BIOLOGIA CENTRALI-AMERICANA; OR, CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE FAUNA AND FLORA OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
by Godman, Frederick DuCane, and Osbert Salvin, editors
London: R.H. Porter and Dulau and Co., 1915. Sixty-six volumes, comprising 240 natural history parts and seventeen archaeology parts. Approximately 1,657 lithographic and autotype plates, including 890 handcolored lithographs. Quarto and oblong folio. Uniform contemporary gold-tooled red morocco, t.e.g. Some spines evenly faded. Oblong volumes in similar contemporary red half morocco, t.e.g.; original wrappers and Botany indices bound in three separate volumes in contemporary red half cloth. Several plates spotted on margins, a few plates in ARCHAEOLOGY slightly browned. A superb, remarkable set. Provenance: Frederick DuCane Godman (armorial bookplates). The editor's copy of the most comprehensive study of Central American wildlife, in fine condition, and the most complete set to have appeared on the market in the past thirty-five years. The BIOLOGIA is one of the towering achievements of natural history research in the Americas, and remains fundamental to the study of Neotropical plants and animals to this day. Almost 19,000 separate subjects are depicted in the plates and over 50,000 species described, of which almost 20,000 were first noted here. In addition, the extraordinary segment on archeology by Alfred Maudslay remains vital to Mayan studies to this day. Because of the massive nature of the work and its extended period of publication, and because subscribers could purchase sections of the work without subscribing to the whole, most holdings are fragmentary. Since this is Godman's own copy, in superb condition, it is certainly the finest in existence. Frederick DuCane Godman, who conceived, authored, and underwrote the BIOLOGIA, was born into a wealthy English family in 1834 (his father was a partner in the British brewer, Whitbread). After study at Eton and Cambridge, where he met his later co-author, Osbert Salvin, he embarked on a career of studies in ornithology and entomology. In 1861, Godman and Salvin visited Central America together, the first of a number of trips that led to their conception of the BIOLOGIA project. Work on it began in 1876 and the first volumes were published in 1879. Publication was spread over the next thirty-six years, with six or seven parts coming out annually. Most of the research for the project was done in the 1870s and 1880s, after which both men were hampered by ill health. Salvin died in 1898, and publication only terminated with World War I. Godman died in 1919. The entire BIOLOGIA project was conceived and executed at the highest level of scholarship and production, with almost 900 colored plates. It remains the single greatest published resource for New World natural history. It is still a vital reference tool, ever more so today, as issues of biodiversity and extinction move to the forefront of scientific inquiry. It is also a work of great beauty, produced on a level of lavishness that would be impossible today. Although it was not part of the original conception of the work, Godman made the fortunate decision to include a section of Central American archaeology. This section was edited by Alfred Maudslay, another Cambridge polymath who became intrigued by the Mayan ruins in Guatemala in 1880. Maudslay spent the next two decades exploring the sites of Tikal, Copan, Quirigua, and Yaxchilan, as well as Chichen Itza. He made careful measurements and took hundreds of photographs, many of them reproduced in colotype in four folio atlases in the BIOLOGIA. His photographs and casts documented many sites later disturbed or plundered. Michael Coe says, "It is impossible to exaggerate the importance to Maya research of Maudslay's published work." Coe goes on to call Maudslay the greatest single recorder of Mayan inscriptions. A massive and important pictorial work of American natural history, in what is certainly the finest copy extant. BRITISH MUSEUM NATURAL HISTORY CATALOGUE, p.687. Coe, BREAKING THE MAYA CODE, pp.110-12. TAXONOMIC LITERATURE 2, 2627 (botanical section).
(Inventory #: WRCAM47930)
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