Philadelphia: Bradford & Inskeep, 1808-1814. Nine volumes. Seventy-six engravings, with excellent hand-coloring. Folio. Contemporary marbled boards, expertly backed to original style in red calf, spine gilt. Some light wear to text leaves. Moderate to heavy foxing and offsetting from plates, as usual with this work, but far better than typical. Very good. Item #WRCAM45273
Wilson's work was the most important publication on American ornithology before Audubon and the most elaborate color plate book published in America up to its time. Wilson, a Scot, began work on American birds in 1802 with the encouragement of William Bartram. The feverish pace of his work, which began publication in 1808, weakened his constitution, and he died suddenly in 1813, with the eighth volume in press. His friend, George Ord, completed the work and wrote a memoir in the final volume. Although incomplete in scope because of Wilson's narrow geographical travels and his early death, it was by far the most extensive work about American birds to that time. Likewise, the color plates set a new standard of achievement for those produced in America, even though Wilson's artistry was sometimes crude, and the depictions of birds are stiff and out of scale compared to Audubon. In fact, as a self-taught poet and schoolmaster who came late to such work, he did a remarkable job, although he was fated to be outshone by Audubon. Wilson's first volume appeared in September 1808. The present set is the second issue, with a different imprint than that of the first. The second volume came out in 1810, the third and fourth in 1811, the fifth and sixth in 1812, and the seventh and eighth in 1813. Ord produced the final volume in 1814. Wilson's book is a great pioneering effort in both American bookmaking and science. It remained a standard book even after Audubon, and possibly went through more editions than Audubon's octavo set, staying in print in one form or another until the 1880's. Bennett calls it "the first truly outstanding American color plate book of any type." MEISEL III, p.369. DAB XX, p.317. BENNETT, p.114. SABIN 104597. REESE, STAMPED WITH A NATIONAL CHARACTER 3.