18th Century Coloring Book Discovered at the Missouri Botanical Garden

A 256-year-old coloring book was discovered in the Peter H. Raven library in May by botanist Amy Pool. Robert Sayer’s The Florist was first published as a coloring book in 1760, with distinct instructions on how to color the pages. Pool first came across the title of the book while she was researching botanical illustrations for an exhibit.

Often when I see a pre-19th century book citation, I will type it into our online catalogue, just to see if we have it,” explains Pool.

The Peter H. Raven online catalogue cites The Florist: containing sixty plates of the most beautiful flowers regularly disposed in their succession of blowing. To which is added an accurate description of their colours with instructions for drawing and painting according to nature: being a new work intended for the use & amusement of gentlemen and ladies delighting in that art.”

Pool says after reading the description she became excited.“Huh, that’s a coloring book! I need to see this thing!”


The Florist has 60 illustrations of plants and flowers arranged by month of flowering, detailed instructions for coloring each picture, and general coloring instructions, such as, “pencils of camel’s hair.” None of the plates in our copy have been colored but there are pages with pressed plants. There are also green markings on one page, and the name “Albert” is written on the back of the title page.

Pool says the book cannot be used for botanical reference because the illustrations lack the details of floral structures. However she believes the book was published for the amusement of coloring plants. “There was just a huge interest in botany and natural history.”

There are only a handful of remaining known copies in the world, but The Florist was released at three different times.  The Garden has the first version of the book, which some pages have been restored using silk, prior to its recent discovery in the Raven Library. It is unclear of when and how the book arrived at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Garden Research Librarian Linda Oestry and Book Conservator Susan Cobbledick continue to explore the background and history of this fascinating book.

The Garden’s copy of The Florist can be found online here. Download and color your favorite illustrations and share them on social media using the hashtag #ColorMBG, or purchase a set of Florist notecards from MBG Press to color and send to your loved ones (download a sample here).


Markeya Thomas
Public Information Officer

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