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COLLECTION Identifier: arn00013

Thomas Nuttall collection of illustrations for North American Sylva

Scope and content

Creation of the additional plates for Nuttall's edition of North American Sylva was overseen by Nuttall. The plates were drawn by several artists, including William Gambel, a naturalist who traveled with and collected for Nuttall between 1838 and 1842. The illustrations were completed by J.B. Butler, J.T. French, E.D. Long, G. West, J. Worley and J. Magee. The published versions vary from the original illustrations in color and technique by artist.

This collection contains one specimen and 58 original illustrations, with numbers ranging from 1-108. Notes on each illustration indicate how they should be completed or improved, primarily through suggestions regarding addition or subtraction of color. Typed notes signed “EDB” (Elizabeth Dean Bennett) comparing the originals to corresponding published plates are included with several illustrations.


  • 1836-1841, 1928


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


0.25 linear feet

Biographical note

Thomas Nuttall was born on January 5, 1786, in Settle, Yorkshire, England. His interest in natural history began in childhood as he explored the landscapes of the Craven district in North Yorkshire with a young botanist named John Windsor. Nuttall emigrated to Philadelphia in 1808.

In Philadelphia Nuttall came under the patronage of botanist Benjamin Smith Barton. Over the next few years he traveled extensively in North America and collected many specimens previously unknown to the scientific community. In 1822 Nuttall was appointed curator of Harvard’s Botanic Garden. He taught botany and cultivated plants at the Botanic Garden until 1833. The following year he joined Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth’s second Pacific Northwest expedition.

From 1836 to 1841 Nuttall worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. During this time he made contributions to “Flora of North America” by John Torrey and Asa Gray. He also wrote supplemental text and commissioned additional plates for a new edition of François André Michaux’s “North American Sylva” published in 1852-1853.

In 1842 Nuttall’s uncle, Jonas Nuttall, bequeathed to him an estate near Liverpool. The terms of the inheritance required Nuttall to reside at the estate, called Nutgrove, for nine months each year. With the exception of a short trip to the United States in the winter of 1847-1848, Nuttall spent the rest of his life in England where he dedicated much of his time to horticulture. He died at his estate on September 10, 1859.


Durand E. 1860. Biographical notice of the late Thomas Nuttall. Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc. 7(63):297-315.

Graustein JE. 1967. Thomas Nuttall, naturalist: Explorations in America, 1808-1841. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Powers WH. 1925. Some facts in the life of Thomas Nuttall. Science. 62(1609):389-391.


The provenance of this collection is unknown.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:

Thomas Nuttall diary

Conservation and digitization note

In 2018, several illustrations from this collection were conserved by Harvard's Weissman Preservation Center in preparation for digitization. Harvard's Imaging Services department digitized this collection as part of the "Original botanical illustrations of the Botany Libraries" project.

Nuttall, Thomas, 1786-1859. Thomas Nuttall collection of illustrations for North American Sylva, 1836-1841, 1928: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Arnold Arboretum Library (Cambridge), Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Arnold Arboretum Library (Cambridge), Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Arnold Arboretum Library in Cambridge specializes in the identification and classification of Old World plants with emphasis on Asia. The Archives of the Arnold Arboretum (Cambridge) houses unique resources, primarily field notes related to the plant specimens housed in Cambridge.

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