The Rev. Samuel Preston was the highly cultivated Rector of Chevening, Kent, the country seat of the Whiggish Earls of Stanhope; in 1803 he died and left his library of 2,500 volumes to the Library Company.
The bequest came as a complete surprise. Preston first heard of the Library when Benjamin Franklin visited Chevening as a friend of the Stanhopes, and he decided to become its benefactor while having his portrait painted by the expatriate artist Benjamin West in 1797.
When the books arrived late in 1804, the membership was astonished. Even by English standards it was a magnificent private library, rich in expensive illustrated books on history, geography, and the fine arts.
Benjamin West persuaded Preston to give his books to the Library Company while he was painting his portrait.
The striking plates, by Bartolozzi, are hand-colored only in spots; for the most part the colors are printed directly from the copper plates, some on pink paper. This kind of color printing, still in its early stages of development, was just as laborious as hand coloring, since the various colored inks were daubed onto the copper plate by hand with each impression pulled. Nevertheless it was an important step in the development of mechanical color printing with separate plates for each color, which took place in the 19th century. This is surely one of the first books with color printing to reach America.