Described as British Entomology, 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, this, often 8 but sometimes 16 volume (each consisting of 12 parts) masterwork (initially issued to 103 folios), amounting to 770 coloured plates each 8 by 5.1/2 inches. Published in London by the author, it commenced in 1824, with the final part appearing in 1839. A second edition to a further 90 folios was published from 1829-1840.
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". It was, unsystematically, produced in monthly parts though these are usually bound in systematic, not date order. Each plate is dated, so this introduces no problems of name priority. Every plate was engraved by Curtis himself. The final issue of the first edition included comprehensive indexes to all volumes plus a complete list of subscribers for each volume and detailed instructions for binding the work into 8 volumes in the correct sequence of orders (see below). The original 778 drawings (some drawings were combined to produce a single plate) were purchased by Lord Rothschild and later bequeathed to the Natural History Museum, London.
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 where much of the text and probably many of the dissection figures were the work of Alexander Henry Haliday.
The volumes are most commonly bound as
- 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 (Part1) dedicated to John Lindley and Charles Lyell
- Volume 4 Hymenoptera (Part 2) dedicated to Pierre André Latreille and William Sharp Macleay
- Volume 5 Lepidoptera (Part1) 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, Omaloptera, dedicated to Henry Brown, Henry Nesbitt and the Earl of Malmesbury
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to British Entomology (John Curtis).|
- Full description including high quality scans of all the plates
- List of the insects figured with updated names
- British Entomology at Google Books
- BHL Scans Volumes 3-8 High quality. Downloads.