Lepidoptera in the Library

Spring is definitely here, trees are heaving with blossom, daffodils are swaying gently in the breeze and the butterflies are back. To celebrate this re-emergence of colour into the natural world we bring you a selection of our heritage Butterfly and Moth stock. Now those of you who don’t consider yourselves Lepidoptera fans shouldn’t flutter away just yet, at least not until you’ve viewed some of the beautifully bound and coloured illustrations within our collection.
butterflies12 First we have European Butterflies and Moths by W.F Kirby, assistant to the Zoological department, British Museum; and fellow of the Entomological Society of London. Printed in 1889 it is based on upon Berge’s Schmetterlingsbuch. Bound in a green cloth with bevelled edges, the front and spine of the book are beautifully embellished with flowers, butterflies and moths depicted in gilt, red and black.
61 coloured plates, some of them hand finished are each protected by a tissue guard facing plate. Below Plate 6 shows a variety of butterflies, caterpillars and chrysalis.
butterflies11 Next is British and European Butterflies and Moths (Macrolepidoptera) by A. W. Kappel, F.L.S., F.E.S. Assistant Librarian, Linnean Society and W. Egmont Kirby, L.S.A. Printed in Bavaria there is no publishing date but again the cover is beautifully brought to life using gilt, white and black on a blue cloth background showing a lone butterfly resting gently against tall grasses and flowers. Inside 30 coloured plates by H. Deuchert and S. Slocombe show multiple species and their life cycles from larvae, through caterpillar, chrysalis, and finally butterfly or moth. PLATE V is shown below with a number of illustrations showing a selection of male, female, top sides and undersides in various shades of blue.
butterflies04 Our third item, The Genera and Species of British Butterflies by H. Noel Humphreys (1959) fails to initially impress with its straightforward sage green cloth cover however opening the pages will reveal the illustrated plates ‘”In which all the species and varieties are represented, accompanied by their respective caterpillars, and the plants on which they feed” and all “described and arranged according to the system now adopted in the British Museum”. Below is Plate 13, showing the Great Tortoise-shell Butterfly, topside and underside, the caterpillar form and the chrysalis it produces.
butterflies06 Finally we have British Butterflies and Their Transformations, arranged and illustrated in a series of plates by H.N. Humphreys, Esq. with characters and descriptions by J.O. Westwood, Esq., F.L.S., sec. of the Entomological Society. Printed in 1841, this first edition has 42 finely hand coloured plates and a colourful title page displaying butterflies and caterpillars amongst grasses, leaves and flowers.
Inside 41 colour plates show the genders and life cycles of the butterflies, Plate 2 below displays the different shades of yellow and white in the ‘Colias’ family.

This is not the extent of our stock and these items along with others can be viewed in the Local and Family History Library, 2nd Floor, Leeds Central Library. A 2004 study by the Natural Environmental Research Council found the UK butterfly population had dropped by 71% within a 20 year period, let’s hope these images won’t be all that’s left of such a beautiful part of our natural world.

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