Posts Tagged ‘natural history’


Flamingo comes home!

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One of the first things I learned upon starting at the Watkinson was that our copy of the Birds of America, which was given to Trinity by one of its early graduates in 1900 (Dr. Gurdon Russell, Class of 1834), was incomplete.  Unfortunately, well before the current security measures were put in place, a professional thief had stolen two plates from the book in 1977.  One plate (no. 430, the Slender-billed Guillemot) was recovered from a Boston bookseller within a year of the theft—the man also stole from the Connecticut State Library, the Boston Public Library, the Peabody Institute, and the New Bedford Public Library in Massachusetts.  The other plate (431, the American Flamingo), was never recovered.  Fortunately, we were able to secure a copy of this plate (from another set, owned by a paper company in Alabama) at auction on September 28, so after 35 years, our set is complete again.

The fact remains, however, that somewhere out there, on someone’s wall (hopefully unbeknownst to them), is our copy of the Flamingo.  Maybe someday we’ll find our wayward bird, but in the meantime, we will cherish our adopted one.

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Gabriele Falloppio (1523-1562) & Volker Coiter (1534-1576).  Lectiones de partibus similaribus humani corporis, ex diversis  (Nuremberg, 1575).  

I acquired this from an antiquarian bookseller in New York, and at some point before that firm owned the book, it was on the shelves of the Library of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland (what is now the Maryland State Medical Society–for its history, see here:

This is a scarce edition of a series of anatomical lectures by Falloppio in their first published appearance, including two tracts by Coiter on the osteology of quadrupeds and birds, illustrated with 5 large engraved plates of mammal, reptile, amphibian and bird skeletons after Coiter’s own drawings. Two texts from the present work are of particular interest for the history of anatomical science: “Coiter’s study of the skeleton of the foetus and of a child six months old, [which] was the first study of developmental osteology and showed where ossification begins” (Garrison & Morton), as well as the treatise “De avium sceletis et praecipuis musculis,” which includes in table form the first classification of birds by species.   The five large plates of animal skeletons that conclude the volume were apparently inspired by the Italian naturalist Aldrovandi.   “Coiter’s illustrations,” says one authority, “most of which he etched himself, are far superior in quality to the zoological illustrations of Aldrovandi, and they occupy a prominent position in the history of zoology and comparative anatomy.”

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