From 1810 to 1811, the English stonemason and amateur naturalist George Perry published a lavishly illustrated magazine on natural history. The Arcana or Museum of Nature ran to 22 monthly parts, with 84 extraordinary hand-colored plates and over 300 text pages describing mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, mollusks, echinoderms, insects, trilobites and plants, alongside travelogues from far-off lands. It presented the first published illustration of the koala and many new genera and species, but astonishingly was then largely forgotten for nearly two hundred years. Perry’s work was deliberately ignored by his contemporaries in England, as he was a supporter of Lamarck rather than of Linnaeus, and the Arcana’s rarity—only thirteen complete copies are known to have survived—has helped maintain its shroud of mystery.
Now at last this neglected gem has been revived for scientists, students, and aficionados of natural history. New scholarship is combined with modern digital reproduction techniques to do full justice to the beautiful plates. An up-to-date account of all the species is given, along with a full collation and extensive notes, by the eminent natural historian Richard E. Petit.
The Arcana is technically interesting too, as its glowing plates were printed with variously colored inks to suppress their outlines. Its appeal will extend not only to academic libraries and scholars specializing in various branches of natural history and the history of science, but also to collectors of beautiful natural history books and enthusiasts of Regency Britain.