New York: J.W. Bouton, 1877. Three volumes. cv,,408; vii,495; vii,540pp., plus 103 chromolithographic plates. Frontispiece in first volume. Contemporary half green diced morocco and red paper boards, pictorially gilt spines, t.e.g. Light shelfwear and light soiling to boards, spine ends scuffed (more pronounced in first two volumes). Occasional light foxing. Very good. Item #WRCAM55108
An interesting edition of Alexander Wilson's AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGY..., first published in 1808-14, including the supplement by Charles Lucien Bonaparte. Alexander Wilson was the first ornithologist to undertake a systematic study of the birds of America, first while a country schoolteacher and then under the tutelage of naturalist William Bartram. In 1802 he undertook his bird studies full time, teaching himself drawing and projecting his book, which began production in 1807. When it is considered that no similar study in any branch of natural science had yet been undertaken in America, and that only one color plate book of any scope had been published there (Birch's VIEWS OF PHILADELPHIA), the scope of Wilson's work is astounding. Between 1808 and 1813, Wilson managed, against innumerable difficulties, to travel over much of the United States collecting material while managing his ambitious publication. He died in 1813, exhausted by his task, and his work was completed by George Ord. After the collapse of Napoleon, various members of the Bonaparte family took refuge in America, including his nephew, Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte. The young Bonaparte proved a prodigy in ornithology and undertook a supplement to Wilson, written by himself, but illustrated by Titian Peale, Alexander Rider, and with one plate by John James Audubon, whom Bonaparte liked, but who quickly fell out with the engraver, Lawson (who made the plates for both Wilson and Bonaparte). The set was completed in 1833, although Bonaparte had already moved back to Europe. Many editions of Wilson and Bonaparte (together and apart) were published in the coming years. This later combined edition actually has the same printing of text and plates as an 1876 London edition published by Chatto & Windus, with simply a cancel New York titlepage. Thus it is not an American color plate book, but an issue of British plates under an American imprint. The 103 plates are handsome transfer chromolithographs from W.H. Lizars' re-engravings of the original Wilson and Bonaparte plates on a smaller scale. Collectively, the Wilson with the Bonaparte supplement is the most important work of American ornithology from the early period besides Audubon, and it was the most expensive and elaborate book production undertaken in the United States up to that time. A key work for American natural history and color printing, in an attractive later edition. WOOD, p.631. NISSEN 996. ANKER 533. SITWELL, pp.155-57. YALE, p.312. Frank Burns, "Alexander Wilson. VII Biographies, Portraits and a Bibliography of the Various Editions of His works" in THE WILSON BULLETIN Vol. 21, No. 4 (1909).