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    "This book is so rare that I had begun to doubt its existence"

    J[ean] T[héodore] Descourtilz. [Oiseaux brillans du Brésil. Paris: 1834]. First edition of the rarest bird book relating to the Americas. Large folio (18 x 11.75 inches; 457 x 300 mm.). Complete with sixty fine hand-colored lithographed plates, most heightened with gum arabic, after J. T. Descourtilz by Callier. Bound without title-page, and without text (as issued). Contemporary half dark brown roan, ruled in gilt, over "Papier Coulé" marbled paper over boards. Smooth spine decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt: "Oiseaux Du Bresil Par Descourtilz." Marbled endpapers. Binding rubbed and worn; boards detached; loss of a piece of roan at foot of spine, and a smaller piece at head of spine; small areas of surface loss to marbled paper covering boards and to roan at corners, joints, and spine. Boards with several scratch marks and a few wormtracks; front board with some staining and slight bubbling near edge of front board. Front free endpaper with an additional small area of bubbling; a one-inch tear and two additional one-eighth-inch tears to upper edge; a small stain in the lower corner and an additional tiny stain at lower edge. Front flyleaf with five-eighth-inch tear to upper edge and small stain at lower corner (also visible at lower corner of the first plate). Plates with slight age toning and edge browning; some mostly light, mostly marginal foxing or faint spotting; occasional marginal soiling or smudging; a few small marginal stains. Some plates with light rippling in the blank margins around the image or in the upper corner and/or at lower edge. Some plates with short marginal tears; others with tiny edge tears or nicks. Several plates have the English names of the birds written in pencil beneath the caption. Overall, a very good copy. Rare and beautiful plates of hummingbirds, toucans, tanagers, parakeets, and other tropical birds, known in only a few copies. The coloring on most plates still striking.

    From the library of Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orléans, with the ink stamp of the Bibliothèque du Roi (Neuilly) on the front flyleaf. A copy of Descourtilz's Oiseaux du Brésil appears in Volume I of the auction Catalogue de livres provenant des bibliothèques du feu roi Louis-Philippe: Bibliothèques du Palais-Royal et de Neuilly (1852) as lot 369 (page 41), described as having fifty-nine plates, bound in half violet calf ("demi relieure v. violet"). Previous owner's presentation inscription on recto of front flyleaf from a Samuel Parsons of New York to Jeremiah Francis Calef, 1860, and eventually to another Jeremiah Francis Calef, 1925 (changed from 1895). Laid in is a three-page on one folded leaf manuscript notes on various of the birds depicted.

    Sabin 19692, describing Descourtilz's Ornithologie Brésilienne ou histoire des Oiseaux du Brésil, remarquables par leur plumage, leur chant ou leurs habitudes...Rio de Janiero [i.e. London]: Editeur, Thomas Reeves, 1854-1856: "Of this fine work four parts, of twelve plates each, only are published. Quarich [sic] describes the following: 'Oiseaux du Brésil.' Rl. Folio. A beautiful series of larged Colored plates of Brazilian birds, apparently unpublished, without a title." Lot 4787 in A Catalogue of Books, in all Classes of Literature, many of them Rare, Valuable and Curious, offered for sale by Bernard Quaritch (London: 1860), is "Descourtilz's Oiseaux du Bresil, royal folio, a beautiful series of large coloured plates of Brazilian Birds, apparently unpublished, without a title, hf. red morocco, Chateau d'Eu copy, 32s. (?1820)."

    Borba de Moraes I, pages 260-261 ("This book is so rare that I had begun to doubt its existence"); Dance, page 122; Fine Bird Books, page 90; Nissen, IVB, 235; Nissen, SVB, 121. Not in Ayer/Zimmer, Copenhagen/Anker, Ellis/Mengel, McGill/Wood, or Yale/Ripley.

    More Information:

    "'This book is so rare that I had begun to doubt its existence' writes Rubens Borba de Moraes, former director of the United Nations Library in New York and well-known bibliographer, in his Bibliographia Brasiliana. As a matter of fact, the copy he described there, which is in the Teyler Museum in Haarlem, The Netherlands, is one of the very few copies known...[The] editors of Colibris Editora made a pilgrimage to that charming Dutch town to see this beautiful volume by one of the world's most famous painters of birds, Jean Théodore Descourtilz...[This] work, consisting of 60 hand-coloured lithographs, surpasses by far Descourtilz' well-known volume Ornithologie Brésilienne, which has been reproduced several times and fetches high prices whenever a copy shows up at an auction. The special interest of this volume lies in the fact that each plate shows only one kind of bird, depicted against its natural surroundings of beautiful flowers, fruits, and butterflies, in addition to the foliage. As a matter of fact, this ecological view distinguishes Jean Théodore Descourtilz among the naturalists of his period. Little is known about this devoted scientist who braved the many dangers of the jungle for science's sake. When he worked for the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, the then director Dr. F. L. C. Burlamarque made note of his indefatigable energy. Descourtilz' co-operation, which started on July 31st, 1854, came to an abrupt end when he died on January 13th, 1855...poisoned by a chemical preparation which he tried as a medicine on birds. With his paintings Descourtilz left behind a handwritten text describing the birds and their habits, which is partly identical with that of this Ornithologie Brésilienne... João Moojen, a Brazilian ornithologist, has written an up-to-date commentary which precedes the plates. Because of its historical value Descourtilz' original text was added to this edition as a supplement...[It] has been possible to publish a facsimile reproduction of the plates, 32 of which are reproduced in full colour offset, while the other 28 are reproduced in black and white by means of photolithography" (Introduction to J. Th. Descourtilz, Pageantry of Tropical Birds, Commentary by João Moojen (London: A. Zwemmer, 1960)).

    "Jean-Theodore Descourtilz was born in 1796 in France, one of eight brothers. His father was Michel Etienne Descourtilz (1775-1836), a physician and botanist who wrote Flore pittoresque et médicale des Antilles (1821-1829). Jean-Theodore produced the 600 plates which illustrate this tome. He seems to have been well travelled with evidence of being in Haiti aged 3 and in the Antilles by 1821 in order to make the illustrations for his father's book. Jean-Theodore seems to have arrived in Brazil around 1826 and in 1831 had presented a manuscript on hummingbirds to the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. Histoire des Oiseaux-mouches Habitant des Districts de Rio de Janeiro, Bananal, San-Paulo, Macahé, Canta-Gallo et Ilha-Grande contained full colour illustrations and meticulous notes about the hummingbirds and their habitats. In 1834, Descourtilz published his first book, Oiseaux brillans et remarquables du Brésil, containing 60 beautifully coloured plates lithographed by Callier. There appears to have been no title page or text in the published edition, however the copy held by the Natural History Museum has handwritten title page and a page of text for each illustrated species. It is notable that Descourtilz illustrated the birds on appropriate food plants and captured detailed information on habits, customs, behaviour and habitat as well as the usual dates and location. This book is one of the rarest tomes of birds of the Americas. The Sotheby's sale catalogue for the H. Bradley Martin Ornithological Library sale in 1989 [Sotheby's New York, 7 June 1989, Lot 68] states there are only four known copies; the copy for sale from H. Bradley Martin, a copy in the Teyler Foundation in Haarlem (Netherlands), a copy in the British Library, and a copy in the Library of Congress. At this time I can state there is a copy in the Natural History Museum (from the Rothschild Collection) and the Teyler Foundation copy was used to produce a facsimile edition Pageantry of Tropical Birds. However I have been unable to confirm that copies are held by the British Library or the Library of Congress, and have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the H. Bradley Martin copy. Between 1852 and 1856, Descourtilz's book Ornithologie Brésilienne, ou Histoire des Oiseaux de Brésil, remarquables par leur plumage, leur chant ou leurs habitudes was published in four parts. Forty-eight of the plates were developed from Oiseaux brillans du Brésil, and it contains fifteen species and one genus previously undiscovered. The National Museum of Brazil recruited Descourtilz in 1854, but unfortunately he died the next year from arsenic poising while preparing specimens for the Museum" (Alison Harding, "Brilliant and Remarkable Birds of Brazil," at accessed August 2, 2018).

    In this copy, the plates are bound in the following order:

    1 Ramphocèle Scarlatta (one-half-inch curved tear at upper edge)
    2 Cotinga Cordon-bleu
    3 Manakin Tijé (one-eighth-inch tear lower edge)
    4 Guit guit aux ailes variées
    5 Tangara Tricolor (with "Three colored Tanager" in pencil; one-and-one-half-inch short curved tear lower margin, with tiny piece lost at lower edge, and additional half-inch at lower edge)
    6 Tachyphône Archevèque
    7 Cotinga Ouette
    8 Tangara à ête bleue (with "The blue headed Tanager" in pencil; slight crease outer margin)
    9 Dacnis Spize
    10 Pardalote couronné (five-eighth-inch tear in lower margin)
    11 Procné Araponga (slight dark horizontal line in lower margin)
    12 Euphône à Diadême
    13 Euphone Téité
    14 Toucan Ariel
    15 Platyrhynque Couronné (seven-eighth-inch tear upper gutter margin)
    16 Fringille Paroare (small stain or smear upper margin)
    17 Tersine Bleue
    18 Carouge Jamacaii (slight crease (paper flaw) lower corner)
    19 Euphône à Tête bleue (offset from dark adhesion on verso of previous plate, also visible on recto of previous plate and verso of plate before that)
    20 Manakin Militaire (with "Military Manakin" in pencil; one-and-one-quarter-inch tear and tiny nick lower margin)
    21 Cotinga Pacapaca (plate slightly narrower at outer margin)
    22 Manakin à Tête d'Or
    23 Tangara Diable-enrhumé (with "Tanager" in pencil) a few stray dark spots
    24 Couroucou Rosalba
    25 Psittacule Toui-Eté (two-inch diagonal curved tear in lower margin)
    26 Tangara Passe-Vert
    27 Moucherolle Rubin (with "Ruby colored flycatcher" in pencil; crease across lower corner with lower corner tip folded up)
    28 Psittacule Caica-Barraband
    29 Perruche-Guïaruba (small portion of lower corner torn away (paper flaw); tiny tear and small piece folded up, quarter-inch-tear lower margin; one-eighth-inch tear lower edge)
    30 Cabézon Elégant (Descourtilz's name does not appear on the plate)
    31 Pic à Houppe Pailleé (with "Woodpecker with a Straw-colored crest" in pencil; quarter-inch tear to lower edge; small dark adhesion on verso, just visible on recto; faint stain on verso)
    32 Colibri Topaze (with "Pink Humming-bird" in pencil) 
    33 Tangara à Plastron (one-and-one-quarter-inch tear in the lower margin)
    34 Pic à Ventre rouge (with "The red bellied Woodpecker" in pencil)
    35 Manakin aux longues Pennes (with "Manakin with long tailfeather" in pencil)
    36 Cassique Huppé
    37 Perroquet à Ventre bleu (with "The blue bellied Parrot" in pencil)
    38 Cabézon à Plastron Noir (caption smudged)
    39 Oiseau Mouche à Collier
    40 Héliophile Taunay
    41 Jacamar Doré
    42 Tyran Bem-te-Veo
    43 Perruche à Gorge varieé
    44 Coracine Ensanglantée
    45 Couroucou Oranga
    46 Oiseau-Mouche Rubis Topaze
    47 Euphône à Bandeau
    48 Céphaloptère Orné (with "Umbrela [sic] Bird" in pencil)
    49 Euphône Galot
    50 Oiseau-Mouche Chatoyant
    51 Tangara Septicolor (with " Seven colored Tanager" in pencil)
    52 Pic Acahé (with "Woodpecker" in pencil)
    53 Dacnis Bleu
    54 Momot Hoûtou
    55 Spatule Ajaia (with "Spoonbill" in pencil)
    56 Oiseau-Mouche très petit  
    57 Oiseau-Mouche Hirondelle
    58 Colombe Cocotzin
    59 Oiseau-Mouche à deux Huppes (with "The double crested Humming-bird" in pencil)
    60 Courlis Rouge (with "Red Curlew" in pencil)

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2018
    13th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 17
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 8,087

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