Archive for the ‘ornithology’ Category


Bird anatomy in multiple languages

   Posted by: rring


birdsA collection of one hundred 18th and 19th century articles, offprints and monographs relating to bird anatomy in English, German, French, Dutch, Italian and Latin, and illustrated with 145 plates, mostly lithographs and engravings.

John Amory Jeffries (1859-1892) was one of the original active members of the American Ornithologists’ Union founded in 1883, but his interest in ornithology had developed much earlier. He and his brother, W. A. Jeffries, performed active field work which gave him, even before he entered Harvard College in 1877, “an unusually thorough knowledge of local ornithology as well as a very considerable collection of birds.” Although his love of field work continued, he turned his attention to anatomical and biological work while attending Harvard College (1877-1881) and, afterwards, Harvard Medical School (1881-1884). During those years he found time to do a surprising amount of anatomical and embryological work upon birds, giving his attention largely to the development of feathers and other epidermal structures. After receiving his M.D., he went to Europe for two more years of study, mostly at Vienna and Berlin. He returned to Boston in 1886, establishing himself professionally and continuing his ornithological studies until his premature death from pneumonia at age 33.


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.

famous creeperWe have acquired two paintings this year to add to our growing collection of original art related to ornithology. The artist is Sarah Stone (1760-1844), a talented watercolorist employed by the entrepreneur Sir Ashton Lever to record the contents of his extraordinary private museum. This consisted of specimens and ethnographic material being brought back by British expeditions to Australia, the Americas, Africa and the Far East in the 1780s and 1790s–most importantly from Cook’s round-the-world voyages.



black & blue creeperThe Lever museum was dispersed in 1806, and although the specimens have been lost, almost 1,000 of Stone’s paintings are in private and institutional hands–they are often the only remaining record of specimens which were used by scientists in the 18thC for descriptions of new species  (some now extinct) for the first time.

Source: Sarah Stone: Natural Curiosities from the New Worlds, by Christine Jackson (1998)

“The Indigo Bird arrives in the Southern States from the direction of Mexico, along with its relative the Painted Finch, and is caught in trap-cages, but with more difficulty than the latter bird.  It spreads far and wide over the United States, extending from the borders of our Atlantic shores to those of our great lakes.  It is not a forest bird, but prefers the skirts of the woods, the little detached thickets in and along the fields, the meadows, the gardens, and orchards, and is frequently seen hopping along, or perched on a fence, from which is does not disdain to send forth its pretty little song . . .

I have represented an adult female, two young males of the first and second year, in autumn, and a male in the full beauty of its plumage.  They are placed on a plant usually called the Wild Sarsparilla.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 377-379 [excerpted].


Illuminated birds!

   Posted by: rring

We have a small, but steadily growing collection of medieval manuscripts, both complete codices and leaves which have been cut and sold individually.  Shown here are two (of four) leaves we recently acquired which all came from the same manuscript–a fifteenth-century Book of Hours (Use of Bourges), which was once in the collection of François César Le Tellier, Marquis de Courtanveaux, the son of Louis XIV’s war minister, François Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois.  The scene is Christ’s presentation in the Temple.  Flora and fauna used as decoration is not typical for this genre.


A fascinating recent acquisition relating both to our ornithology and sporting collections, this manuscript game book records the game birds (and other critters) shot by the gentleman sportsman George Harry Grey, 7th Earl of Stamford, 3rd Earl of Warrington (1827-1883) and his father George Harry Grey, 8th Baron Grey of Groby (1802-1835) over a period of forty years, from 1821 to 1861.  The family owned large estates at Enville in Staffordshire, Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, Dunham Massey in Cheshire and Stalybridge near Manchester.  The pre-printed pages includes columns for “pheasants, partidges, hares, rabbits, woodcocks, snipes, wild ducks, teals, landrails, grouse.”  “Persons out” shooting are recorded throughout.


The season at Glengarry 1834.

790 Grouse. 69 black game. 20 snipes. 16 partridge. 7 red deer. 13 roe deer. 7 hares. 4 golden plover. 2 blue hares. 12 ducks. 2 ptarmigan. 280 trout. 36 pike. 11 salmon. 3 eels.   One trout weighed 18 lb. another 8 lb. …

And finishing up the memorandum this entry:

At Do. 2 days, 5 guns, 1834.  399 pheas., 264 hares. Bradgate Park vermin list, 1834, by 4 keepers.  410 weasels, 224 jays, 164 crows, 133 magpies, 109 cats, 66 hawks, 13 herons, 9 owls (1128).

The last entry made by Baron Grey of Groby was for September, 1835.  The register was not started again until 1844 by his son.

–Sally Dickinson, Associate Curator



Romantic-era album

   Posted by: rring

Just acquired from a dealer in London, a partially dis-bound album put together by Ellen Harper Parkes (later Ellen Worseley, aunt of Samuel Butler), ca. 1824–1827, in which she collected artwork from many friends, obviously requested and produced especially for her.  Mary Parkes, Ellen’s cousin, was married in 1823 to William Swainson (she was his first wife, and mother of several of his children, who died before he moved to New Zealand).  Swainson (1809-1833) was the first attorney-general of New Zealand (1841-56), and a progressive (for his time) defender of the Maoris, learning to know them by long expeditions on foot through the bush.

The album includes two paintings of birds in watercolor almost identical to plates from Swainson’s Zoological Illustrations.  One of the birds is described in Swainson’s book as a unique specimen brought from Peru.  Other leaves include drawings and paintings by others in social circles intersecting with Robert Southey’s house in Greta Hall.  Seventeen of them are various art contributions on identical cards (which were obviously distributed for the purpose), including two similar images of Southey’s Greta Hall by Parkes herself, and another (pencil drawing), inscribed “Southey’s Cottage at Keswick” by “C. L.,” who may be Charles Lamb. Other contributions are possibly from the Coleridge family (S. C. for Sara, D. C. for Derwent), Letitia Elizabeth Landon (“L.E.L.”, as she often signed her published work), and perhaps Amelia Heber—wife of Bishop Heber, the great English book collector.

There are sixteen other hand painted or hand drawn items done on the pages of the album itself, including not only the Swainson birds but also watercolor Lapland skiing scenes copied from Arthur de Capelle Brooke’s 1827 account of Lapland, a black-and-white bird, and several striking butterflies.  After Ellen Parkes’ marriage to Samuel Worseley they moved to Clifton, Bristol, which is where this album came into the dealer’s possession, and so to us.

“About the middle of April, the orange groves of the lower parts of Louisiana, and more especially those in the immediate vicinity of the City of New Orleans, are abundantly supplied with this beautiful little Sparrow.  But no sooner does it make its appearance than trap-cages are set, and a regular business is commenced in the market of that city.  The method employed in securing the male Painted Finch is so connected with its pugnacious habits, that I feel inclined to describe it, especially as it is so different from the common way of alluring birds, that it may afford you, kind reader, some amusement.

A male bird in full plumage is shot and stuffed in a defensive attitude, and perched among some grass seed, rice, or other food, on the same platform as the trap-cage.  This is taken to the fields or near the orangeries, and placed in so open a situation, that it would be difficult for a living bird of any species to fly over it, without observing it.  The trap is set.  A male Painted Finch passes, perceives it, and dives towards the stuffed bird, with all the anger which its little breast can contain.  It alights on the edge of the trap for a moment, and throwing its body against the stuffed bird, brings down the trap, and is made prisoner.  In this manner, thousands of these birds are caught every spring.  So pertinacious are they in their attacks, that even when the trap has closed upon them, they continue pecking at the feathers of the supposed rival.  The approach of man seems to allay its anger in a moment.

. . . they may be observed in spring time, in little groups of four, five or six, fighting together, moving round each other to secure an advantageous position, pecking and pulling at each other’s feathers with all the violence and animosity to which their small degree of strength can give effect.

. . . The Chicaksaw Wild Plum, on a twig of which I have represented a group of these birds, is found growing abundantly in the country where the birds occur.  It is a small shrub, the fruit of which is yellow when ripe, and excellent eating.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 279-281 [excerpted].


This just in–Russian ornithology!

   Posted by: rring

We have just unpacked eight (8) cartons of just over 300 books on Russian ornithology which we purchased from a well-respected Dutch antiquarian book dealer.  These books were originally part of a much larger collection put together by the great bibliophile Henry Bradley Martin (1906-1988), whose collections of ornithology, 16th- and 17th-century English literature, and 19th-century American and French literature were sold through Sotheby’s (New York) in several well-publicized sales in 1989.

The books and pamphlets you see here constituted about half of Lot 1845 of Sale 5953 (Session II, December 13, 1989), which was purchased by another Dutch dealer.

In terms of research, this acquisition is a leap forward in the (admittedly obscure) field of Russian ornithology.  A very quick check against our two closest rivals in terms of historic ornithological collections (Yale and Cornell), has yielded the following analysis:

Of 300 titles, Trinity has 17, Yale has 18, and Cornell has 17. There is considerable overlap–of the titles owned by the three libraries, 7 are only at Trinity, 3 are at both Trinity & Yale, 4 are only at Yale, 6 are at both Yale and Cornell, 6 are only at Cornell, and 5 are at all three places.  With this acquisition, over 280 titles can only be found here at Trinity.