THE FIRST MAJOR STUDIES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS: THE SCARCE “PHILADELPHIA EDITION” OF THE PLATES TO WILSON’S AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGY, WITH 76 LARGE FOLIO HAND-COLORED ENGRAVINGS
WILSON, Alexander and BONAPARTE, Charles Lucian. American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States. Plates Engraved and Colored from Original Drawings Taken from Nature. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, . Atlas folio (14-1/2 by 17-1/2 inches), period-style three-quarter green morocco gilt, raised bands, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers.
The desirable “Philadelphia Edition” of the separate Atlas to accompany Wilson’s important contribution to American ornithology, with 76 splendid hand-colored folio engravings made from original copperplates (plates in other editions from 1828 to 1878 were considerably reduced in size). A beautiful copy.
Influenced by naturalist William Bartram and engraver Alexander Lawson, Alexander Wilson, considered the “father of American ornithology,” cultivated his own interest in nature and in making drawings from nature. By 1805 Wilson realized his “great plan of depicting and describing North American birds in a large work,” resulting in American Ornithology, originally published in 1808-15. Wilson’s work, completed shortly before his death, was “of fundamental importance for the study of birds in North America,” representing the first significant study of birds in the New World. Naturalist Elliott Coues noted, “Science would lose little, but, on the contrary, would gain much, if every scrap of pre-Wilsonian writing about United States birds could be annihilated.” Wilson covered only the eastern United States, but over the next 100 years, ornithologists were able to add only 23 more indigenous land birds to his list. A decade later, Charles Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew and himself an accomplished ornithologist “issued his American Ornithology, or The Natural History of Birds Inhabiting the United States, Not Given by Wilson (1825-33), an independent work designed on the same principles as that by Wilson, and therefore regarded as a kind of sequel to that work, for which reason the two works were issued together in subsequent editions” (Anker, 212). Together these works established the foundation for the study of North American birds upon which Audubon created his own monumental work soon thereafter. Several combined octavo editions followed, culminating in this final folio edition of 1871, containing a separate Atlas volume of the original 76 folio engravings of Wilson’s paintings, pulled from the original copperplates engraved by Lawson, Murray, Warnicke, and Tanner, and colored by Rider. This edition was printed on much larger paper than earlier editions, and is commonly called the “Philadelphia Edition.” This is the plate volume only, without the three octavo text volumes. Some atlas volumes are seen with a further 27 plates by Lawson after Peale and Rider to accompany the Bonaparte supplement, for a total of 103 plates; those additional, supplemental plates, issued separately, are not present in this volume. Nissen 997. See Zimmer, 686; Anker 533 note; Sitwell, 157. Notes from previous owner, dated 1964, and from conservator, dated 1963, laid in.
Plates lovely and fine, with vibrant original hand-coloring. Expert cleaning to original tissue guards and the occasional margin of plates. A splendid volume.