Folio (21 6/8 x 14 4/8 inches). Half-title. 51 LOOSE nature-printed plates, printed in colours by Bradbury and Evans under the direction of Henry Bradbury (gutter percha perished and plates and text leaves now loose, some occasional light spotting, one short closed marginal tear). Contemporary half green morocco, green cloth, gilt, the front cover with the title and royal arms in gilt (quite worn with surface abrasions).
FIRST EDITION IN BOOK FORM. BRADBURY'S CHEF D'OEUVRE -- THE FIRST FULLY-REALISED NATURE-PRINTED BOOK PUBLISHED IN BRITAIN.
Henry Bradbury was the eldest son of William Bradbury of Bradbury & Evans, and had learnt of nature-printing (the technique of taking impressions from leaves, plants, or other life-forms and manufacturing a printing-plate from this impression) whilst studying at the Imperial Printing Office in Vienna, where Alois Auer, the director, had patented the process with his associate Andreas Worring in October 1852. Bradbury returned to London where he patented an improved version of the process (without, according to Auer, sufficiently acknowledging his indebtedness to Auer and Worring; Lindley does, however, record their contribution in his preface to this work).
The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland was first issued in 17 monthly parts between June 1855 and September 1856 and issued in book form in half morocco in 1856 at a price of £6.6s. The text by Thomas Moore (curator of the Chelsea botanic garden and co-editor of Gardener's Chronicle) was edited by the eminent botanist and horticulturist Lindley. Although The Ferns was preceded by Bradbury's A Few Leaves from the Newly-Invented Process of Nature-Printing (1854), which he considered an advertisement, The Ferns was the first substantial nature-printed books published in Britain, and is described in Lindley's preface as 'the first English attempt at applying Nature-Printing to Botanical Science'.
Bradbury went on to publish W.H. Johnstone and A. Croall's The Nature-Printed British Seaweeds (London: 1859-1860), and to plan a further four nature-printed works. However, the controversy with Auer continued to overshadow him, and Auer called Bradbury a liar and a dishonest drunk in print. It is not known how much this dispute affected Bradbury, but he committed suicide at the age of 29 by drinking soda water admixed with prussic acid in Cremorne Gardens. SOLD AS A COLLECTION OF PLATES. BM(NH) III, p. 1345; E. Fischer 'Zweihundert Jahre Naturselbstdruck', in: Gutenberg Jahrbuch vol. VIII, pp. 186-213, no. 89; Nissen BBI 1400; Pritzel 6405; Stafleu & Cowan 6275; G. Wakeman 'Henry Bradbury's Nature Printed Works', in: The Library, vol. XXI, pp. 63-67. Catalogued by Kate Hunter