The John Abbot Watercolors at the
University of South Carolina

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About the Collection


Abbot WatercolorsThe Abbot Watercolor collection at the Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina, consists of 149 illustrations of butterflies and moths. Each drawing within the collection is mounted and matted, measuring approximately 27cm x 16.5 cm. The drawings are housed in six blue half morocco cases with gilt-lettered backs.

According to Pamela Gilbert, formerly of the Natural History Museum (London), the drawings were commissioned by John Eatton Le Conte in 1813, with the instruction that Abbot “draw only the adults, larvae, and pupae” and that he not include the food plants (98). Le Conte traveled with the completed drawings to Paris in 1828, where he began work with Jean Alphonse Boisduval on Histoire générale et iconographie des lépidoptères et des chenilles de l'Amerique septentrionale. Le Conte and Boisduval used some of the Abbot drawings for the 1833 edition of their work. Boisduval apparently gave the drawings to French lepidopterist Louis M.A. Depuiset, who in turn gave them to Charles M. Oberthür, a former student of Boisduval. Four years after the death of Oberthür in 1924, a rare book dealer named La Chavalier purchased Oberthür’s library. The drawings were owned privately for the next thirty-nine years, and the identity of the owner(s) is not known. 

Abbot WatercolorssOn November 4, 1963, Sotheby’s and Company of London sold these drawings to the rare book firm H.P. Kraus of New York City. According to the Sotheby’s catalog (Lot 1), the drawings were previously the “property of a lady” who commissioned Sotheby’s to sell the drawings on her behalf (3). Finally, the University of South Carolina procured the drawings from H.P. Kraus in 1964, and the drawings have resided in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Thomas Cooper Library ever since.

For a fuller essay by John Calhoun on the background and provenance of this collection, click here.

Inquries about the collection should be addressed to:

Rare Books and Special Collections
Thomas Cooper Library
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29205
Phone: 803-777-3847


Gilbert, Pamela. John Abbot: Birds, Butterflies and Other Wonders.London: Merrell Holberton, 1998.

Kraus, H.P. (firm). The Illustrated Book. Sales Catalog 108. New York, 1964

Sotheby & Company. (firm). Catalogue of a Fine Collection of Rare Books and Drawings on Natural History and Travel. London,1963.



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