Detail map of Boston, Massachusetts, United States

A: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Allen's Victoria Regia: The First Large Scale Chromolithographed Book Produced in the U.S.


John Fisk Allen's Victoria Regia; or the Great Water Lily of America, With a Brief Account of its Discovery and Introduction into Cultivation: with Illustrations by William Sharp, from Specimens Grown at Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.A., Printed and Published for the Author by Dutton & Wentworth of Boston, was the first large scale color printed book produced in the United States. Its pages measure 21 x 26.5 inches. Its six life-size images were chromolithographed by William Sharp, and of these, one was after a drawing by Allen, and the remaining five were drawn by Sharp specifically to be reproduced by chromolithography. 

America's first chromolithographic printer, William Sharp emigrated to Boston from England in the late 1830s, after working in London for the pioneer lithographer and chromolithographer Charles Hullmandel. Sharp produced the first chromolithograph in the United States in 1840, and his career culminated in Victoria Regia, the plates of which Reese describes as having "printed colors with a delicacy of execution and technical brilliance never before achieved in the United States." Sharp's work was partly successful because the five plates he designed were specifically intended to be printed by chromolithography. The very large format reflects the extraordinary size of the lily; its leaves grow several inches a day until they reach up to 6 feet long, and are strong enough to support the weight of a child. The flowers are 12 to 17 inches in diameter.

Allen's text provides a history of the cultivation of the lily, which was introduced into England after being discovered on the Amazon in the 1830s. Victoria had recently been crowned, and the lily was named in her honor. Allen's lily was given to him by Caleb Frederick Cope, to whom the book is dedicated. Cope, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, was the first American to cultivate this lily. The scientific name of the illy is Victoria amazonica.

Reese 19,  Marzio, Democratic Art pp. 18, 215, 279-80.

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