THE EXCEPTIONALLY FINE DUKE OF PORTLAND SET OF AUDUBON'S MASTERPIECE THE BIRDS OF AMERICA -- THE FINEST COLOR-PLATE BOOK OF ORNITHOLOGY EVER PRODUCED.
A fine copy in excellent condition, with fresh, vibrant colors. Minor defects include: some occasional finger-soiling; some occasional pale show-through from offset of succeeding plates; a few plates with moderate surface bloom or bloom-spots; occasional light discoloration, foxing or spotting; the larger plates with a few instances of plate numbers, part numbers and parts of captions being obscured by the binding, shaved or cropped; a few creases, some extending beyond the platemark; some minor tears, most repaired, chiefly marginal, a few extending within the platemark.
Size: 993 x 655 mm (39 1/8 x 25 inches). Full contemporary English crimson morocco, richly gilt, covers paneled a wide decorative roll-tooled outer border surrounding a central panel with a roll-tooled border, a stylized scallop corner-piece built up of smaller tools at each outer corner of central panel, spines in nine compartments with eight double-raised bands, two with onlaid green morocco lettering pieces, the others with a repeated richly gilt panel, board edges and turn-ins elaborately gilt, marbled paper pastedowns and free endpapers, blank flyleaves watermarked "J. Whatman 1838," stamp-signed "J. Mackenzie" on free endpapers of plate volumes (Vol. 3 with a tiny stain on fore-edge, some slight areas of darker discoloration partially due to orientation of the leather hides, some minor surface wear and abrasions skillfully restored and refurbished by James & Stuart Brockman Ltd.); plate volumes in four velvet-lined quarter leather buckram over wooden board folding boxes.
John Mackenzie (1788-ca 1850) is believed to have apprenticed in Frederich Leberecht Staggemeier's shop in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Mackenzie's independent business flourished in the second quarter of the century, during which time he held the office of bookbinder to both King George IV and King William IV. He is noted for his use of hard-grain morocco, most prominently on the natural history and color-plate books found in the Broxbourne and Grenville libraries.
John James Audubon was born on April 26, 1785 in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (now Haiti). He was the illegitimate son of Jean Audubon, a French sea captain and agent for a Nantes mercantile firm in Santo Domingo, and Mlle. Jeanne Rabin(e?), his Creole mistress. The mother died within a year of her son's birth, and young Audubon and his half sister (Jean's illegitimate daughter by another mistress) were sent to Nantes in 1791, where they joined their father and his wife Anne Moynet. The two were legally adopted in 1794, and Jean-Jacques Fougre Audubon (his full legal adopted name) spent his early youth at Nantes and Couron, where he received a minimal elementary education. Here, Audubon's lifelong preoccupation with birds found its earliest expression, as he spent endless hours collecting specimens from his countryside rambles, later to be stuffed and drawn.
In 1803, following the loss of the family's fortune, when French political control of Santo Domingo had ended, John James was sent to eastern Pennsylvania, initially under the care of an associate of his father's, Miers Fisher. Difficulties in this arrangement led to Audubon's move to Mill Grove, his father's farm near Philadelphia, where his boyhood interest in drawing bird specimens grew. Here he met his future wife Lucy Bakewell, the daughter of a prosperous neighbor. They married in 1808 and moved first to the new settlement of Louisville, and later to Henderson, Kentucky, where John James failed as merchant and miller. In 1812, Audubon became a naturalized American citizen.
The largely unspoiled wilderness of Kentucky allowed Audubon an increasing range of birds to hunt and draw, and lacking formal artistic training, he worked hard at developing a new method of mounting dead birds on wires as an aid to delineation. In 1810, Audubon briefly met the distinguished ornithologist Alexander Wilson at Louisville, where he saw the first two volumes of the artist-author's pioneering American Ornithology. He later implied, perhaps correctly, that his own drawings were, even at that time, better than Wilson's. Although the idea of publication first entered his mind on this occasion, it was not until 1820, following bankruptcy, that Audubon set out by flatboat for Louisiana, with the single goal of adding to his portfolio of bird pictures. He worked precariously as an itinerant artist and tutor, leaving much of the burden to Lucy of supporting herself and their two sons. They settled on a plantation near New Orleans called Bayou Sara. Finally, Audubon came into his full powers as a brilliant painter of birds and master of design, chiefly working in Louisiana and Mississippi.
In the spring of 1824, he sought publication of his work in Philadelphia and New York. Failing this, he travelled to England in 1826. Originally, The Birds of America was planned to be issued serially in eighty parts of five plates each, for a total of 400 plates. The final count, however, would increase to 435 in 87 parts, owing to discoveries of new species made by Thomas Nuttall and John Kirk Townsend on the Wyeth expedition to the Columbia River in 1834. The monumental format of this work was dictated by Audubon's insistence that each species be shown life-size and his determination to depict all the known species found in North America. It soon became evident to Audubon that to publish the work he had envisioned, he must travel to Britain, where through exhibitions of his drawings he came in contact with the scientific community. One of his early acquaintances here was the historian and botanist, William Roscoe, who helped arrange these exhibitions. At one such exhibition in Manchester, he met the American consul, F.S. Brookes from Boston, who advised him to publish his "Great Work" by subscription, a traditional method of raising funds in advance of the great expenses involved in such a publication--which Audubon anticipated would take 14 years to complete.
"The dramatic impact of his ambitious, complex pictures and a romantic image as 'the American woodsman' secured Audubon entry into a scientific community much preoccupied with little-known lands. He met the leaders of society and science and was elected to the leading organizations, including the Royal Society of London. Among his friends were the gifted ornithologist William Swainson, from whom he learned some niceties of technical ornithology, and the orderly, brilliant Scottish naturalist-anatomist William MacGillivray. The text for Audubon's pictures, separately produced at Edinburgh, emerged as the five-volume Ornithological Biography [a set of the text volumes is included with the lot]. MacGillivray edited this for grammatical form, and he also contributed extensive anatomical descriptions to the later volumes" (DSB).
In Edinburgh, the printer and zoologist, Patrick Neill, a fellow member of the Wernerian Society, directed Audubon to William Home Lizars (1788-1859), "the best engraver in the city" who was currently engraving for Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867) and Sir William Jardine (1800-1874), Britain's foremost ornithologists. Lizars was so impressed with Audubon's drawings, that he put aside the work he was currently doing for Selby and agreed to take on the Herculean task of printing the plates. For the time being, Audubon had found his engraver, and could now concentrate on seeking patronage for the work, which took him to the noblest homes of Britain and Europe, and to the new markets of the young American Republic--as may be seen from the original list of subscribers.
The relationship with the engraver Lizars was not long-lasting. During the engraving of the first two parts (each containing five plates), Lizar's colorists went on strike, causing Audubon to search for another engraver for his "Great Work." Audubon went to London, where he met Robert Havell, senior member of the well-known family of artists and aquatinters. At fifty-eight Havell, Sr felt he was too old for such an undertaking leading him to find a younger engraver for the project, which ultimately led to his own estranged son Robert Jr, an accomplished engraver working at the time for Colnaghi. The two were reconciled and entered upon a successful business partnership, known as Robert Havell and Son. A life-long friendship was established between Audubon and Robert junior, and together they created the greatest of all bird books, arguably the highest achievement of ornithological art.
As a subscription publication, The Birds of America was issued over a decade according to demand, and the plates bear a range of imprints, which varies from set to set. We know that Robert senior died in 1832 and that Robert junior then styled himself R. Havell. Fries cites the variants in the names on the first ten plates, which are likely to cause the most confusion as they were the ones engraved by Lizars. They were handed over to the Havells as soon as they had been engaged for the project, and the imprint was amended to reflect this. The earliest states of plate I have "Engraved by W.H. Lizars Edinr.", while later states have "Retouched by R. Havell Junr." Although Havell junior engraved all the plates after number 10, there is no evidence to support a conclusion from the final variants of plates III, IV, V and X, that Havell completely re-engraved the plates, despite the removal of Lizars name from the imprint. Some plates bear no distinction between the senior and junior Havells. Others mention Lizars engraving, but Havell senior printing and coloring (e.g. plate VII), or Robert junior retouching and Robert senior printing and coloring (see Appendix B for imprints on the plates in the present set).
EDITION SIZE AND RARITY
Although the final list of subscribers to The Birds of America totaled 161, a somewhat greater number of sets certainly was produced. Bibliographers of the double-elephant folio have calculated the edition size at approximately 200 completed copies. In her updating of Fries' 1973 census, Susanne Low writes, "119 complete copies are known to exist in the world today. 108 are in institutions such as universities, libraries, museums, athenaeums, societies, and the like. 11 are in private hands."
Since 1973, 24 copies of the book have been sold at auction. Of these, 14 have been sold on a sheet-by-sheet basis, many of these lacking plates, and are dispersed (including the Earl of Carnarvon copy comprising 159 plates only), and another incomplete set which lacked volume IV was sold together but presumably is now dispersed (the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences copy). At the present time, 107 copies remain in institutions and 13 are in private hands (which includes the Fox-Bute copy, previously unaccounted for by Fries and Low).
AUDUBON, John James. 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. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1831-1849 [i.e. 1839]. 5 volumes, 8o (255 x 157 mm). Bound to match the plate volumes in full contemporary English crimson gilt-panelled morocco, spines in six compartments with five raised bands, edges gilt; single velvet-lined quarter morocco box matching the plate volume boxes.
FIRST EDITION. "As early as November of 1826, shortly after Lizars had begun the engraving of the Birds of America, Audubon had written 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, and with my travels in search of them.' Had Audubon included the letterpress with the engravings, he would have been required, under the British Copyright Act of 1709, to deposit a copy of the work in nine libraries in the United Kingdom. Hence his letterpress appeared separately in the five volumes of the Ornithological Biography" (Fries, p. 47).
Ayer/Zimmer, pp. 18-20, 20-21 (Ornithological Biography); Copenhagen/Anker 17, 18 (Ornithological Biography); Ellis/Mengel 96 (Ornithological Biography); Fine Bird Books, p. 57; Waldemar H. Fries, The Double Elephant Folio (Chicago 1973; rev. 2006, ed. Susanne Low); Susanne M. Low, An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America (New York 1988); Low, Catalogue of the New Birds of America Section of the Audubon Archives (New York 1993); McGill/Wood, p. 207 (Ornithological Biography), 209; Nissen IVB 49. (9)
Provenance Presumably purchased sometime after 1838 as a bound complete set, by William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland PC, FRS, FSA (24 June 1768 - 27 March 1854), styled Marquess of Titchfield until 1809. He was a British politician who served in various positions in the governments of George Canning and Lord Goderich. Portland was the eldest son of Prime Minister William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland and Lady Dorothy, daughter of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire and Charlotte Boyle, Baroness Clifford. He was the elder brother of Lord William Bentinck and Lord Charles Bentinck. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford.
Each volume in this set contains the armorial bookplate of the 6th Duke of Portland. However, according to the keepers at Welbeck, there seems to be little consistency of the "bookplating" in the library. There are many volumes presently in the library without any bookplate at all, as well as many books acquired by the 4th Duke with no earlier bookplate than the 6th Duke's on their pastedowns. Other books in the library that are known to have been purchased by the 4th Duke show his serious interest in natural history, and therefore may indicate he was the original purchaser of this Audubon set soon after publication in 1838 and prior to his death in 1854. It is possibly, however, that this set may also have been purchased later by the 5th or 6th Dukes of Portland, the son of the 4th Duke and his cousin, respectively.
William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentick, 5th Duke of Portland (1800-1879), styled Lord William Cavendish-Scott-Bentick before 1824 and Marquess of Titchfield between 1824 and 1854, was a British aristocratic eccentric who preferred to live in seclusion. On 27 March 1854 he succeeded his father as 5th Duke of Portland. He had an underground maze excavated under his estate at Welbeck Abbey, near Clumber Park in North Nottinghamshire, where he kept his library.
William John Arthur Charles James Cavendish-Bentick, 6th Duke of Portland (1857-1943), known as William Cavendish-Bentick until 1879, was a British landowner, courtier and Conservative politician. He notably served as Master of the Horse between 1886 and 1892 and again between 1895 and 1905. He inherited the Cavendish-Bentick estates, based around Welbeck Abbey, from his cousin William Cavendish-Scott-Bentick, 5th Duke of Portland, in 1879.