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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00002

Jacob Bigelow botanical illustrations


The collection consists of 44 original botanical illustrations and printed plates. Also includes some additional notes. Materials mostly pertain to Bigelow's "American Medical Botany".


  • circa 1813-1819


Conditions Governing Access

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


0.125 linear feet (1 flat box) : 44 original illustrations and printed plates and additional material in 6 folders ; 5x14 cm to 23x27 cm

The Bigelow collection consists of botanical illustrations and supporting material. There are 44 original botanical illustrations and printed plates, mostly pertaining to Bigelow's “American Medical Botany,” including pen and ink drawings and pencil drawings - some colored - and hand-colored proofs.

There were 17 packets of specimens with identifying labels. Plants were collected in Europe; some are dated March 1839. The specimens were mounted on specimen sheets and were cataloged as [Herbarium : specimens collected on European trip, 1839.] The specimens are stored in the Herbaria Special Collections.


Jacob Bigelow was born in Sudbury, Massachusetts on February 27, 1787 to Jacob and Sarah Heartwell Bigelow. He graduated from Harvard in 1806 and continued his studies with John Warren at the Harvard Medical School. He completed his M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1810 and returned to Boston. Bigelow opened a practice with James Jackson in 1811 and worked there for the next 60 years.

During his time at the University of Pennsylvania Bigelow was a private pupil of botanist Benjamin Smith Barton. In 1812 Bigelow began lecturing on botany at Harvard. Interest in his lectures led him to compile the first edition of his “Florula Bostoniensis,” published in 1814. Second and third editions followed in 1824 and 1840.

In 1815 Bigelow was appointed Professor of Materia Medica at Harvard Medical School, a post he retained until 1855. He held a second appointment as Rumford Professor, teaching applied science, from 1816-1827. He married Mary Scollay in 1817. The couple had seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood.

Between 1817 and 1860 Bigelow published three volumes of “American Medical Botany,” several works on medicine and biology, and anonymously released a volume of verse. He also played a major role in the establishment and design of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for 67 years, serving as president from 1847-1863.

Bigelow died in Boston on January 10, 1879 and is buried at Mount Auburn. The genus Bigelowia was named in his honor by Augustin Pyramus de Candolle.


Bailey LH. 1883. Some North American Botanists. V. Jacob Bigelow. Bot. Gaz. 8(5):217-222.

Gray A. 1879. Dr. Jacob Bigelow. Amer. J. Sci. Arts. 17(97-102):263-266.

Kelly HA. 1914. Some American Medical Botanists. Troy (NY): Southworth Company.


The collection is comprised of original illustrations and published plates. Artwork from "American Medical Botany" is organized by plate number.

Most original illustrations are not labeled with scientific name, common name, or plate number. Original illustrations were compared with the published plates in "American Medical Botany" and when identified the scientific name, common name, and plate number were used in the finding aid. Common names appear in parentheses. Updated scientific names appear in square brackets and were supplied by herbaria staff. Titles or notes that appear on original illustrations are in quotation marks in the finding aid.

Printed plates usually contain scientific name and plate number. Common names were added from the text of "American Medical Botany" and appear in parenthesis.

Miscellaneous artwork and artwork that is possibly from "American Medical Botany" follow the artwork that was positively identified.


The provenance of this collection is unknown.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Herbaria Special Collections: 17 mounted specimens and one illustration cataloged as: [Herbarium : specimens collected on European trip, 1839]

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria: Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965 Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892 Botany Libraries Photograph Collection Jane Gray autograph collection, 1563-1908

Conservation and Digitization note

Several paintings from this collection were conserved in 2018. Harvard's Imaging Services department digitized this collection as part of the "Original botanical illustrations of the Botany Libraries" project.

Processed by

Lynn McWhood, March 1983.

Collection reprocessed and item level finding aid completed, June 2018.

Bigelow, Jacob, 1786-1879. Jacob Bigelow botanical illustrations, circa 1813-1819: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Gray Herbarium.

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