About the project

British & Exotic Mineralogy

Published 1802–1817

British Mineralogy and Exotic Mineralogy comprise 718 illustrations by James Sowerby in an effort to illustrate the topographical mineralogy of Great Britain and minerals not then known to it. Sowerby’s plates are some of the finest examples of hand-drawn mineral illustrations ever created. The detail and care with which these illustrations were created is incredible and worthy of close examination. See the samples below.

Accompanying each illustration is a detailed descrpition, a list of similar names by other researchers, characteristics, and classification details.

Sources: British Mineralogy vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; Exotic Mineralogy vols. 1, 2.

Spread of original scans of an illustration of copper
Original scan of a copper illustration. Source: Internet Archive
  • Sulphate of Barytes
    Sulphate of Barytes
  • Quartz Septarium
    Quartz Septarium
  • Inverse crystallized Carbonate of Lime
    Inverse crystallized Carbonate of Lime
  • Oxide of Uranium, Uran-glimmer
    Oxide of Uranium, Uran-glimmer
  • Lapis Lazuli
    Lapis Lazuli
  • Fluor
    Fluor

Publishing timeline

Illustrations were usually published on the first of a month with a varying schedule. Originally issued in many smaller parts called “numbers” between 1802 and 1817, some subscribers had them bound into volumes. Plotting the dates written below each illustration on a timeline as shown below highlights the frequency with which they were originally published. They were published with much more frequency during the first few years (once a month) then slowed to about once every other month.

125 plates did not have a complete, legible, or visible date, including 28 from in the latter half of volume five (based on their numbering, they were likely published some time in 1816) and all 97 plates of volume two of Exotic Mineralogy (likely published between 1813 and 1817).

  • Plate from British Mineralogy
  • Exotic Mineralogy

1802

1803

1804

1805

1806

1807

1808

1809

1810

1811

1812

1813

1814

1815

1816

1817

James Sowerby

James Sowerby

Naturalist, illustrator, and mineralogist

Born in London in 1757, Sowerby published many works in additional his mineralogy series covering botany, conchology, mycology, and his own color system. He is most well known for his English Botany series spanning 23 years.

Read more at Wikipedia »

Arranging by color

Each of Sowerby’s 718 illustrations were carefully restored to their original vibrancy and then the key color was sampled from each one as the basis for arranging them by color.

Step 1

In the following images, color labels are based on the number of the original plate prefixed with a B or E indicating if they were in British Mineralogy or Exotic Mineralogy respectively. The image below shows all 718 key colors arranged numerically.

Step 2

Colors were then sorted by hue, divided into equal groups (columns below), and each group was sorted by brightness to generate the final guide for arranging the restored illustrations.

Step 3

Finally, after the illustrations were arranged according to the sorted colors, they were packed closely together to create the final collage. Below shows the process of creating the final collage over 4.5 hours of manually moving each illustration one at a time, working from the inside out. Most illustrations contained multiple drawings for a total of 2,242 individual drawings. Descriptions for each illustration were copied from orignal scans on the Internet Archive and reformatted for the interactive collage. The project from start to finish took nearly four months.

Drag slider to see the progress from start to finish.

More about how it was made »

Licensing and support

Posters and website design are under the copyright of Nicholas Rougeux. All other content and diagrams are under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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Photo by Vinicius “amnx” Amano

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