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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Lovell Reeve Publishing Company


Reference code(s): GB 0068 LRP

Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Title: Lovell Reeve Publishing Company

Date(s): 1847-1966

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 10 Series, 44 volumes, 51 files

Name of creator(s): Lovell Reeve and Co | publishers


Administrative/Biographical history:

Augustus Lovell Reeve (1814–1865), conchologist and publisher, was born at Ludgate Hill, London, on 19 April 1814, the son of Thomas Reeve, draper and mercer, and his wife, Fanny Lovell. After attending school at Stockwell he was apprenticed at the age of thirteen to a Mr Graham, a grocer of Ludgate Hill. The chance visit of a sailor to the family shop with a calico handkerchief full of cowry shells, which he purchased for a few pence, led to Reeve's becoming a lifelong student of conchology. In 1833 he attended the meeting of the British Association at Cambridge where he acted as conchologist to the natural history section on its excursion into the fens between Cambridge and Ely.

His apprenticeship over, Reeve visited Paris where he read a paper on the classification of the Mollusca before the French Academy of Sciences. He returned to London and began work on his first book, Conchologia systematica (2 vols, 1841–1842). The publication costs, however, used up all the moneys left to him by his father and compelled him to make a fresh start in life. An opportunity to make some money came from his purchase, at Rotterdam, of a large collection of shells amassed by the Dutch governor-general of the Moluccas, General Ryder. Its profitable sale enabled Reeve to open a shop in King William Street, Strand, where he established himself as a dealer in natural objects and as a publisher specializing in natural history books.

About 1848 Reeve moved his business to 5 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, the address which also became his home from 1864. As a publisher he dealt with eminent scientists such as the botanist William Jackson Hooker, the geologist Charles Lyell, and the traveller–naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. He was considered the leading Natural History publisher of his time ‘one of the most eminent scientific publishers this country has produced’ said the Bookseller in Dec 1865. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society (1846) and of the Geological Society (1853), but, despite being sponsored by Charles Darwin, was unsuccessful in his attempt (1849) to become a fellow of the Royal Society. He married, on 12 October 1837, Eliza Baker, a relative of his former master, Mr Graham; after her death he married, on 9 January 1854, Martha Reeve (possibly the author of Edible British Molluscs (1867) under the pen name M. S. Lovell).

In 1845, as William Hooker and Samuel Curtis launched the Third Series of the Botanical Magazine, Lovell Reeve considered purchasing the publication. The magazine had a new sub-title which defined its limits ‘The plants of the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew, and of other botanical establishment in Great Britain’. When Lovell Reeve finally acquired the magazine, he had a new vignette of the Palm House cut, designed by its Architect Decimus Burton, to emphasize the importance of its links with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; he also asked William Hooker, who had by then become the first official Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to write an advertisement to launch its new publication. In 1852, financial difficulties compelled Reeve to cut down on the colouring of illustration plates, which became only partly coloured. In May 1860, Reeve undertook to publish a new magazine, to run alongside the Botanical Magazine, the Floral Magazine, which was announced for publication in May 1860. The Botanical Magazine under Sir William Hooker, would continue ‘to represent the scientific department of Garden Botany’ whereas the Floral Magazine would be devoted ‘chiefly to meritorious varieties of such introduced plants only are as of popular character, and likely to become established favourites in the Garden, Hothouse or Conservatory’. The Floral Magazine ceased publication in 1881 and 14 years later the firm of Lovell Reeve was still trying to dispose of stocks of loose plates related to the magazine, offering them at 6d. or 1s., ‘for screens, scrap-books, studies in flower-paintings etc..’. However, this did not affect the Botanical Magazine, who pursued its traditional policy of reviewing new interesting species. The plants described by Sir William Hooker in the magazine, reflected the fruits of botanical exploration but also his own personal interest.

Reeve was a competent photographer and edited and published the Stereoscopic Magazine from 1858. He also issued several sets of stereoscopic pictures. The Stereoscopic Magazine came out monthly at a cost of 2 shillings and sixpence containing 3 stereo photos, with descriptive letterpress. The Stereoscopic Magazine was only published for seven years as Lovell Reeve died in 1865. Reeve died at his home in Henrietta Street on 18 November 1865. His wife, Martha, survived him.

When Lovell Reeve died, the management of the firm passed on to his partner, Francis Lesiter Soper, the editorship of the Botanical Magazine to Joseph Hooker, after his father’s death in Aug 1865. In the early 1900s, Joseph Hooker’s resigned, and his son in law, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer, who was also the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, took over the editorship of the magazine. A few years later, the post went to Sir David Prain, Curator of the Herbarium and Library at Kew. When Francis Soper died in the early 1910s, his son succeeded him, but the magazine was then running into trouble, because of the First World War, but also because of the lack of flair and imagination which the Hookers had brought in. The War brought on a shortage of staff and the magazine went from a monthly publication to a quarterly one.

In the 1920s, the magazine was running at a loss and Soper sought a new owner. In 1921, the magazine was finally bought by the Royal Horticultural Society, who also acquired the Company’s old stock. The tradition of Directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew being appointed as Editor was continued, with Sir Arthur Hill succeeding David Prain when the latter retired in 1922. The new owners of the Magazine formed a committee to decide on the format the magazine was going to take, choosing in the process scientific publishers H.F and G Witherby to publish it for three years. Lillian Snelling was appointed as Artist, succeeding the previous one, Matilda Smith who had retired in 1921. Despite the quality of the editorship and the excellence of the drawings, the Magazine was not breaking even nor making a profit and the Royal Horticultural Society had to commit £500 as annual subsidy. In the 1930s, another crisis faced the Magazine, as hand colouring, which had traditionally been used up to this date, was proving by then to be very expensive. As a result, the Royal Horticultural Society decided to cut down on the number of colour plates and also to make extra colour plates available in the form of a colour supplement for those wishing to pay extra.

The Second World War brought on its own set of problems, with the evacuation of the Library and Herbarium specimen rendering the taxonomic research needed for the Magazine impossible, as well a shortage of hand colourists. Hand colouring was abandoned in the late 1940s, and was changed, first to a system of half-tone plates, and later to photogravure; the content was also changed so that more plants likely to be of interest to the average Gardener and available through nurseries were included. In the 1950s, the publication was spread over two years, with only two volumes published per year. Lilian Snelling retired and Stella Ross-Craig was joined by Anne Webster and Margaret Stones as regular Artists. In 1966, Sir George Taylor, Director of the Gardens at Kew and Editor, succeeded in obtaining financial assistance for the magazine, from the Bentham-Moxon Trustees and in 1966 the Trustees helped with artists’ fees. In 1970, the copyright was transferred from the Royal Horticultural Society to the Bentham-Moxon Trust. In the later years of the Magazine, there was little change in style or content and in 1984, it was finally decided that it had to appeal to a wider audience as it had always been criticised as being ‘written by botanists for botanists’. It was therefore decided to incorporate it within the Kew Magazine. The first number appeared in April 1984 ‘Kew Magazine, incorporating Curtis’s Botanical Magazine’, subscribers being sought amongst botanists, ecologists, conservationists, gardeners and admirers of botanical art.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of the Lovell Reeve Publishing Company, 1847-1966, comprising 10 series. The first series (LRP/1) contains correspondence with authors as well as relating to publications; the second series consists of stock records including valuations (LRP/2); the third series( LRP/3) relates to financial records such as Cash Books, Day Books and various ledgers; the fourth series (LRP/4) comprises illustrations and patterns, some coloured and some plain accompanying various publications, including the Curtis Botanical Magazine. The fifth series (LRP/5) deals with subscription records; the sixth series (LRP/6) contains a volume of press cuttings; the seventh (LRP/7) series relates to production records; the eight series (LRP/8) comprises catalogues, prospectuses and circulars advertising Lovell Reeve publications; the ninth series (LRP/9) relates to legal and business papers and the tenth (LRP/10) series to binding records.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the scope and content.

Conditions governing access:

This collection is subject to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew's standard access and reproduction conditions. Access is unrestricted and by appointment but will be subject to the conditions of the Data Protection Act. Reproduction information is available on request.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue available, contact the archives for more details.


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:



Archivist's note: Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011.

Rules or conventions: General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: March 2011

Publishing | Publishing industry

Personal names

Corporate names
Lovell Reeve and Co | publishers