Sparrows & Shrike

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Product No. wilson022

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American Ornithology; or the Natural History of the Birds of the United States

This exceptional originally hand-colored engraving is from Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology; or the Natural History of the Birds of the United States; Plates Engraved and Colored from Original Drawings Taken from Nature. This edition was published in 1871 in Philadelphia by Porter & Coates.

Alexander Wilson is known as the “Father of American Ornithology.” He spent a decade traversing the Eastern United States studying the birds and discovered 26 previously unknown species. Wilson’s work, American Ornithology, was the first focused on only American birds. Scientist and historian Dr. Elliott Coues noted of Wilson’s work, “Perhaps no other work on ornithology of equal extent is equally free from error, and its truthfulness is illuminated by a spark of the ‘fire divine’.”

Wilson drew most of the birds for the work himself and employed Alexander Lawson and John G. Warnicke for the engraving. Wilson died in 1813 and his friend George Ord made it to press. Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte (Napoleon’s nephew, who took refuge in America after his defeat, undertook the supplement to the work, which was completed in 1833.

Frank L. Burns, in his bibliography of Wilson, writing of the present edition, notes that it is “a reprint of Ord’s fine 1828-29 edition, with the interpolation of Baird’s Catalogue of North American Birds, reprinted from the 8vo edition of 1858, and the addition of Bonaparte’s work. The original plates of Wilson’s work were purchased at a cost of $1700, but as Bonaparte’s beautiful plates had been melted and sold for old copper, resource was made to photography and electrotyping to reproduce the latter.” (rank L. Burns, “Alexander Wilson. [Part] VII: Biographies, Portraits, and a Bibliography of the Various Editions of his Works”)

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