Fables of Aesop illustrated by Edward J. Detmold
Fables of Aesop
illustrated by Edward J. Detmold
25 tipped-in colour plates – this 1909 book is regarded as Detmold’s finest piece of work.

Most people familiar with AbeBooks will have seen the words 'colour plate' used in association with certain rare book listings. Plates are whole page illustrations printed separately from the text (illustrations printed within the text are called cuts) and naturally colour plates feature colour illustrations.

To some book collectors, the golden age of colour plates had to be the Victorian era where countless books were produced on flora and fauna complete with numerous colour illustrations of everything from moths and butterflies to grasses and alpine plants. However, many subjects are addressed in colour plate books, including satirical cartoons, sporting scenes, landscapes, costumes, fairy tales and architecture.

The legendary illustrators - Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Edward J. Detmold, Willy Pogany and to a lesser extent N.C. Wyeth - are defined by their colour plates, which were produced in eras before improved printing processes enabled true mass production. The production of a book in, for instance, 1820 containing 100 colour plates would a major achievement and come at considerable expense to the publisher.

Mounted and tipped-in colour plates are plates that have been attached to the page. It is also possible to encounter loose colour plates where they are ‘laid-in’ or unattached.

Hand coloured plates are particularly collectable because a black and white outline has been printed onto the page and then artists have manually added colours to the printed page. It was simply too expensive to produce books with hand coloured plates in large numbers.

Beautiful Rare Books with Colour Plates

First Footsteps in East Africa; or, an Exploration of Harar by Richard F Burton
First Footsteps in East Africa; or, an Exploration of Harar
by Richard F Burton

Four colour lithographed plates in this seminal work of Africana.
East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Old Tales from the North illustrated by Kay Nielsen
East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Old Tales from the North
illustrated by Kay Nielsen

Various editions with 25 mounted/tipped in colour plates.
Moths and Butterflies of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains by Sherman F Denton
Moths and Butterflies of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains
by Sherman F Denton

56 ‘nature printed’ colour plates in this limited edition of 500 copies.
The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Great Britain by Anne Pratt
The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Great Britain
by Anne Pratt

Various editions, Frederick Warne edition contains more than 300 coloured botanical plates.
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe & illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Tales of Mystery and Imagination
by Edgar Allan Poe & illustrated by Arthur Rackham

A dozen macabre colour plates from Rackham in this book from 1935.
The Ship That Sailed to Mars. A Fantasy by William M Timlin
The Ship That Sailed to Mars. A Fantasy
by William M Timlin

48 mounted/tipped in colour plates in this children’s book from South African artist Timlin.
Parrots in Captivity by W.T. Greene
Parrots in Captivity
by W.T. Greene

Printed in 1884 in three volumes with colour plates displaying 81 species.
The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter’s Westminster, Its Antiquities and Monuments by R. Ackermann
The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter’s Westminster, Its Antiquities and Monuments
by R. Ackermann

A celebration of Westminster Abbey, printed for Ackermann in 1812 with 80 coloured aquatint plates.
Studer’s Popular Ornithology: The Birds of North America by Theodore Jasper & Jacob Studer
Studer’s Popular Ornithology: The Birds of North America
by Theodore Jasper & Jacob Studer

Famous natural history book with 119 chromolithographs drawn and coloured by Jasper.
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings & illustrated by N.C. Wyeth
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings & illustrated
by N.C. Wyeth

14 beautiful full-page colour plates – look out for the 770 copies signed by author and illustrator.
Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne & illustrated by V.F. Sterrett
Tanglewood Tales
by Nathaniel Hawthorne & illustrated by V.F. Sterrett

Published in 1921 with 10 full page colour plates.
Uniform of the Army of the United States Illustrated from 1774 to 1889 by Henry A Ogden
Uniform of the Army of the United States Illustrated from 1774 to 1889
by Henry A Ogden

44 large folio colour chromolithographic plates prepared by G. H. Buer of New York.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck

Limited Editions Club edition from 1940, 67 two-colour lithographs on zinc plates by Thomas Hart Benton.
Tell Me Why Stories by C.H. Claudy & illustrated by Norman Rockwell
Tell Me Why Stories
by C.H. Claudy & illustrated by Norman Rockwell

8 colour plates produced by a teenage Norman Rockwell.
Trending to Maine by Kenneth Roberts & illustrated by N.C. Wyeth
Trending to Maine
by Kenneth Roberts & illustrated by N.C. Wyeth

Published in 1938 with 14 colour plates plus three pen and ink drawings on title page.
The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening edited by George Nicholson
The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening
edited by George Nicholson

Various editions of this Victorian gem with 20+ chromolithographed colour plates and many woodcuts.
Flowers and their Kindred Thoughts by Mary Ann Bacon
Flowers and their Kindred Thoughts
by Mary Ann Bacon

1848, designed by Owen Jones with 15 full page chromolithographic colour plates.
The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones
The Grammar of Ornament
by Owen Jones

Various editions, first printed in 1868, 100 colour plates in this guide to good architectural form & colour.
Types of Floral Mechanism from Arthur Harry Church
Types of Floral Mechanism
from Arthur Harry Church

39 colour plates in this 1908 book showing watercolours of dissected flowers.
Favourite Flowers of Garden and Greenhouse by Edward Step
Favourite Flowers of Garden and Greenhouse
by Edward Step

316 chromolithographed plates across four volumes, edited by William Watson of Kew Gardens.
The Book of the Bench by Spy
The Book of the Bench
by Spy

39 mounted/tipped-in colour plates of cartoons illustrating the legal profession.
Alpine Plants by David Wooster
Alpine Plants
by David Wooster

108 colour plates spread across two volumes.
The Mary Frances Sewing Book or Adventures Among the Thimble People by Jane Eayre Fryer
The Mary Frances Sewing Book or Adventures Among the Thimble People
by Jane Eayre Fryer

1913, a small number of colour plates plus 33 sewing patterns for dolls.
Our Darlings: The Children’s Treasury of Pictures and Stories edited by Dr. Barnardo
Our Darlings: The Children’s Treasury of Pictures and Stories
edited by Dr. Barnardo

Various editions of this often-reprinted classic containing a varying number of colour plates.
A Natural History of British Grasses by E.J. Lowe
A Natural History of British Grasses
by E.J. Lowe

74 colour plates by the celebrated English botanist Edward Joseph Lowe (1825-1900).

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