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EDWARDS, George

A Natural History of Uncommon Birds

London, 1743-64
Quarto (295 x 230 mm.), 7 volumes, in full contemporary red morocco, gilt panelled with floral design in each corner, raised bands to the spines, each compartment with ornate gilt decoration, with dark blue calf gilt title and volume labels affixed,each with original blue silk page markers, joints rubbed slightly. With engraved frontispiece portrait of George Edwards, titles in each volume, dedication to the British Museum amongst others, 4 lists of subscribers, Preface, Indexes, general decorative frontispiece and 362 hand coloured engraved plates each with contemporary tissue. In good condition.
This work is made up of two different ones which are now considered as one. ‘At its date of issue, the ‘Natural History’ and ‘Gleanings’ were one of the most important of all Bird Books, both as a Fine Bird Book and as a work of Ornithology. It is still high on each list’ (Fine Bird Books). The publication of Edwards’s ‘Natural History’ and ‘Gleanings’ is complex, and copies are found in a variety of states. The ‘Natural History of Uncommon Birds’ was first published in four parts between 1743 and 1751. This was followed by the ‘Gleanings of Natural History’, in three parts between 1758 and 1764.

George Edwards (1694-1773) travelled to Holland in 1716 and 1730, Norway in 1718 and France between 1719 and 1721. Edwards was one of the finest ornithologists of the eighteenth century and librarian of the Royal College of Physicians in London. In this example the ‘Gleanings’ form the first three volumes with the ‘Natural History’ following. The title pages are all first editions. The ‘Gleanings’ contains text in English and French in parallel columns. The plates are numbered in continuation from the first work. ‘The majority of the plates were drawn and engraved on the copper plates direct from the natural objects they represent; many of them are coloured from nature’ (Anker)

The plates are unusual for having been set with landscape backgrounds. It is known for illustrating amongst others the first decent image of the Great Auk. From a botanical point of view, it is also notable for the first image of the Camellia in the ‘Peacock Pheasant from China’ on plate 67. Edward’s patron was Sir Hans Sloane and further encouragement came from Mark Catesby who supplied many of the specimens. Edwards oversaw the colouring of the plates all drawn from 12 model copies he had coloured himself. Of the 362 plates 316 are of birds of which 20 are of parrots. Edwards was awarded the Gold Medal for this work by the Royal Society and subsequently was elected a Fellow.

Provenance: with bookplate of John Plumptre (1711-1791) pasted inside each volume, he was appointed Commissioner for Stamps in 1739 and held the position until 1758, a British politician and Member of Parliament for Penryn in 1758-61 and for Nottingham from 1761-74, he lived at Plumptre House, Nottingham; further bookplate of Geoffrey Eeroyd?; Library of the Earls of Haddington sold at Sotheby’s London, 12 November 2019 as lot 74. Anker 124 & 126; Buchanan (1979) p. 82; ‘Fine Bird Books’ 73; Meyers & Pritchard (1998) p. 134; Nissen IVB 286-88.
Stock number: 9767

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