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-coloured 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 Linnaeus, and the "Arcana's" rarity - only thirteen complete copies are known - 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.
Richard Eugene Petit F. L. S. (1931) is a leading scholar of Malacology (the study of Mollusks) and of its history. His numerous publications span over 45 years and include biographies of early Malacologists together with original scientific research. He has been a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution and the Field Museum, and is a former President of the American Malacological Society.
Only 13 complete copies of Arcana are known to exist. Petit has collated and updated Perry's taxonomies, and much effort has gone into digitizing the original text and quaint illustrations. After two centuries, Perry's work can now be judged by a modern audience in this handsome fascimile edition. Summing Up: Highly Recommended. - Choice, May 2010 "Great care has been taken in the creation of this fascimile, to reproduce the plates faithfully, as close to original colours [sic] and brightness as possible...While it would be easy to simply delight in the plates and dismiss the text as of little value, from an historical perspective there is something to be gained by taking the time to read it. At the very least Perry's Arcana provides insights into an important period in the development of the natural sciences as we know them today." - Australian Science