American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States. WILSON, Alexander (1766-1813)

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American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States.

WILSON, Alexander (1766-1813)-George ORD (1781-1866) and Charles Lucien BONAPARTE (1803-1857).


Published by Philadelphia, Bradford and Inskeep, 1808-1824-1814; Samuel Augustus Mitchell [-Carey, Lea & Carey], 1825-1828, 1828
WILSON, Alexander (1766-1813) and George ORD (1781-1866). American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States. Philadelphia, Bradford and Inskeep, 1808-1824-1814 - [WITH] - BONAPARTE, Charles Lucien (1803-1857). American Ornithology; or, the natural history of birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson. Philadelphia: Samuel Augustus Mitchell [-Carey, Lea & Carey], 1825-1828. 9 volumes in 3 and 4 volumes in 2, for a total of two works in 5 volumes. Folio (Wilson 13 4/8 x 10 4/8 inches; Bonaparte (14 6/8 x 11 6/8 inches). 76 engraved plates after Wilson by Alexander Lawson, G. Murray, Benjamin Tanner and J.G. Warnicke, and 27 engraved plates Alexander Lawson after T.R. Peale, A. Rider and one by J.J. Audubon (plate 4), all with original hand-colour. 19th-century half blue-green morocco, gilt by J. Wright, all edges gilt (extremities a little scuffed). Provenance: with the armorial bookplate of Alan Francis Brooke on the front paste-down of each volume; the bookplate of H.C. Drayton on each front free endpaper, his sale Bonhams, 28th march, 2006, lots 182 and 183. First editions of both Wilson and Bonaparte, revised issue of volume VII of Wilson. "THE FIRST TRULY GREAT AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGY AND ALSO THE FIRST TRULY OUTSTANDING AMERICAN COLOR PLATE BOOK OF ANY TYPE" (Bennett) Wilson's "American Ornithology" famously pre-dating Audubon ".was the first American work to use color plates to convey scientific information, and the first real combination of text and color illustration produced in the United States. the project's success proved that an American audience would support such a large undertaking. Works of natural history and science, with a concrete function, proved to be more commercially viable in America than luxury works such as view books" (Reese 3.) Wilson and his nephew emigrated to America from Scotland in 1794. Legend has it that Wilson's interest in the birds of America began the day after their landing in Delaware. His eye was caught by a glimpse of a brilliantly plumaged bird (a red-headed woodpecker), so he shot it, and immediately regretted it. Some years later he found himself living near the famous American botanist William Bartram, who encouraged Wilson's growing interest in birds. "Nancy Bartram, William's niece, helped Wilson learn to draw them. On 1 June 1803 he wrote to a friend that 'I am now about to make a collection of all our finest birds', and on 12 March 1804 he confided in fellow Scot Alexander Lawson, a Philadelphia engraver, that he was 'making a collection of all the birds in this part of North America' (Hunter). Publication of the first volume of Wilson's "American Ornithology" with plates engraved by Lawson, was in 1808. "Wilson hoped to publish ten volumes, with ten plates each, but the great strain of producing it contributed to his death before completion. There were nine volumes with seventy-six plates, and it was the most extensive publication by any American author. A prospectus and specimen plates were printed, and Wilson agreed to obtain 200 subscribers before volume 1 was published. He travelled around the United States obtaining orders and studying birds. Early subscriptions from Robert Fulton and Jefferson helped persuade other subscribers. Volume 1 appeared in September 1808, and soon the printing was increased to 500 copies per volume. Plates were printed uncoloured and then coloured by hand. It was tedious work and when colourists quit, Wilson did the job himself" (Frank N. Egerton for DNB). Wilson died before the final three volumes were published. George Ord completed the remainder from Wilson's notes. Bonaparte's continuation of Wilson's "American Ornithology" was the author's first important ornithological publication. The nephew of Napoleon, Bonaparte was in the United States from 1822 to 1828, where he wrote four additional volumes for the ornithological work which Wilson had left unfinished at his death. The work purports to depict an additional 60 birds not recorded by Wilson, most of which had been collected by Thomas Say (Bonaparte's close friend and mentor in America for whom he named Say's phoebe, Sayornis saya) on the government-sponsored Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains of 1819-1820. However allowances were not made for differences in plumage, and the actual number of new species is smaller. "Bonaparte had thought of using illustrator John James Audubon, whom he had met in Philadelphia in 1824, but the engraver Alexander Lawson refused to engrave Audubon's drawings. One drawing, nevertheless, was included: Audubon's first published work, the "Great Crow Blackbird" (now called the boat-tailed grackle). Bonaparte continued an intense, often stormy relationship with Audubon for many years" (DNB). Wilson: Anker 533; Bennett, A Practical Guide to American Book Collecting (1663-1940) p.44; Fine Bird Books (1990) p.155; Nissen IVB 992; Zimmer p.679. - Bonaparte: Ayer/Zimmer 64; Copenhagen/Anker 47; Fine Bird Books 60; Nissen, IVB 116