Curtis began as an apothecary, before turning his attention to botany and other natural history. The publications he prepared effectively reached a wider audience than early works on the subject had intended. At the age of 25 he produced Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies.
Curtis was demonstrator of plants and Praefectus Horti at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 1771 to 1777. He established his own London Botanic Garden at Lambeth in 1779, moving to Brompton in 1789. He published Flora Londinensis (6 volumes, 1777–1798), a pioneering work in that it devoted itself to urban nature. Financial success was not found, but he went on the publish The Botanical Magazine in 1787, a work that would also feature hand coloured plates by artists such as James Sowerby, Sydenham Edwards, and William Kilburn.
Curtis was to gain wealth from the ventures into publishing, short sales on Londinensis were offset by over 3,000 copies of the magazine. Curtis said they had each brought 'pudding or praise'.
The genus Curtisia is named in his honour. His publication was continued as the esteemed botanical publication, Curtis's Botanical Magazine. The noted natural history illustrators, James Sowerby and Sydenham Edwards both found a start with the eminent magazine.
- "William Curtis". Herbals and insects. University of Massachusetts. Retrieved 2007-09-01. "The scope of natural history changed dramatically in 18th century England under the influence of published works directed at amateurs."
- Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies. Illustrated with a copper-plate, on which the nets, and other apparatus necessary for that purpose are delineated… London: Printed by the author, and sold by George Pearch, 1771. iv, 90 p. fold. plate, 22 cm
- "St. Mary's Church Parish website". "St Mary's Modern Stained Glass"
- Brummitt, R. K.; C. E. Powell (1992). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-085-4.
- Hugh Cahill (2006-05-10). "Case 3: William Curtis and The Botanical Magazine". Nature observed: The work of the botanical artist. King's College London. Archived from the original on 2007-07-15. Retrieved 2007-07-30. "Flora Londinensis is one of the most beautiful and important botanical publications of the eighteenth century."
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- Biography of William Curtis
- Curtis, William (2006). The Botanical Magazine, Vol. 1. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.
- Curtis, William. The Botanical Magazine, Vol. 2.
- Curtis, William. The Botanical Magazine, Vol. 3.
- Curtis, William. The Botanical Magazine, Vol. 4.