The New Naturalist series is an iconic and on-going series of books published by Collins in the UK that focuses on natural history. It began in 1945 with Butterflies by E.B. Ford and more than 100 titles have been published. According to the New Naturalist website, the goal is "to interest the general reader in the wild life of Britain by recapturing the inquiring spirit of the old naturalists."
The contributing authors are experts, usually scientists. The books are written in a scientific style, but intended for a general audience. Bats, beetles, birds, plants, mountains, fish, fungi, caves and hedges are just a handful of the subjects covered.
The New Naturalist series is famous for its beautiful covers. Clifford and Rosemary Ellis designed more than 90 New Naturalist covers over 40 years, and were responsible for the distinctive style which is still used today. Their last design was for No. 70, The Natural History of Orkney, which is also the rarest of all New Naturalist books - only 725 copies were printed.
A husband and wife team, Clifford and Rosemary worked together for five decades after meeting in 1931 at art college. The Ellises developed a successful partnership, working closely on posters, book jackets and wallpaper designs, often using imagery from the natural world.
Their 1930s posters were noted for unusual and striking color combinations. For the New Naturalist, they only used three colors plus black, using tones and overlays to create subtle variations. The jacket designed were created using water-based paints, chalk and wax on white paper. They conducted in-depth research, often heading out to the countryside where they made sketches to start the process.
A 2009 book, Art of the New Naturalists by Peter Marren and Robert Gillmor, explores the history behind this long-running series, including the contributions of Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, and their high standards of work.
In 1990, Bloomsbury produced a collection of facsimile editions, each one a hardback with new dust jacket designs and all plates in black and white. At the top of the New Naturalist range are the leather bound editions. Limited to just 50 hand-bound copies for recent titles, these books are numbered, and signed by the author.
New Naturalist is a numbered series and each new title is printed in small quantities, which makes them highly collectible. Rare copies can sell for up to $1,500. The 100th volume, Woodlands by Oliver Rackham, was published in 2006. A complete collection is the Holy Grail for any fan of natural history.