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DONOVAN, Edward

The Natural History of British Birds; or, A Selection of the Most Rare, Beautiful, and Interesting Birds Which Inhabit this Country

For the Author, and F. and C. Rivington , London, 1799-1819
Octavo (230 x 140 mm.), 10 volumes, vol. 1-5 re-issue with new titles, vol. 5-10 first issue, half-title in volume 4 only, 244 hand-coloured engraved plates, contemporary marbled calf gilt, marbled edges, occasional light spotting, rebacked retaining original spines (volume 2 rebacked to style).
FIRST EDITION. A TALL SET, THE BIGNOLD-FATTORINI COPY. Edward Donovan (1768–1837) was it appears born in Cork, Ireland, to some wealth. He was a traveller, an Anglo-Irish writer, illustrator and amateur naturalist. He was a collector of natural history specimens, and a fellow of the Linnean Society and the Wernerian Society, both giving him access to great collections and libraries in London. As an avid collector of specimens, he opened the London Museum and Institute of Natural History in 1807. It is however for his publications that he is most known.

Donovan drew on his own specimens for this work. The ‘Natural History of British Birds’ was issued as a monthly serial in fifty parts. The first five volumes were to appear regularly between 1794 and 1798. A second issue occurred in 1799 and each title is so dated. However, it was not until 1809 that the sixth volume was published. This was likely spurred by his acquisition of many items from the Lever Museum just prior. Then from 1816 the volumes were issued annually until the final one in 1819. The colouring of the plates is of a very high quality. His avid collecting eventually led to bankruptcy. Donovan sadly died impoverished leaving a large family destitute.

Provenance: Devon & Exeter Institution, stamp on versos of titles; C. Robert Bignold, armorial bookplate (probably Sir Robert Bignold, member of the Bignold family, founders of the Norwich Union, and author of a history of the Bignold family; Hugh Fattorini, bookplate, sale, Christie’s, London, 19 October 1999, lot 7. Sotheby’s London 12 November 2019 lot 7. Nissen IVB 257 (“owing to the irregular and confused fashion in which the parts were issued make no attempt to collate the text”); Sitwell & Buchanan (1990) p. 91.
Stock number: 9766

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