Archive for the ‘Audubon’ Category


Audubon letter

   Posted by: rring

Recently acquired!

img230Autograph Letter from John James Audubon to Robert Havell, Jr., dated July 21, 1839.

With instructions to deliver casks of natural history objects to Sheffield, and wishing him a pleasant voyage to America. Having spent 1837-39 in England, finalizing the publication of the Birds of America, Audubon writes to Havell days before both men depart for America: “…We will sail on Monday next . . . from this port for New York on board the packet ship the George Washington . . . You and Mrs. Havell and daughter will sail from London on the 1st of August . . .”

Upon their arrival, Havell and his family stayed with the Audubons in Brooklyn before moving to Ossining, NY, and subsequently to Tarryown, where he spent the remaining years of his life painting and engraving landscapes and views of the Hudson River and of American cities.

This is a nice addition to the collection, especially since our copy of Audubon’s Birds of America was Robert Havell’s own copy–it sold to a New York firm just after Havell died, and bought that same year by Dr. Gurdon Russell, Trinity Class of 1834, who gave it to the College in 1900.


A nip and tuck for the Audubon

   Posted by: rring

audubon conserve

[Posted by Sally Dickinson, Associate Curator & Preservation Librarian]

In June & July we hired one of our favorite conservators, Jean Baldwin, to work in the Watkinson one day a week to repair some damaged areas in John James Audubon’s Birds of America. It was the second time Jean had worked on the set–in 2012 she repaired volumes 1 & 2. The books have inherent structural issues due to their size and weight (plates were originally published unbound and shipped 5 at a time, rolled up in metal mailing tubes, to subscribers, and generally bound together at a later date). This summer Jean worked on the 3rd and 4th volumes. In volume 3 the first gathering of plates had pulled away from the binding. Jean trimmed the stiff linen stub at the front which was damaging the plate and resewed the plates into the binding. She also repaired tears with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, switching back and forth between the 2 volumes to give the paste time to dry. Next summer she will be able to finish the work she started on volume 4.


Out & about

   Posted by: rring

DAR1aIt was my pleasure to give a talk last week to a local chapter of the DAR on the life of John James Audubon, and specifically our copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, and its donor, Dr. Gurdon Wadsworth Russell, Trinity Class of 1834.

In 1839, after finishing the production of the plates, Audubon’s engraver Robert Havell moved to America. Almost forty years later in 1878, shortly before his death, he held an exhibition and sale at his home in Tarrytown of paintings and books—including our copy of Audubon’s Birds of America. They were purchased at the sale by a New York book dealer/publisher, C. S. Francis & Co., who in 1856 had charge of the sale of all of Audubon’s works. The set was sold the same year to Dr. Gurdon Russell, Trinity Class of 1834. Mention of this sale was made four years later in the December 1882 issue of Ornithologist & Oologist; the article stated, “The Doctor (G. W. Russell, 490 Main Street, Hartford, CT) also owns the Robert Havell copy of Audubon’s Birds, Double Elephant Folio. The copy cost $1150 and the table and roller drawers in which to keep it $100 new. Some years ago we furnished to the Doctor a letter from Robert Havell to one of Audubon’s sons stating that every plate was carefully selected as he was colouring the work, making it one of the best, if not the best, copy known.”

22 years later, an article ran in the Hartford Courant on July 11, 1900:

Fine Gift to Trinity / Dr. Russell Presents his splendid copy of Audubon Birds

Dr. Gurdon W. Russell of this city yesterday gave to the library of Trinity College the most valuable single work ever received by it in the course of its history. The work is none other than that monument of American genius and enterprise, “The Birds of America: From Original Drawings, by John James Audubon.” Dr. Russell visited the College in person yesterday morning and formally presented the work to President Smith. The extreme rarity and costliness of Audubon’s “Birds” has long made it famous in the book-world, and its deserved reputation of being by far the most sumptuous single ornithological work ever published has rendered its name well known to the general public, though few ever see a really fine and complete copy.

DAR4From 1897 until 1909, when Dr. Russell died at the age of 93, he enjoyed the status of being the oldest living graduate of both Trinity College and the Yale Medical School—he entered Trinity College (then named Washington College) in 1830, six years after its founding. Russell was born on April 10, 1815 in Hartford, the same year that Audubon’s daughter Lucy was born in Louisville, KY (she died 2 years later). His father was a printer who was born in Litchfield in 1790 and came to Hartford in 1812; his paternal grandfather was John Russell, a soldier in the Revolution who served in Boston, Long Island, and White Plains. Dr. Russell’s mother was the daughter of Gurdon Wadsworth, a lineal descendant of William Wadsworth, one of the first settlers of Hartford who came with Thomas Hooker.

Needless to say, Dr. Russell was one of the patricians of Hartford, and the list of his accomplishments was long and illustrious—having worked for Aetna for some 60 years. At his death he gave the College the REST of his natural history collection, numbering over 275 items of British and North American flora and ornithology, and including some of the great rarities we have at Trinity, including Audubon’s famous Quadrupeds of North America (folio) and the first and third editions of Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants, published in 1738–100 years before Audubon’s Birds of America, and a cornerstone of any collection of American natural history.

“The Fish Hawk may be said to be of mild disposition.  Not only do these birds live in perfect harmony together, but they even allow other birds of very different character to approach so near to them as to build their nests of the very materials of which the outer parts of their own are constructed.  I have never observed a Fish Hawk chasing any other birds whatever.  So pacific and timorous is it, that, rather than encounter a foe but little more powerful than itself, it abandons its prey to the White-headed Eagle, which, net to man, is its greatest enemy . . .

The Fish Hawk differs from all birds of prey in another important particular, which is, that it never attempts to secure its prey in the air, although its rapidity of flight might induce an observer to suppose it perfectly able to do so.  I have spent weeks on the Gulf of Mexico, where these birds are numerous, and have observed them sailing and plunging into the water, at a time when numerous shoals of flying-fish were emerging from the sea to evade the pursuit of the dolphins.  Yet the Fish Hawk never attempted to pursue any of them while above the surface, but would plunge after one of them or a bonita-fish, after they had resumed their usual mode of swimming near the surface.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 415-16 [excerpted].

“I shot two of these birds whilst traversing one of the extensive prairies of our North-western States.  Five of them had been running along the foot-path before me, for some time.  I at first looked upon them as of the Common Brown Titlark species (Anthus Spinoletta), but as they rose on the wing, the difference of their notes struck me, and, shooting at them, I had the good fortune to kill two, which I discovered, on examination, to be of a new and distinct species, although in the general appearance of their plumage they were very nearly allied to the Brown Titlark.  The rest I pursued in vain, and was forced to abandon the chase on account of the approach of night, and the necessity of preparing for a rest after a long walk.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 408 [excerpted].

“The Tyrant Fly-catcher, or, as it is commonly named, the Field Martin, or King Bird, is one of the most interesting visitors of the United States, where it is to be found during spring and summer, and where, were its good qualities appreciated as they deserve to be, it would remain unmolested.  But man being generally disposed to consider in his subjects a single fault sufficient to obliterate the remembrance of a thousand good qualities, even when the latter are beneficial to his interest, and tend to promote his comfort, persecutes the King Bird without mercy, and extends his enmity to its whole progeny.  This mortal hatred is occasioned by a propensity which the Tyrant Fly-catcher now and then shews to eat a honey-bee, which the narrow-minded farmer looks upon as exclusively his own property, although he is presently to destroy thousands of its race, for the selfish purpose of siezing upon the fruits of their labours, which he does with as little remorse as if nature’s bounties were destined for man alone.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 403 [excerpted].

“The quickness of the motions of this active little bird is fully equal to that of the mouse.  Like the latter, it appears and is out of sight in a moment, peeps into a crevice, passes rapidly through it, and shews itself at a different place the next instant.  When satiated with food, or fatigued with these multiplied exertions, the little fellow stops, droops its tail, and sings with great energy a short ditty something resembling the words come-to-me, come-to-me, repeated several times in quick succession, so loud, and yet so mellow, that it is always agreeable to listen to them.  During spring, these notes are heard from all parts of the plantations, the damp woods, the swamps, the sides of creeks and rivers, as well as from the barns, the stables and the piles of wood, within a few yards of the house.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 399 [excerpted].

“The more usual range of the Belted Kingfisher . . . is confined to the rivers and creeks that abound throughout the United States; all of which, according to the seasons, are amply supplied with various fishes, on the fry of which this bird feeds.  It follows their course up to the very source of the small rivulets; and it is not unusual to hear the hard, rapid, rattling notes of our Kingfisher, even amongst the murmuring cascades of our higher mountains.  When the bird is found in such sequestered situations, well may the angler be assured that trout is abundant.  Mill-ponds are also favorite resorts of the Kingfisher, the usual calmness of the water in such places permitting it to discover its prey with ease.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 395 [excerpted].

“The common name given to this bird in the Eastern and Middle districts of our Union is that of Quail, but in Western and Southern states, the more appropriate appellation of Partridge is bestowed upon it.  It is abundantly met with in all parts of the United States, but more especially towards the interior.  In the states of Ohio and Kentucky, where they are very abundant, they are to be seen in the markets, both dead and alive, in large quantities.

This species performs occasional migrations from the north-west to the south-east, usually in the beginning of October, and somewhat in the manner of the Wild Turkey.  For a few weeks at this season, the northwestern shores of the Ohio are covered with flocks of Partridges.  They ramble through the woods along the margin of the stream, and generally fly across towards evening.  Like the Turkeys, many of the weaker Partridges often fall into the water, while thus attempting to cross, and generally perish; for although they swim surprisingly, they have not muscular power sufficient to keep up a protracted struggle, although, when they have fallen a few yards of the shore, they easily escape being drowned.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 388 [excerpted].

“This beautiful little hawk appears to be nearly allied to the European Hobby (Falco Subbuteo, Linn.) and is not inferior to that species in spirit and activity.  I procured the individual represented, in April 1812, near Flatland Ford in Pennsylvania, whilst in pursuit of a Dove, which it would doubtless have secured, had I not terminated its career.  When I first discovered this species, the individual was standing perched on an old fence-stake, in the position in which it is figured.  Never having met with another of its kind, I conclude that it is extremely rare in the United States.  Of its nest or young I am unable to say anything at present.

The name which I have given to this new and rare species was chosen at the time when Napoleon Le Grand was in the zenith of his glory.  Every body knows that his soldiers frequently designated him by the nickname of Le Petit Caporal, which I thought more suitable to our little Hawk, than the names Napoleon or Bonaparte, which I should have adopted, had I been so fortunate as to procure a new Eagle.

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 381 [excerpted].

[Curator’s note: this bird is actually a Merlin]