Description

    John Gould, the Victorian "Bird Man"

    John Gould. A Monograph of the Odontophorinae, or Partridges of America. London: Printed by Richard and John E. Taylor [and] Published by the Author, 1850.
    First edition of Gould's Partridges of America, dedicated to French ornithologist Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803-1857). Large folio (21.375 x 14.375 inches; 543 x 365 mm.). [2, title (verso blank)], [2, dedication (verso blank)], [2, "List of Subscribers" (verso blank)], [2, Preface], [11]-23, [1, blank], [2, "List of Plates"] pages. Thirty-two exquisitely hand-colored lithographed plates, depicting mating pairs in their natural settings, by Gould and Henry Constantine Richter, printed by Hullmandel and Walton and by C. Hullmandel. Each plate with leaf of descriptive text (some leaves printed on both sides). Bound with forty-four blank leaves at the end.
    Contemporary dark green russia with covers decoratively bordered in gilt; spine decoratively tooled in gilt in compartments; yellow coated endpapers. Small portion of outer edge of front free endpaper torn away; tear to lower margin of front flyleaf. Ex-library, with two bookplates of the Brooklyn Public Library on front pastedown (one stating: "Bought from the Income of the Bequest, Received in 1885, of Loftis Wood"); perforated library stamp in the lower blank corner of the title and on pages 15/16; blue stamped accession number on title. Each plate with small blue library stamp, mostly in the lower blank corner of the image. Faint foxing to both text and plates, the plates usually with only one or two faint fox marks; some very occasional soiling or smudging; a few small stains. A few plates with short marginal tears. Text leaves becoming brittle, with occasional chips or edge tears. Still, an excellent copy, with stunning plates.
    Originally published in three parts (November 1844, March 1846, and November 1850), with ten plates in each of the first two parts and twelve plates in the third, and offered on a subscription basis. Upon completion in 1850, a general title-page, list of subscribers (headed by "Her Most Gracious Majesty The Queen"), preface, introduction, and list of plates were printed to accompany the plates and descriptive text.
    The thirty-two plates depict game birds native to the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and the islands of the West Indies, and include the Callipepla Californica (California Valley Quail, the state bird), the Callipepla Picta (California Mountain Quail), and the Callipepla Gambelii (California Desert Quail). They were pictured "of the natural size," and were lithographed from engravings by Gould and H.C. Richter, and handsomely hand-colored by the author, who had "experimented with new techniques and achieved an extraordinary effect conveying the sheen on feathers" (Dictionary of Scientific Biography). The text provided notes on each bird's physical characteristics, its habitat and range, and its distinctive mannerisms-scientific information that makes this, and Gould's other works, highly prized not only by the collector but also by the serious student of ornithology.
    Ayer/Zimmer, page 257. Copenhagen/Anker 176. Fine Bird Books, page 102. McGill/Wood, page 365. Nissen, IVB, 376. Sabin 28109. Sauer 13.
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    "Were it necessary to assign a reason for the publication of the present Monograph, I might state that it is due to the interest excited in my mind by the sight of several living examples of the beautiful Callipepla Californica, brought home and presented to the Zoological Society of London by Captain Beechey in 1830. The graceful actions and elegant deportment of these birds inspired me with a desire to become thoroughly acquainted with the entire group, of which they form a part; this desire was even strengthened by the details furnished to me by the late celebrated traveller and botanist, Mr. David Douglas, respecting species seen by him in California, of the existence of which we had until then no idea...In the course of my researches I have several times visited most of the public and many of the private collections of Europe, and have besides corresponded with various persons in America: the result is that I have had the pleasure of extending our knowledge of the group from eleven to no less than thirty-five species" (Preface).

     

    "All ornithologists are not artists. Many artists are not successful at business. But the Englishman John Gould [1804-1881] was an ornithologist, artist and successful businessman. In the field of natural history the accomplishments of this man in his 76 years of life from 1804 to 1881 are truly monumental. No other ornithologist has ever exceeded (or will ever exceed) the number of Gould's bird discoveries and the magnitude and splendour of his folio publications" (Sauer, p. xv).

     

    Gould's enormous ornithological works were published from his house in Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury. "This is the house of the greatest figure in bird illustration after Audubon. Every room is full of the bodies of birds; there are bird skins on every table; and every spare foot of space is given over to the lithographic presses and the hand-colouring. At various times Gould had different artists working for him; for example, Edward Lear of The Book of Nonsense, perhaps the best of all bird painters, who found him difficult, and quarreled with him, but chiefly, William Hart. The rough sketches were always drawn by Gould, himself, and were drawn on stone by Hart or Henry C. Richter...The state of confusion in Charlotte Street can be gauged when it is known that on Gould's death in 1881, Messrs. Sotheran, the Booksellers, bought from the executors the copyright and the whole remaining stock of his works and found themselves in the position of having to remove many hundreds of parcels, weighing upwards of thirty tons, from Charlotte Street to the basement of their shop...It is often argued as a reproach against Gould, and in favour of Audubon, that Gould was a 'closet-naturalist' working in his London home, that he never saw the birds in their natural surroundings and did not know their habits, and that he was not even the draughtsman of his own plates. He always, however, as we have seen, made the rough outlines of the drawings, which in early days, until her death, were completed by his wife [Elizabeth Gould]; or by Edward Lear who drew, particularly, the owls and cranes. Later, the finished drawings were the work of H. C. Richter, or of W. Hart or of Joseph Wolf. Gould, however, directed the whole of these enterprises, and from his first work to his last they bore the imprint of chis character" (Fine Bird Books, pages 33-35).



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