As summer exhales its last few breaths here in NYC, the flowers that burst out in radiant colours are starting to wilt. Which is why I am savoring the plump freshness of these peonies in a woodblock print by Tanigami Konan, who worked in Japan in the early 19th century.

The print is available from Panteek, an online store run by David and Sue Panken who live in Spokane at the foothills of the Rockies in Washington state. The Pankens grow rare plants and orchids and collect botanical prints. They have an enormous range of these intricate artworks for sale on their website.

And it’s not just botanical prints – there are shells, fish, birds and just about every natural form of life.

David and Sue are incredibly knowledgeable about their finds, too. They buy most of their stash from Europe but also find sources within the US. “We buy them however we can find them,” said Sue, “from beat-up old books to entire print lots.” She explained to me that many of the prints never got bound into books, but were issued in fascicles.

The heyday for these prints was from 1790 until the early 1900s when scientific discovery and publishing flourished. It was a time when science and art merged.

The seaweed prints above are some of my favorite. They were made by James Sowerby, who was well known for the elegant simplicity of his prints.

The range of stuff on Panteek’s website is almost encyclopedic. There are architectural prints, Art Deco prints from fashion journals, and vivid silkscreens of people in traditional folk dress.

Sue Panken pointed out that the prints were designed to have popular appeal to increase their potential for financing the scientist’s next exploratory trip. It is amazing how they have transcended time.
Also pretty remarkable is the wealth of information I got from Sue, who answered the 1-888-PANTEEK number listed on their site. The internet may have brought their collection of prints to the world, but there’s still a human voice on the other end of that line.