AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851)
Ornithological Biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America; accompanied by descriptions of the objects represented in the work entitled The Birds of America, and interspersed with delineations of American scenery and manners
Edinburgh & London: Printed by Neill & Co. (Edinburgh) for Adam & Charles Black (Edinburgh) and R. Havell Jun., and Longman, Rees, Brown and Green (London), and various others, 1831-1834-1835-1838-"1849" [i.e.1839]. 5 volumes, large 8vo. (10 1/2 x 6 1/4 inches). Half-titles. Numerous woodcut text illustrations. Vols. 2-5 uncut.
Modern half red morocco and red cloth covered boards, spine with raised bands six compartments, lettered in gilt in the second and fourth, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt
First edition of the separately-issued text for the elephant folio Birds of America.
The genesis of the present work is interesting: as early as November 1826, Audubon had begun thinking about the text which should accompany his engraved illustrations of birds. He noted in his journal: "I shall publish the letterpress in a separate book, at the same time with the illustrations and shall accompany the descriptions of the birds with many anecdotes and accounts of localities connected with the birds themselves ..." (M.R. Audubon Audubon and his journals 1897, vol.I, p.163). Audubon had taken the decision to publish the letterpress separately (and give it free to the subscribers to the plate volumes) because, according to British copyright law, had the letterpress accompanied the engravings, Audubon would have been obliged to deposit a copy of the work in each of the nine copyright libraries in the United Kingdom. This would have placed a strain on the economics of the production of the book. Work on the text did not begin in earnest until the end of 1830, just as Havell was nearing the completion of the engraving of the first 100 drawings. Between 1831 and 1837 Audubon and his family made three trips to America. Audubon was back in London between 1837 and 1839, where he completed the descriptions of the last two volumes of the Ornithological Biography. On 20 November 1838, Audubon wrote to Bachman: "My fourth Vol. is finished and in 10 days I will have 200 copies of it at London where I hope you will be and receive several Copies to take over with you, for yourselves and others as then directed" (quoted by Fries, p. 111). This set without the separately-issued prospectus and list of subscribers for the elephant folio edition, bound into volume one of some copies.
Ayer 20; Ellis 96 & 100; Waldemar H. FriesThe Double Elephant Folio The Story of Audubon's Birds of America (Chicago, 1973) pp.20, 21, [etc.]; Yale/Ripley 13; Zimmer 20.