Sunday, October 07, 2012

History of Books and Illustration

These illustrations were engraved in the late 1700's and published in 1795 to enlighten a population intrigued by new discoveries. It was a pity that the artist had not actually seen the subjects! There was no colour printing in those days, so the pages have been hand-painted, probably by a family, with members each applying a different colour.

The present spelling is orangutan, but you'll also find orang-utan, orang utan, orangutang, or ourang-outang

A Domesticated Female Orangutan 

 Really? And the background doesn't look much like a rainforest in Borneo or Sumatra - their normal habitat. Nor is carrying off humans an experienced behavior, though the practice is recounted in some folk stories. But they are only stories! I wonder how readers regarded orangutans after seeing these pictures and how long it took before they became aware of the truth and were able to see accurate drawings.

These engravings are in the collection of books and documents that I share with attendees at my 'Hands-on History of Books over 4000 Years' sessions for schools and adults. I hope I may see you at one of them. I'll post pictures of some other treasures in the following weeks, but it won't compare to being able to hold them.

Peter Taylor
Writing for Children