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BIRD BOOKS

 BIRDS OF AMERICA,  FIRST EDITION,  EDINBURGH & LONDON 1831 - 1837
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN JAMES AUDUBON   ENGRAVED, PRINTED AND COLOURED BY ROBERT HAVELL
and ROBERT HAVELL Junior. PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR.

WHITE HERON from John Audubon's Birdss of America

 



 

MANGROVE HUMMING BIRD from John Audubon's Birds of America

BARN OWL from John Audubon's Birds of America

The most well known and sought after of all natural history publications with good condition and complete first editions now commanding stratospheric prices at auction. Engraved, printed and coloured by Robert Havell's London workshop(1) and published in parts between 1831 and 1837 against a list of 160 subscribers, although it is believed that up to 200 copies were actually produced. The first edition plates were detailed and massive (double elephant size - about 26 x 38 inches). Audubon was also involved in the production of a much lower quality second edition at a greatly reduced size (octavo about 8 inches x 5 inches) with many images being popularised by the inclusion of new or remodelled backgrounds - neither of which improved the images in any way.

A significant number of the prints were not made from dedicated paintings, but rather from collages taken from earlier works or were sketched and drafted by Audubon with instructions to Havell as to how to complete the image during the etching and engraving processes. Many of the backgrounds and settings were painted by different hands, usually James Wilson, James Wilson's sister, or one of Audubon's two sons.

The engraving is of a very high standard but the subsequent colourists' work was at best casual and often clumsy and crude using unstable pigments and dyes (faults fully corrected in our prints) and so they were by no means the finest prints of their time - John Curtis's work (British Entomology) deserves that accolade, but they were certainly the largest and of a very popular subject. Having now had the colours and colouring work corrected and the very few minor engraving errors removed, our restored Birds of America prints undoubtedly now stand as the finest ornithological images of all time.

Although thought of as American, Audubon was born in Haiti of French parents, many of the original paintings were completed in England and all of the print work was completed firstly in Edinburgh, Scotland and then in London, England. Almost all of the prints were originally sold to British customers. Audubon never grew rich as a result of his Herculean thirteen year endeavour. When he died his destitute widow was obliged to sell all the original paintings, complete with annotations and pasted-on collages. They were purchased by the New York History Society where they remain to this day. Seventy-nine of the original steel and copper plates survive but amazingly, the rest were melted down on the instruction of Audubon's widow, for the scrap value of the metal.

The restoration and publication of the majority of the Birds of America prints is an on-going, long-term project. We would also like to work with a folio copy Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America but have not yet been able to gain access to a good quality and complete copy.

Detailed information concerning the history and restoration of Plate 1 is to be found here.

IMPORTANT

The original Birds of America prints were on "Double Elephant" folio sized sheets up to 38½ by 26 inches, a sheet size that is not readily obtainable today. We print on sheets up to 36 x 24 inches with full-page sized Audubon images marginally reduced to fit. This also means that standard size picture frames can be used. Full size sheet printing is available (on sheets up to 42 inches wide) at but the cost is more than doubled for the very marginal increase in image size. If you nevertheless wish to have a full-sized print please email us before ordering.  For more information about plate sizes, click here.

(1) Some preliminary work was completed by Lizars in Edinburgh (Plates 1 to 10) but Audubon was not happy with it, nor the late deliveries resulting from a strike by Lizars' colourists.


BIRDS OF GREAT BRITAIN, BY JOHN GOULD, FIRST EDITION, LONDON  1862 - 1873
PLATES MOSTLY BY JOSEPH WOLF & JOHN & ELIZABETH GOULD
LITHOGRAPHED BY HENRY CONSTANTINE RICHTER.

Eagle Owl  

  Snowy Owl 

 

 Hawk Owl 

  Kestrel

John Gould 1804 – 1881. Ornithologist, taxidermist and publisher.

John Gould was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England the son of a gardener.  His father became foreman of the Royal Gardens at Windsor where John started training to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was here that he probably received a rudimentary education and learned the art of taxidermy. He left Windsor and set up a taxidermy business in London in 1824. He was exceptionally good at his trade and consequently in 1827 was appointed curator of museum of The Zoological Society of London (“TZSL”, see below). He made many presentations to the TZSL all of which are carefully recorded in their proceedings. He excelled at detailed written descriptions of the many new species that arrived in the course of his work.

Although thought of as an illustrator in his own right, John Gould’s “work” is mostly the product of other hands - in particular his wife Elizabeth (née Coxen), Henry Constantine Richter, Joseph Wolf, William Hart and Edward Lear.   

It is unfortunate that all of Gould’s publications featured lithographs rather than engravings, causing them to be very much less detailed than work by his contemporaries such as John Curtis and John Audubon. But it did allow for a faster production process and the stone plates were able to produce many more copies than the softer copper plates used by engravers. By reducing the overall size of the images and with the application of carefully controlled detail enhancements to selected areas, it has been possible to render Gould’s finest images in a way that is comparable to the best available engravings from the period.

Gould’s output was extensive, including many volumes of birds and mammals from distant lands illustrated and described for the first time. During his lifetime some 2,700 individual images were included in his catalogue of “works”, not one of which was actually completed by Gould himself. This is not to say that the output was any the less for this, since he engaged the best artists and lithographers then available.

Gould was able to indulge himself in several collecting expeditions. In 1838 he travelled with his wife to Tasmania and thence to Australia, returning in late 1840. A very hazardous journey in those days.  He also travelled to Scandinavia (1856) and the United States (1857).

Birds of Great Britain is generally considered to be his best work with Mammals of Australia a close runner-up. It is these two publications that feature most in our selection of Gould’s work supported by a selection of his images that were published by TZSL in their early proceedings.

Gould became wealthy and famous as a result of his extensive output (10 major works in 40 volumes) which all proved to be the latest “must haves” for the many ornithologists, both amateur and professional. His volumes still reside on the shelves of many important homes in Europe and the United States.  He continued working from his home at 26 Charlotte Street, London until his death in 1881. His wife Elizabeth died 40 years earlier, shortly after their return from Australia.                    


PROCEEDINGS OF THE ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY,  LONDON  1874 - 1880
PLATES MOSTLY BY JOHN GERARD KEULEMANS ( 1842 - 1912) AND JOSEPH SMIT (1836 - 1929)

Lesser Whiteye & Rusty-back Spinetail  

 D'Alberti's Orange-breasted Fig Parrot 

 

 Babylonian Falcon 

 Botta's Windchat & Heuglin's Windchat

The Zoological Society of London metamorphosed from the merging of the Linnean Society and the Entomological Society in 1824. The name was at first "The Zoological Club of the Linnean Society of London" but around 1830 this was changed to "The Zoological Society of London". The proceedings were published regularly to members and as the society grew in prestige and size it was able to afford ever more lavish publications. Between 1834 and 1880 the best technical artists of their day (principally Gould, Keulemans and Smit) were being employed to provide the publication's fine technical drawings and illustrations. Presumably, photography took over thereafter as we have been unable to source any images of artistic merit after this period.

We were very fortunate in acquiring a bound collection of original PZS prints put together at the time and in 1924 given as a Christmas present from her father to a very lucky, very young  Hilda MacKenzie. Thank you, Hilda for having taken such great care of it.


BIRDS OF GREAT BRITAIN WITH THEIR EGGS  -  WILLIAM LEWIN.   SECOND Edition,   London  1795 - 1801
PLATES BY WILLIAM LEWIN (1747 - 1795) & SONS.   

Water Ouzel (Dipper)

 Red-backed Shrike

 

  

 Merlin

 Hoopoe

Published in eight volumes between 1795 and 1801 comprising 381 bird plates served up with 59 plates of eggs. All the images in the first four volumes were drawn, etched and hand coloured by William Lewin with assistance from his three sons. It is from these volumes that we have sourced most of the Lewin Prints.  We are fortunate in having unrestricted access to the finest of the only five recorded surviving complete copies of the work, the rest mostly having been broken up for the individual plates most of which have now been lost. All the plates from volumes I and II have been completed. It is anticipated that remaining volumes will be completed in the next two years. Some selected images are already available from Volume VI.

William Lewin was a naturalist of great repute who dedicated the last 25 years of his life to describing and drawing all the then known birds of Great Britain. He published his work in a seven volume, first edition of just 60 copies, available only by private subscription over five years commencing in 1789. Most of these superb books have now been destroyed by greedy, uncaring  print dealers and collectors. The five known  remaining examples are priceless - the rarest books on British ornithology. By public demand Lewin embarked on a 150 copy, second edition, but unlike the first edition, these did not contain individually painted watercolour sketches of the birds, but instead, finely detailed, hand coloured, copper-plate etchings.  Lewin's second edition images are his finest. Their restrained, minimalist style and clarity of draughtsmanship mark them out as the most desirable ornithological images of the late 18th Century.

William Lewin also commenced a similar work entitled "The Insects of Great Britain Accurately Described", to be published in parts, but only the first volume "British Butterflies" was completed before Lewin's unexpected and sudden death in 1795. By this time Lewin had only completed the first 130 etchings for Birds of Great Britain, and so it was left to his three sons to finish his main work.

These prints are unusual in that Lewin was not transferring already created images to print, but rather creating new images directly onto the plates themselves. We are not aware of any other major contemporary publication where this was definitely the case. The result is that the images were freely drafted and coloured with none of the formality normally associated with typical 18th Century natural history prints. The scripts of the titles were also produced in this manner (i.e. written in mirror image) hence the occasional strange character and mis-pelling. Great care has been taken to preserve these unusual and charming characteristics.

William Lewin 337 Plates from The Birds of Great Britain

 

We are delighted to be able to offer a set of high definition, full size image files of the original illustrations. This comprises 337 plates, in colour, including the all the birds, the frontispiece and the eggs. This is available on DVD priced to be attractive to students, artists and academics. The images files are suitable for printing at a resolution of 300dpi. The DVD details are to be found here.

Alternatively, the entire set of full size, original illustrations, with minor touching-out of major blemishes, is available in book form directly from the printers. Click on the book for a preview and ordering details.

 


A HISTORY OF BRITISH BIRDS,  FIRST EDITION,  LONDON 1850 - 1857
BY THE REV. FRANCIS ORPEN MORRIS B.A.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALEXANDER FRANCIS LYDON, PRINTED BY BENJAMIN FAWCET
PUBLISHED IN PARTS BY GROOMBRIDGE & SONS,  PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON

Orange-legged Hobby Merlin

 

 

Long-eared owl Kingfisher

Morris was firstly a vicar and thereafter a gifted ornithologist and entomologist who gained a nationwide reputation writing short essays on natural history to the extent that the Yorkshire printer, Benjamin Fawcet, persuaded him to write the text to a book he was wanting to produce. Morris's name together with illustrations by his friend, Alexander Francis Lydon - a superb artist and wood-block engraver - Fawcet was sure of success and so it turned out. Groombridge, the London Publishers, agreed to publish the finished work which was issued in parts each comprising 4 plates and accompanying text after the fashion established by John Curtis and John Audubon a few years earlier.  The first parts were issued in the Summer of 1850 with the final folio released in 1857. It is not know whether Lydon first produced paintings of the subjects or engraved them straight onto wood.  The quality of the images suggests the former, in which case there may still exist somewhere an undiscovered treasure trove of truly great merit. He was not above a bit of plagiarism, his image of the Eagle Owl is clearly a reduced size, mirror-image copy of Edward Lear's earlier work for John Gould's Birds of Europe which is available from here.

This hugely popular publication was initially printed in a run of 1,000 copies. Fawcet used a pioneering, two block process, one block printed the black outlines which was then overprinted by a second block charged with a light grey ink to provide surface detail and shading effects. This gave the plates a subtle and aesthetically pleasing three dimensional quality not previously seen. Only the birds themselves were hand coloured, the backgrounds and surroundings being left monochrome. This is a feature of all the first edition prints. The first edition soon sold out prompting the immediate production of a mass-produced second edition (published in 1862) using a partial multi-block colouring process that included the surroundings, to eliminate some of the time consuming and costly hand colouring. The second edition used the same, but by then somewhat worn master plates, which together with the faster production process and much lower grade paper inevitably meant a dramatic reduction in overall quality. The jewel-like quality of the first edition was completely lost in the second and subsequent editions whose prints are often dishonestly offered for sale as "first edition". However, the second edition prints are easily identified by the larger sheet size (9 x 7 inches), printed page numbers and coloured surroundings. Subsequent chromolithographed editions are of extremely poor quality.

We are able to offer the entire collection of prints, 358 in all, from the first edition of this publication. A complete list is to be found here. We have decided to offer these at the their original small size (because this best shows their jewel-like qualities) in addition to the standard A4 enlargements.  Because of their small size, excellent condition and the large number of plates available we will initially be offering these restored to order since it will only cause a delivery delay of two or three days to have them restored on demand. It has also been decided not to correct the original plate colours to those of nature since it is obvious that Lydon selected the colours as much for effect and impact as for accuracy. A complete list of the available plates is to be found here.

Note: The title is often misquoted as: "A Natural History of British Birds"


NATURAL HISTORY OF PARROTS -  1st Edition,  EDINBURGH 1836
TEXT BY PRIDEAUX JOHN SELBY (1788 - 1867) - Plates by EDWARD LEAR (1812 - 1888)
PUBLISHED AS PART OF THE NATURALIST'S LIBRARY EDITED BY SIR WILLIAM JARDINE.

Edward Lear print from Prideaux John Selby - A Natural Histoyr of Parrots, Purple-capped Lory - Lorius domicellus

 

 Edward Lear print from Prideaux John Selby - A Natural Histoyr of Parrots, Ground Parrot - Pezporus formosus (Pezporus wallicus)

Edward Lear's career was hugely boosted by the run-away success of this book (published as Volume VI of the ornithology section within The Naturalists Library), the illustrations for which he produced when just 23 years of age. He very soon become renowned for his artistry (both for the written word and paintings) and an ability to convey the atmosphere as well as the fact in his technical images. This is clearly demonstrated within this volume comprising 30 superb images with detailed descriptions by Selby. Lizars was probably the finest publishing house of its period although, curiously, John Audubon did not find the output from their Edinburgh works to be to satisfactory for his purposes (see above). Although entirely produced in London, Lizars opted to credit this publication to their Edinburgh works. Perhaps this was an attempt to repair the damaged reputation caused by the Audubon episode.  

Natural History of Parrots is one of the rarest and most sought after volumes from the The Naturalist's Library. An excellent copy of this wonderful little volume fell into our hands almost by accident. And what a happy accident it turned out to be - a first edition with some of the most finely detailed, small-scale ornithological engravings that we have ever seen, finished off with restrained and very careful hand-colouring. Our resource copy appears to have been in a private library and remained almost unopened throughout its 175 year life. Every image is crystal clear. There are very few engraving and colouring errors but the inevitable browning of the paper around the edges is quite evident.

The illustrations in this work are all of highly coloured birds, the species having been specially chosen for the purpose. Prints are available both as original size (7¼ x 5 inches on A4 sheets) or enlarged to A4, an enlargement easily accommodated by the extremely fine original engraving and colouring. In spite of the superb quality and extreme rarity, the restored prints are very reasonably priced.


       

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