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Papers of the Sowerby family of scientific illustrators

Call Number: MS B127


This collection consists of a partial financial archives of a family of scientific illustrators and publishers, covering business and private income and expenses. The collection also includes memoranda, sketches, a library catalogue, and other related material.


  • Creation: 1829 - 1865


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of James de Carle Sowerby, 1787-1871

James de Carle Sowerby was a natural history illustrator, naturalist, author, and entrepreneur, as well as the secretary of the Royal Botanic Society. He and his extended family produced independent works and journals, learned-societies' journals, and illustrations for other scientists.


16 Volumes (16 volumes + 2 folders) : All but MSS B128 and B134 bound in inexpensive red leather, some stamped. B128 unbound; B134 in paper. Pencil sketches of natural history subjects, fancy heads, cherubim, geometrical shapes, women, etc, in MSS B140 and B141. Occasional thumb-nail mnemonic sketch in the Ledgers. ; No volume taller than 20 cm.

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

This is primarily a collection of Sowerby's financial accounts, covering fascicles supplied to subscribers, publishers, booksellers; drawings and engravings prepared for scientific authors and organizations; payments to printers, binders, illustrators (including other Sowerbys), and assistants; and personal expenses. It includes charts of fascicles of "English Botany," "Mineral Conchology," and "English Fungi."

The collection also contains a notebook kept by Sowerby's youngest sister Felicia (financial accounts 1831-1833, drawings, memos); a catalogue of a naturalist's library circa 1830; a list of expenses of and subscribers to 3 "Conversazioni" 1836-1837; and a notebook containing sketches and a few memos.

Authorship: These books are not signed. Although the bookseller attributes them to James de Carle Sowerby, the family was large and busy. However, all the account-books (except MS B134, MS B141, and MS B156) show entries which lead from one to another.

The ledgers are the largest group: they resemble each other, and cover 1831-1865; they include accounts with all the important family members but James de Carle Sowerby, and his son James (who died in 1834). Therefore the ledgers probably were kept by James de Carle Sowerby (who had succeeded his father as head of the family in 1822). MS B134 is a volume for an "Account between J.D.C. Sowerby & C.E. Sowerby" where the account is with "C.E. Sowerby Dr"; therefore it was kept by "J.D.C." and only JDCS has those initials. (Handwriting of the Ledgers varies internally, but the mixture seems consistent from volume to volume.)

MS B141 (accounts, memos, sketches) is not signed and appears to have been kept by a woman (or by a man doing a woman's errands). One account page is headed "Charlotte Dr- to FEAS". Felicia Elizabeth Ann Sowerby is JDCS's youngest sister; no other Sowerby initials fit.

MSS B138-B140 are unsigned and in various hands. MS B140 resembles MS B141. MS B138 has been corrected by "C.E.S." in pencil. These three notebooks are probably by one Sowerby or another.

Physical Location

MS B127 - MS B141

Physical Location

MS B156

Physical Location

MS P477

Other Finding Aids

See the attached for an alphabetized list by account-holder:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Rosenthal, 1975


  • Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 6 (6): 377–379 (February 1974).
Guide to the Sowerby Family Collection
Papers of the Sowerby family of scientific illustrators
Finding aid prepared by alh, 1991; revised by ksc, 2005. Finding aid encoded by skt, 2006. Finding aid revised by mwh, 2019.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Papers of the Sowerby family of scientific illustrators, MS B127, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States