The adult coloring book trend really took off several years ago, but it turns out that these soothing publications were around long before then. And not just decades—we’re talking hundreds of years. Amy Pool, a plant taxonomist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, made the discovery of Robert Sayer’s The Florist while browsing another book on the history of botanical illustration. When she pulled Sayer’s work from the garden’s library, she realized that it was actually a collection of adult coloring book pages.
The Florist features 60 plates of different flowers, from well-known peonies to less popular varieties like “Hen & Chicken Daisey.” Published in 1760, it’s one of the earliest examples of coloring books; it even predates The Little Folks’ Painting Book, which is considered the first children’s coloring book that arrived in 1879.
Considering there wasn't exactly a market for coloring books, it’s not known why The Florist was ever published. “My personal theory is that in this mid-18th-century time of worldwide exploration,” Pool explained to Hyperallergic, “ordinary people were very excited about natural history, and they wanted to participate in the creation of something not too dissimilar from the plates associated with new scientific discoveries.”
Contemporary adult coloring books are marketed as a way to unwind from our busy and connected lives. The Florist, however, was geared towards those who wanted to become a better artist. It contains detailed instructions on mixing pigments and where exactly to apply them on a flower. The effort should've prove worth it, though; when complete, the nature enthusiasts had faithful renderings in full color.
If you’d like to relive history, The Florist is now digitized and uploaded to the web. The free adult coloring pages are available for download.