Carolina pinkroot 

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives. For a digitization of the entire volume, see:

Bigelow, Jacob. American Medical Botany, Being a Collection of the Native Medical Plants of the United States, 1817, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon. QK99 .U6 B55 1817 vol. 1.

Jacob Bigelow, an accomplished botanist, was an early proponent of discontinuing bloodletting, the first person to hold two concurrent Harvard professorships, and a “19th century Renaissance man.” His herbal, American Medical Botany,  captures the wide range of experiments he personally conducted with each plant. Each book in the three-volume set details 20 plants, and each plant is accompanied by a full-page color plate. The text is the first American book with printed color plates, another product of Bigelow’s entrepreneurial spirit. For instance, Carolina pinkroot, a perennial wildflower that functions medicinally as a vermifuge, exemplifies the new technique in its illustration. The plate showcases long vibrant blossoms, “crimson without, orange coloured within, the tube inflated and angular at the top.” Intimately knowledgeable, Bigelow elaborates, “I have seen luxuriant specimens with two [racemes of flowers].” At first, Bigelow employed young ladies to hand-color in engraved images as was common in the period. Frustrated with his colorists' speed, Bigelow produced color plates through a process similar to aquatinting, applying colored ink directly to the printing plate. While his exact methodology remains enigmatic, it is thought that he etched images on stone, which were then applied to plates, with green inked on the stone image’s leaves, and the colors of petals and berries painted separately. In his preface, Bigelow characterizes the figures as engraved and colored from “original drawings, made principally by myself. Dissections of the flower and fruit have been added to each.” In the previous century, mimetic representations of plants were not prioritized in botanical illustrations, due in part to the effects of Linnaeus' censure of the use of images in botany, but the early nineteenth century witnessed a shift toward detailed, accurate representations of individual specimens, as in Bigelow’s prints.

Sarah Hovet