A title from The Old School Press 

Plates for a Herbal

Pulls from some of the original copper engraving plates used for Morison's 1698 Herbal, with commentary

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About the book

Planned for 2024

Oxford University Press's history as a corporate body begins in the 1670s when John Fell and three partners took over its management, funding the purchase of equipment and establishing it in its first (though short-lived) home in the Sheldonian Theatre. One of their earliest publications was Robert Morison's Herbal, properly titled Plantarum historiae universalis Oxoniensis, a fine folio edition intended to be in three volumes. The first published was volume two in 1680, on herbaceous plants, a volume containing 126 copper-engraved plates of botanical drawings, almost half by Michael Burghers, some of whose work for OUP we showed in Michael Burghers, Oxford engraver. The plates still exist.

Our regular readers and customers will know that one of the themes of our output has been the early and twentieth-century history of Oxford University Press. Plates from a Herbal will be our tenth - and perhaps grandest - title in the series. We have been given kind  permission by the Bodleian Library to take a limited number of pulls from each of twelve of the plates. The printing will be done by Jim Nottingham, who so expertly printed the seventeenth-century plates shown in Michael Burghers, Oxford engraver.

They are large plates on average about 358 mm by 243 mm in size, or about 14 in by 10 in so this will be a correspondingly large book. To complement them, five of which will appear in each copy, we are planning a number of short essays. Scott Mandelbrote will provide an introduction to the original Historia; Professor Stephen Harris of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford will address each of the twelve plates from a botanical perspective; and Jim Nottingham will describe the plates themselves, how they have been prepared for use, and the process of printing from them. We also anticipate photographs of the plates and of the printing process.

The title page of Morison's Herbal:

About the edition

In the 1680s OUP sourced its paper principally from France, the standard of paper-making in England being so poor. For type it had at its disposal the matrices purchased in Holland by John Fell for similar reasons. For this twenty-first-century book we are planning to use an antique Rives BFK laid paper for the text, and Monotype Van Dijck for the type; 250gsm Rives BFK paper will be used for the plates. Precise details will be announced as soon as they are available through our occasional newsletter.

This will be a small edition of no more than eighty copies, with perhaps seventy for sale. The price is still to be determined.

A sample opening from the original Herbal showing two plates:

You can find details of all our plans and books in print
via the homepage of our catalogue website
and you can buy online at our shop.


Copyright Martyn Ould 2023