Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2004 Issue

Botany, Ornithology & Natural<br>History From Donald Heald

An American flamingo from Audubon's Birds of America


Another of the earliest American color books was published by another botanist, William Paul Barton. Heald describes Barton as “the United States’ most distinguished botanist of his time.” His A Flora of North America was printed from 1820-1824. His uncle Benjamin Smith Barton was a botanist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose students included the aforementioned Jacob Bigelow. William Paul Barton became a professor at Pennsylvania himself and was also a navy surgeon. Unlike Bigelow, he seems to have been unapologetic about his work, saying of the images, “It is confidently believed by the author, that they will be found the most successful attempts at imitation by sound engraving, of the French style, yet made in this country.” Item 158. $14,500.

It would be hard to imagine a catalogue featuring ornithology without John James Audubon’s The Birds of America.This one does not disappoint. In fact, it offers many of the Octavo editions from which to choose. Item 210 is the first Octavo of one of America’s most famous books, printed from 1840-1844. This smaller-sized version of his original $1,000 double elephant folio enabled Audubon to offer his complete work for a more reasonable $100. It was a major success and enabled Audubon to finally earn some money from his scholarship. $95,000. Item 212 is the second Octavo from 1856. $57,500. Item 209 is the 1861 Octavo. $42,500. Item 211 is the 1871 final Octavo. $35,000.

There was a follow-up to Audubon’s “Birds” meant to fill in species from areas Audubon did not see. The author was John Cassin and his book was called Illustrations of the Birds of California, Texas, Oregon, British and Russian America. Intended to contain descriptions and figures of all North American birds not given by former American authors… Audubon, naturally, would have been the premier “former author.” Cassin had originally planned to publish the work with the cooperation of Audubon’s sons (the eminent ornithologist having previously passed away), but disputes about credit for the work led him to publish on his own. This is a first edition printed in 1856, the same year Audubon’s second Octavo was released. $7,500.

Audubon himself had a follow-up, but this one had to do with four-legged creatures. It’s called The Quadrupeds of North America. “Quadrupeds” included those animals in Texas, California, Oregon, Alaska, etc., places he missed with his “Birds.” This three-volume set was written with the Rev. John Bachman, a noted authority in the field and father-in-law to both of Audubon’s sons. Item 235 is the 1856 Octavo edition. $15,000.

For those who collect Lewis and Clark, here is Frederick Pursh’s Flora Americae Septentrionalis; or, A Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America. Frederick Pursh was a British botanist who came to America in 1799, and, accompanied by the aforementioned Benjamin Smith Barton, undertook two research journeys during 1806 and 1807. However, what is even more memorable is that Meriwether Lewis chose to entrust Pursh with many of the dried plants he had collected during his expedition. Heald notes that it is not clear why Lewis chose to give his specimens to Pursh, speculating they may have been intended for Barton for whom Pursh worked. Be that as it may, with the death of Lewis and the delay in publishing the official report of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Pursh went ahead and published this work on his own. Item 193. $6,500.

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