200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 121: “Of Diverse Coloration and Extraordinary Form ”

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plate from Renard's Fish, crayfishes and crabs that shows five colorful fishes
One of the remarkable plates from Renard’s Poissons, écrevisses et crabes.

Of Diverse Coloration and Extraordinary Form

Louis Renard (1678–1746) was a Huguenot (French protestant) refugee who became a successful book dealer and publisher based in Amsterdam. His most noteworthy production, Fish, Crayfish and Crabs was first published in 1719. It is one of the rarest and most famous natural history books known, and it is one of the very few pre-Linnaean works on fishes to be published in color. The Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives has a copy of the 1754 edition.

The full title of the work is Poissons, écrevisses et crabes, de diverses couleurs et figures extraordinaires, que l’on trouve autour des isles Moluques, et sur les cõtes des terres australes. A translation of the title, “Fishes, crayfishes, and crabs, of diverse coloration and extraordinary form, which are to be found about the Islands of the Moluccas and on the coasts of the Southern Lands,” gives a glimpse of its remarkable contents. There are 100 brilliantly colored plates created by the artist Samuel Fallours that represent 416 fishes, 40 crustaceans, two insects, a dugong, and even a mermaid. Despite their fanciful appearance, scientists can identify the species depicted in most of the illustrations. Aside from testimonials about the work’s veracity, it contains no text apart from the engraved descriptions on the plates themselves. But almost every fish is assessed in terms of its edibility, and many descriptions include brief recipes.

Read more about rare books in the Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives.

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