’Extraordinary’: Rare book of Darwin’s 'Birdman’ illustrations to sell for £2m | Books

John Gould was one of London’s most sought-after taxidermists in the 19th century, commissioned by King George IV to taxidermy the first giraffe to arrive in England.

But Gould’s lasting legacy is the birds. He traveled the world documenting and cataloging as many bird species as he could find, many of which had never been seen before, earning him the nickname Bird Man and his appointment as the official „Bird Stuffer” for the Zoological Society.

Gould compiled beautiful drawings from his notes and the bird paintings he found – including specimens brought back to Britain by Charles Darwin in 1836 following his voyage on the HMS Beagle.

Next week, the extremely rare complete set of folios with all the illustrations will be offered at the Rare Book Fair in London with a price tag of £2m.

Pom Harrington, owner and president of bookseller Peter Harrington First, the Rare Book Fair It will be held at the Saatchi Gallery in London from May 16-19, he said, adding that it is almost unheard of to see entire folios in one collection.

„Gould’s frequently reproduced illustrations of birds are among the best ever executed,” he said. „Because they were published over six decades in the 19th century, the folios are rarely seen together, and rarely come to market as a set.”

Among the uniform bound books are volumes on the mammals of Australia, where Gould, who died in 1881 at the age of 76, traveled in 1838.

Masked Trogon, probably 1836/1838, artist John Gould, lithograph by Henry Constantine Richter. Photo: Heritage Images/Getty Images

Harrington added: „The rarity of such complete collections, especially those magnificently and uniformly bound by renowned London binders such as Zaehnsdorf, drives the significant market value of this exceptional set.”

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Gould was born in 1804 in Lyme Regis, Dorset. The son of a gardener, he established his taxidermy business in London in his 20s. He is thought to have been inspired to compile an illustrated catalog of birds after a collection of many hitherto undiscovered birds from the Himalayas in the Museum of the Zoological Society. At the same time, the poet and artist Edward Lear published an illustrated book about parrots, which became very popular in the 1830s.

Gould used many artists to work from his notes and sketches, including his wife Elizabeth Gould, later Lear, and Henry Constantine Richter, William Matthew Hart, and Joseph Wolf.

„Although Gould never claimed to be the artist for these plates, he repeatedly wrote about the 'rough sketches’ he made, from which models his artists drew the finished drawings,” Harrington said. „The design and natural arrangement of the birds on the plates was due to the genius of John Gould.”

Gould’s work on birds influenced Darwin’s theories of evolution. Gould’s biographer Gordon Sauer wrote that Gould contributed to Darwin’s „Bird” volume in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle. „In January 1837, Gould described a group of 12 birds from the Galapagos Islands that Darwin considered 'blackbirds, warblers, wrens, and finches’, the same family of finches, with variations in their beaks and sizes,” he said. wrote

„This is the key evidence that helped Darwin arrive at his theory of island speciation.”

Great Sickle Bill Bird of Heaven by John Gould, 1875/1888. Photo: Peter Harrington

The rare complete books, which will be auctioned next week, are believed to have been collected and sold by a collector or book dealer in the late 1880s or 1890s after Gould’s death, Harrington said, „a kind of trophy collection”.

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He added: “Unfortunately, the collection has no marks of ownership, no bookplates or inscriptions.

„When it last appeared at auction at Christie’s in 1997, the collection was described as having been purchased by an English client from Gould and Sharp in the 1880s. As Gould died in 1881, this may be a bit of a reach, but it is not far-fetched. 'Sharp’ is the ornithologist Richard Bowdler Sharp, who Worked closely with Gould in his later years.

The lot then sold for £507,500, but a 1997 auction record described the set as „the property of a European collector”.

Some detective work by Peter Harrington, who researched book sales in the 1890s, shows the auction prices and buyers for many of the Gold Folios.

Harrington said: „We can speculate that it was supplied in a batch to a wealthy client, although we will never know. As a personal opinion, the freshness and excellent condition of the set suggests that it has not had many owners.

„It was clearly observed in a library somewhere and did not move continuously.”

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