(London: Printed by Taylor & Francis and published by the author, -1861). 560 x 370 mm. (22 x 14 1/2"). Five volumes. FIRST EDITION.
IMPRESSIVE LATE 19TH CENTURY GREEN MOROCCO, GILT, covers with wide frames composed of palmette and Greek key rolls, raised bands, spine compartments heavily gilt, with scallop shell cornerpieces and large central arabesque surrounded by small tools, gilt lettering, turn-ins with gilt tulip roll, glazed yellow endpapers, all edges gilt. WITH 360 FINELY HAND-COLORED PLATES, many heightened with gold leaf. Anker 177; Ayer/Zimmer, p. 258; Sitwell, "Fine Bird Books" 102; Wood 365. Spines evenly sunned a shade lighter than boards, a touch of rubbing to extremities, mild foxing to introductory leaves, other very trivial imperfections, but AN EXTRAORDINARILY FINE COPY, clean, fresh, and bright internally, with VIVID, IRIDESCENT COLORS, in bindings with few signs of wear.
In the five full pages devoted to rapturous praise in "Fine Bird Books," Sitwell says this "incomparable catalogue and compendium of beauties" is Gould's "masterpiece, and must ever remain a feast of beauty and a source of wonder." Hummingbirds were the favorite avian subject of British ornithologist John Gould (1804-81), who admits in the preface here to daydreaming about the species and being carried away "to their native forests in the distant country of America" in his dreams at night. A trained taxidermist who server as the official "bird-stuffer" of the Zoological Society, Gould accumulated a personal collection of 1,500 mounted specimens of hummingbirds which he displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park. There, they were viewed by more than 80,000 visitors, including Queen Victoria, who was enchanted, and wrote in her diary, "It is impossible to imagine anything so lovely as these little Humming Birds, their variety, and the extraordinary brilliance of their colours." DNB says that it was those same specimens that provided models for the larger-than-life-size images in the present work, their magnificence captured in vivid colors, and their "brilliant natural iridescence . . . portrayed by the application of gold leaf." Sitwell notes that "a new technical process, which was the result of long experiment, had to be invented in order to portray their metallic plumage." He says that the plates generally depict the birds "darting or hovering near their appropriate flowers," often orchids "that are hardly less gorgeous than the humming-birds." Gould finally got to see a living hummingbird in its natural habitat on a visit to the United States, and in the description here for the ruby-throated hummingbird recalls, "With what delight did I examine its tiny body and feast my eyes on its glittering plumage." While sets of this work appear on the marketplace with some regularity (usually, as here, without the 1885 supplement containing an additional 58 plates), it can be difficult to find a complete first edition in the very fine condition seen here. (Lhi21153)