GOULD, John (1804-1881).  The Birds of Great Britain. London: the author, 1 August 1862-1 December 1873.

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25 ORIGINAL PARTS,  folio (22 4/8 x 15 4/8 inches). Part XXV with title-pages, list of Subscribers, Dedication leaf, Preface, Introduction, list of plates and Directions to the Binder. 367 exceptionally fine hand-coloured lithographic plates, most heightened with gum-arabic, by Gould, Henry Constantine Richter, Joseph Wolf and William Hart, most lithographed by Richter and Hart, printed by Walter or Walter and Cohn, 2 wood-engraved illustrations (some minor spotting to the last plate of Part VI and the first plate of Parts XIII and XXV, very occasional isolated spots to other plates, occasional light mostly marginal offsetting or spotting to text leaves, some preliminaries quite spotted.) Original green cloth backed green printed paper paper boards with vignette of a family of Grouse (ink splash on front cover of Part II, a few spines torn at the head, corners a bit bumped, some hinges slightly split).

Provenance: with the original receipt for the purchase of  Parts 9 to 16 of this set to original subscriber William Peters, FRAS, FRGS of Ashfold, Crawley, Sussex, for 25 pounds and 4 shillings, signed by John Gould on March 1st, 1870; with the engraved armorial bookplate of Robert Calvert on the front paste-down of each part.


"The most popular of all his works is always likely to be Birds of Great Britain" ("Fine Bird Books")

First edition. Gould found more subscribers for this than any other of his other monographs, and boasted that he employed the services of "almost all the colourers in London". "Many of the public are quite unaware how the colouring of these large plates is accomplished; and not a few believe that they are produced by some mechanical process or by chromo-lithography. This, however, is not the case; every sky with its varied tints and every feather of each bird were coloured by hand; and when it is considered that nearly two hundred and eighty thousand illustrations in the present work have been so treated, it will most likely cause some astonishment to those who give the subject a thought" (Preface).

Often referred to as the most sumptuous and costly of all British bird books, the plates depict scenes with more sophisticated subjects than Gould's previous works, including nests, chicks and eggs: "I also felt that there was an opportunity of greatly enriching the work by giving figures of the young of many of the species of various genera - a thing hitherto almost entirely neglected by author's, and I feel assured that this infantile age of birdlife will be of much interest for science." (Gould "Preface" to "Introduction", 1873).

Initially employed as a taxidermist [he was known as the 'bird-stuffer'] by the Zoological Society, Gould's fascination with birds began in the "late 1820s [when] a collection of birds from the Himalayan mountains arrived at the Society's museum and Gould conceived the idea of publishing a volume of imperial folio sized hand-coloured lithographs of the eighty species, with figures of a hundred birds (A Century of Birds Hitherto Unfigured from the Himalaya Mountains, 1830-32).

Gould's friend and mentor N. A. Vigors supplied the text. Elizabeth Gould made the drawings and transferred them to the large lithographic stones. Having failed to find a publisher, Gould undertook to publish the work himself; it appeared in twenty monthly parts, four plates to a part, and was completed ahead of schedule. "With this volume Gould initiated a format of publishing that he was to continue for the next fifty years, although for future works he was to write his own text. Eventually fifty imperial folio volumes were published on the birds of the world, except Africa, and on the mammals of Australia-he always had a number of works in progress at the same time. Several smaller volumes, the majority not illustrated, were published, and he also presented more than 300 scientific papers. "His hand-coloured lithographic plates, more than 3300 in total, are called 'Gould plates'. Although he did not paint the final illustrations, this description is largely correct: he was the collector (especially in Australia) or purchaser of the specimens, the taxonomist, the publisher, the agent, and the distributor of the parts or volumes. He never claimed he was the artist for these plates, but repeatedly wrote of the 'rough sketches' he made from which, with reference to the specimens, his artists painted the finished drawings. The design and natural arrangement of the birds on the plates was due to the genius of John Gould, and a Gould plate has a distinctive beauty and quality. His wife was his first artist. She was followed by Edward Lear, Henry Constantine Richter, William Matthew Hart, and Joseph Wolf" (Gordon C. Sauer for DNB).

The series begins with the magnificent 'Falco Peregrinus' and spans a publishing period of twelve years before ending with the extinct 'Alca Impennis' or Great Auk and a further 8 plates of young birds to be inserted in volumes II and III in part XXV. The text is longer than any other in Gould's books, and the illustrations include many more depictions of chicks, nests and eggs. Wolf, who drew 57 of the plates, had accompanied Gould on an ornithological tour of Scandinavia in 1856, and was responsible for persuading Gould and Richter to adopt a livelier treatment of the birds.

The parts were priced at three guineas each and contained 15 plates, except for part XXIV with 14 plates, and part XXV with the final 8 plates. The larger final part also contained the title-pages to each volume (I-V), dedication leaf, list of subscribers, preface, introduction, list of plates, and a binder's slip. As the work was so clearly intended for binding in five volumes, copies in original parts, each with the same vignette of a family of grouse, are inevitably rare, and in our copy the plates remain in a bright, fresh, and of course uncut state.

The preservation of one of Gould's receipts with the parts means that the original subscriber can be identified as William Peters, who is listed in Gould's Prospectus of Mr. Gould's Works on Ornithology, etc. With a list of the subscribers and possessors, London: ?1870, as a subscriber to this work and a subscriber to (or owner of) Gould's A Monograph of the Trochilidae, London: 1861. Zimmer p.261; Fine Bird Books p.78; Wood p.365; Nissen IVB 372; Sauer 23. Catalogued by Kate Hunter