In 1726 Catesby returned to London and sought funding to produce
and publish The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the
Bahama Islands. Books in Catesby's time were often self-published
and financed by subscription, whereby a subscriber agreed to buy
a certain number of books at a certain price and the publisher agreed
to deliver those copies. This mitigated the risk to the author/publisher.
At the time Catesby was soliciting subscriptions, the practice was
already a century old.
Catesby worked as a horticulturist first in the nursery of Thomas
Fairchild, which passed to the hands Stephen Bacon in 1729, and
then in Christopher Gray's nursery in Fulham.
2 His work as a horticulturist and his reputation as an importer
of exotic species helped him to generate subscribers for the Natural
History as many of his clients read Catesby's work as an "illustrated
catalogue" of the exotic plants Catesby sold.
Catesby's connections within the Royal Society proved indispensable
in financing his American expedition, and they served him equally
well in his publication of Natural History; Twenty-nine of
his one hundred and fifty-four subscribers were members.
4 Three individual members of the Royal Society were instrumental
to producing and publishing the Natural History. Peter Collinson,
a wealthy businessman with a keen interest in natural history, lent
Catesby "considerable Sums of Money...without interest" and was
the main financial supporter of Catesby's work.
5 Sir Hans Sloane, by this time President of the Royal Society,
continued to aid Catesby through his own financial support and by
helping him enlist subscribers. For help with the Latin names of
his subjects, Catesby turned to botanist William Sherard, who had
been central in sending Catesby to America in the first place.
Catesby wanted to send his watercolors to Paris or Amsterdam to be engraved
for printing, but the cost was prohibitive. And so, by now in his
mid-forties, the self-taught artist endeavored to learn etching.
The print maker Joseph Goupy taught Catesby to etch his own plates.
His lack of experience and expertise actually served as asset, freeing
him to innovate. Instead of the traditional "Graver-like manner"
he opted to "omit their method of cross-Hatching and to follow the
humour of the Feathers, which is more laborious, and I hope has
proved more to the purpose".
6 Each copy was then hand-coloured, though Catesby did have
some assistance with this.
As Catesby sorted through his paintings, deciding which to reproduce,
he organized his materials into two volumes. The first hundred images
of birds, frequently posed with the plants on which they feed or
in which they dwell, would make up Volume I. Volume II was divided
into sections treating fish, amphibians, mammals and insects, again,
often with related plants. Volume II included plates treating only
plants and ended with an appendix, which depicted some animals and
plants Catesby was unable to see in person. As a preface to the
second volume Catesby wrote a collection of essays discussing the
geology, climate and peoples of "Carolina and the Bahama Islands."
Each volume consists of five parts, each of which Catesby presented
to the Royal Society upon completion. While the publication date
on the title page of the first volume is 1731, he presented parts
I-V between 1729 and 1732. Between 1734 and 1743 he presented parts
VI-X, followed by the Appendix in 1747.
8 Catesby sold the sections separately for two guineas a piece.
A complete set, at twenty-two guineas, was one of the most expensive
works of the 1700s.
9 The order in which these sections of appear vary from copy
to copy of the first edition as patrons had the works bound themselves.
While Catesby's original proposal for publication stated that a
smaller uncolored set would also be available for a single guinea
a section, no known black and white copies exist.10