I’m looking through one of my old butterfly books. ‘A Butterfly Book for the Pocket’ by Edmund Sanders. It was published in 1939 by the Oxford University Press and I bought it some time in the 1990s for 30 pence.
“Including all the species to be found in the British Isles with life-sized coloured plates and life histories”, it says. It has a dedication in Latin (of course) and a preface with details of how revolutionary the book was: it was designed with, “The plates facing the text relating to them and can be looked at without twisting the book, and in which the reader is spared the weight and the dazzling glaze of clay-laden paper.” Illustrated books used to be printed on two types of paper, one for the colour plates and one for the text which made them a real pain to read, with cross-references everywhere.
The assumption throughout the book is that it is a guide for collectors. Collectors who will capture and kill butterflies and buy taxidermists’ supplies of net, pins, relaxing jar, and stretching boards.
Here then, is the double-page spread for the Peacock:
Today I’m out in Otmoor and the RSPB reserve is alive with butterflies. None of them stay still long enough or near enough for me. Then a Peacock alights momentarily near the Nettles and I capture it – with my camera and not with a net:
They are so much more beautiful alive then a dead husk in someone’s collection.