British Entomology is a classic work of entomology by John Curtis, FLS. It is subtitled Being Illustrations and Descriptions of the Genera of Insects found in Great Britain and Ireland: Containing Coloured Figures from Nature of the Most Rare and Beautiful Species, and in Many Instances of the Plants Upon Which they are Found. Almost every plate includes an equally well rendered botanical element, often the dominant part of the illustration. In a footnote to the first plate, Curtis explains this as follows:

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  • British Entomology is a classic work of entomology by John Curtis, FLS. It is subtitled Being Illustrations and Descriptions of the Genera of Insects found in Great Britain and Ireland: Containing Coloured Figures from Nature of the Most Rare and Beautiful Species, and in Many Instances of the Plants Upon Which they are Found. The work comprises 770 hand-coloured, copper-plate engravings, each 8 by ​5 1⁄2 inches (20×14 cm), together with two or more pages of text. The work was issued in monthly parts over 16 years, each part comprising three or more (usually four) plates. Plates were initially printed on James Whatman's Turkey Mill paper and then (circa 1832) on Rye Mill paper. It was a masterpiece of the engraver's and colourist's art, described by the eminent French naturalist Georges Cuvier as the "paragon of perfection". Close examination of a proof set of plates (see below) reveals an obsessive attention to detail. The shading of the foliage is typically achieved by multiple, finely engraved lines spaced at intervals of five or more to the millimetre. The fronds (olfactory receptors) of many moth antennae are individually coloured – as in plate 674 (left). Several beetles and flies have body and limb highlights picked out in minute dots and lines of powdered gold. Thoracic and abdominal hairs are mostly painted individually. Where transparent wings are shown extended the colouring involved the precise application of multiple colour washes overlaid by a satin finish, gum arabic glaze to reproduce the visual effect of iridescence. Almost every plate includes an equally well rendered botanical element, often the dominant part of the illustration. In a footnote to the first plate, Curtis explains this as follows: Whenever the plant to which an insect is attached can be obtained, it will be introduced in the plate; but as some feed upon putrid animal and vegetable substances, many upon each other, and as not infrequently their habits are totally unknown, - in such instances plants will be introduced with a view to make the work as handsome and instructive as possible; and as a knowledge of Botany is absolutely necessary in order to be able to collect insects with complete success, it is hoped that figures of the indigenous plants will prove acceptable and useful to the reader. Every illustration and line drawing was engraved or finished by Curtis himself, all the plates in volumes I, II, XV and XVI were engraved entirely by his hand. He also personally coloured the four proof sets and very closely supervised the hand colouring of all other plates. The final issue of the first edition (December 1839) included comprehensive indexes to all volumes plus a newly written eight-page preface summarising the production, costs and efforts involved. Also published at that time was a complete list of subscribers for each volume and detailed instructions for binding the work into eight volumes to generate the correct sequence of orders. Many copies were, however, bound in the alternative manner as sixteen volumes with the plates in numerical order. Curtis's original 778 drawings (some drawings were combined to produce a single plate, e.g. plate 703) were purchased by Lord Rothschild whose heirs, after having unsuccessfully tried to sell them in 1910, donated them to the Natural History Museum, London. The work was unsystematically produced but each plate is dated, so this generally introduces no problems of name priority. However, confusion can arise with reprinted plates 1 to 34 (see below) where the text was rewritten, often with changes to nomenclature, yet the dates shown on the plates remained unchanged. Aside from its noted illustrations, British Entomology is a work of taxonomy introducing many new species. This is especially true of the folios on Diptera and Hymenoptera. In his preface to the work, published in December 1839, Curtis writes: "... the articles and descriptions are my own writing; for any errors therefore I alone am accountable". However, it is clear from the dedications to the individual volumes that he had help from the likes of Alexander Henry Haliday, James Charles Dale, William Kirby and others. If systematically bound as intended and instructed by Curtis, the resulting eight-volume set will be as follows: * Volume 1 – Coleoptera (Part 1) dedicated to William Kirby and Alexander Macleay * Volume 2 – Coleoptera (Part2) dedicated to William Jackson Hooker and John Stevens Henslow * Volume 3 – Dermaptera, Dictyoptera, Orthoptera, Strepsiptera, Hymenoptera (Part 1) dedicated to John Lindley and Charles Lyell * Volume 4 – Hymenoptera (Part 2) dedicated to Pierre André Latreille and William Sharp Macleay * Volume 5 – Lepidoptera (Part 1) dedicated to James Charles Dale and Charles Daubeny * Volume 6 – Lepidoptera (Part 2) dedicated to Charles A. Harris and William Spence * Volume 7 – Homoptera, Hemiptera, Aphaniptera dedicated to Alexander Henry Haliday, Henry Walker and Francis Walker * Volume 8 – Diptera, , dedicated to , and the Earl of Malmesbury Due to its relative slimness, Curtis recommended that the indexes be placed at the end of Volume VII. However, most systematic bindings have the general indexes more conventionally placed at the end of Volume VIII. (en)
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  • British Entomology is a classic work of entomology by John Curtis, FLS. It is subtitled Being Illustrations and Descriptions of the Genera of Insects found in Great Britain and Ireland: Containing Coloured Figures from Nature of the Most Rare and Beautiful Species, and in Many Instances of the Plants Upon Which they are Found. Almost every plate includes an equally well rendered botanical element, often the dominant part of the illustration. In a footnote to the first plate, Curtis explains this as follows: (en)
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  • British Entomology (en)
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