This September's Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs auction will feature a wonderful selection of natural history works – particularly focusing on ornithology. Here, we take a closer look at four of the most interesting lots...
John James Audubon was an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. His interests in art and ornithology, combined with his extensive travels of the American wilderness, led to his meticulous comprehensive documentation of the bird species of North America. These would later be published in The Birds of America. This publication, consisting of 435 illustrations of 1,065 birds of 489 species, was particularly groundbreaking for the manner in which Audubon staged his birds. In contrast to the customary depiction of specimens in a plain manner against a white background, Audubon posed them in life-like positions against scenic backgrounds as they would appear in the wild, thus not only denoting their physical features but giving intriguing insight into their mannerisms and habitats. Published as a series in sections between 1827 and 1838, The Birds of America is considered to be the archetype of wildlife illustration.
Naturalist and collector of rare animals and plants Frans Ernst Blaauw conducted the illustrations of A Monograph of the Cranes based on living specimens at the Zoological Gardens of Amsterdam. The 22 chromolithographic plates of this monograph, of which there are only 170 printed copies, feature exquisite detail and ornithological exactness.
Daniel Giraud Elliot was an American zoologist and the founder of the American Ornithologist Union. A Monograph of the Tetraonidae, or Family of the Grouse examines one of the great game birds of Europe and North America. It was issued in 5 parts between 1964-1965 and, with a total press run of less than 100, it is one of the very rare galliform monographs. Of the twenty-two already-known species identified, fourteen are found in North America. Two of the 27 hand-colored plates are by Joseph Wolf, two more (of eggs) are by William S.Morgan and the rest are by Elliot himself, all accompanied by brief summaries and descriptions. While Elliot admires their 'graceful forms, erect carriage, and gallant bearing,' the quality his slightly naive style of drawing brings out best is their natural timidity.
In Ambrae Historiam Justus Fidus Klobius poses the question as to where amber originates. After outlining its characteristics and medicinal uses, Klobius considers eighteen propositions for its origin, ranging from the theory that it grows in Poland like coral, to the possibility that it originates in the congealed dung of whales or Madagascan flocking birds. This latter theory, which Klobius favours, is delightfully illustrated. This debate occupied the minds of many a scientist of the time, and Ambrae Historiam thus accurately captures the manner in which the natural world at so many points in its history was a vast landscape of seemingly unknowable mysteries and wonders.
Viewing by appointment in Edinburgh 28th & 29th September