difficulties which have defeated the efforts of the succeeding generations of gardeners to grow flowers like the pictures in the catalogue...

October.

"That the decorative quality of Twelve Months of Flowers was fully appreciated, it is proved by the fact that six different publishers in the 1740s and 1750s offered copies of the plates which could no longer have served the purpose of a nurseryman's catalogue. These were re-engraved in reverse on a slightly smaller scale with the addition of butterflies, caterpillars and other insects which in many cases over-crowded the composition" (Dunthorne, Gordon. Flower & Fruit Prints of the 18th and 19th Centuries, pp. 12-15). 

The last three copies complete with the subscriber's list to fall under the hammer fetched $30,000 (Pacific, April 1, 2010, lot 398, two plates torn);  $47,500 (the Michale Kuse copy, Sotheby's New York, June 20, 2003, lot 12); and $100,100 (Christie's, Nov 28, 2001, lot 27).
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FURBER, Robert (c.1674-1756). Twelve Months of Flowers. Kensington: Robert Furber, 1730. First edition. Broadsheets (sheets mostly 430 x 330 mm). Engraved leaf of subscribers (585 x 460 mm) including title and dedication all within pictorial border of tulips, irises, carnations and other blooms, Twelve finely hand-colored engraved plates by Henry Fletcher after Pieter Casteels (1684-1740) All but November laid down. 

Dunthorne 115. BMNH II, 632.  Henrey 734. Nissen 675.
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Images courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.
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The Wikipedia entry for Pieter Casteels claims that a copy of Twelve Months of Flowers sold at Christie's on May 25, 2005 for $1,640,000. Neither Christie's nor ABPC have a record of that sale or price at any date.
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22 comments:

  1. https://plus.google.com/100146646232137568790/posts/Qx3R5GXCQNg

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  2. Hello. I have three of these, but they are from the John Bowles reprint collection. I have February, March and April. Would you have any idea what their value is. Excellent condition, professionally framed. Thank you.

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    1. Hello, I have 2 pictures of February and April from the collection of Robert, Furber. Gardiner at Kensington twelve months of Flowers 21.5cm by 15.8cm with custom made frames and brown paper backing. I can't quite read the writing on the bottom. On eBay the pictures are different. Different flowers, leaves & colours are either added for heightened affect or missing. I am wanting to find out how many versions of the same picture are made?.

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  3. Sorry Coupon Clipper, the price of art is beyond my expertise. - SJG

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  4. Wikipedia now links to Christie's record of that sale and price: http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4507868

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  5. Look closely at Christie's note: It's not the book but, rather, the original paintings, without the accompanying text, that the engravings were based upon "In 18th-century English carved giltwood frames sold with a set of twelve engravings with later hand-coloring, all on laid paper. This is why ABPC does not record this sale - it's not the book.

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  6. Does anyone know when they started mass producing the paintings? And how would I know if I have actual antique copies or modern ones? They were purchased at the Madison NJ Fine Arts store in about 1920-1930

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  7. Get a magnifying glass. If, looking very close up, you see dots you have a modern reproduction. Originals will have plates marks surrounding the image whee the plate was pressed onto the paper.

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  8. Then you probably have an original engraving.

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  9. I may be interested in selling. No hurry. Any suggestions?

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  10. Hello Stephen I have February and November and according to what I am looking at on here my pictures are not the same. My flowers and everything are on the opposite side. Are these real paintings? They have the #'s on them by every flower etc. And it says 1730 on it. It is just like these pics but just reversed sides. Can you tell me if these are real or not? Thank you

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  11. Without physically examining them I can't determine whether you have original prints, restrikes from the original plates, or later reproductions. One way to rule out a reproduction is to close-up examine with a magnifying glass. If you see dots, it's a repro.

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  12. Stephen ... I have January and April ... they are reversed from some I have seen online ... and professionally framed ... I don't see the dots and I am not sure who to check with on ruling out reproduction or original ... can you direct me? I would like to keep them, but inclined to sale them ...

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  13. My mother in law has February but the flowers are reversed side as well but the back of the painting is sealed really good so I kinda don't want unseale it what should I do to see if It's real or reproduction

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  14. I have the November and July prints. No dots and at bottom from collection of Robert Furber

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  15. What is a plates mark??? I received one from my grandmother's passing and I don't know what to look for.

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  16. I just found "JUNE" printed for JOHN BOWLES at MERCER HALL CHEAPTIDE... it is professionally framed with sealed back. There are no dots visible. How do I find the value? I can forward photos. Thank you for your time and attention to my request.

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  17. I've come across some that are seasons of flowers, not months. I have winter and autumn. I am looking for where they originally appeared, if not with the 12 months.

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  18. Hi. I have January, no dots, with platr mark. I would like to know the value. Please advise...Thank yoh

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