The First State of the First Printing of the First of Gould's Vast Corpus of Glorious Giant-Folio Ornithological Works


(London: [for the Author, 1831-]32). 548 x 363 mm. (21 1/2 x 14 3/8"). 6 p.l., [72] leaves. FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, with the backgrounds uncolored.

Very pleasing modern maroon half morocco over red buckram boards, raised bands, gilt lettering. WITH 80 STRIKING HAND-COLORED LITHOGRAPHIC PLATES by Elizabeth Gould after John Gould. Pastedown with bookplate of Oregon gardener and rhododendron enthusiast James M. Blackford III. Fine Bird Books p. 101; Anker 168; Wood, p. 364; Zimmer p. 251. ◆Slight, unobtrusive wear to corners and edges, scattered always-vague foxing and intermittent always-faint offsetting internally, otherwise only the most trivial imperfections. A very nearly fine copy of a lovely book, the binding with few signs of use, the text clean and fresh, and the plates beautifully colored.

Depicting a selection of vibrant species found in the Himalayan mountains, this impressive work was the first of Gould's celebrated folio volumes, and its success would launch his long and fruitful career of publishing similarly splendid volumes. Inspired by a collection of birds given to the Zoological Society (where Gould was employed as a taxidermist), the work was self-published and issued in 20 monthly installments, with text supplied by N. A. Vigors, and the beautiful lithograph illustrations by Gould's wife Elizabeth. The first edition of this work appears in two states: one with the backgrounds uncolored (as here), and one with the backgrounds colored (which appeared later, as evidenced by a letter in which Gould mentions adding colored backgrounds to the remaining copies). As with all of Gould's work, the hand coloring in our volume is very fine, and the variety of colors and plumage exhibited by the specimens makes each turn of the page a new delight. The work was a triumph, and its financial success led Gould to focus increasingly on bird illustrations in subsequent works. Although Gould was not responsible for the final lithographs (in this or his other works), many of the plates are based on his preliminary sketches, and he was intimately involved in almost every other aspect of production. In the words of DNB, "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 [were] due to the genius of John Gould, and a Gould plate has a distinctive beauty and quality." Because of the vast corpus he produced, Gould (1804-81) is the most recognizable name in ornithology after Audubon. Hailing from a modest background, he began his career as a taxidermist, and later, as the "bird-stuffer" to the Zoological Society, he was exposed to leading naturalists of the day. As DNB tells us, "The sheer number of imperial folio volumes on birds published by Gould has never been surpassed. He was the entrepreneurial naturalist of the 1800s in England, and the pioneer naturalist of Australia." Mullens & Swann affirm that Gould's oeuvre is "excelled in extent and beauty by the work of no one other ornithologist, past or present."

Price: $25,000.00