1833-35 · London
Excellent contemporary green pebble-grain morocco by Miller (his ticket on verso of front free endpaper), covers framed by triple gilt fillets and decorative floral rolls, raised bands, spine compartments with floral spray centerpiece surrounded by acanthus leaves and star tools, floral cornerpieces, turn-ins with decorative gilt roll, leather hinges, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. With one engraved plate by George Scharf showing anatomical details, and 33 BRILLIANTLY HAND-COLORED LITHOGRAPHIC PLATES by and after Edward Lear (10) and John and Elizabeth Gould (23). Verso of front free endpaper with ink presentation inscription: "Presented to the Library of the Royal Institute of Great Britain / June 2, 1859 / by Jacob Bell, Esq., MRS" (see below). Anker 170; Ayer/Zimmer pp. 252-53; Sitwell, "Fine Bird Books," pp. 31, 101; Wood, p. 364. Upper cover with three four- to six-inch dark patches (oil stains?), three smaller patches and a sprinkling of dark spots, a hint of rubbing to joints and extremities, but the binding sturdy and a pleasing addition to the shelf. Occasional minor marginal foxing and faint offsetting to text leaves, isolated thumbing, one plate trimmed at foot (affecting imprint only), otherwise--and in the most important way--A FINE COPY, clean and fresh internally with vibrant coloring.
This is a most appealing copy of Gould's first monograph, an exotic and colorful work issued in three parts. It is devoted entirely to the toucan and is described by Sitwell as one of the Gould's "most lovely works." In the Introduction, Gould explains that these birds, found only in the tropical portions of the Americas, "are a retiring and shy race, are mostly observed in small flocks or companies, and inhabit the dense woods and forests of that luxuriant country." There is nothing quiet or shy about the birds' plumage, depicted here in particularly vivid plates by John and Elizabeth Gould and Edward Lear. According to DNB, Gould, a taxidermist by training and trade, "was the collector (especially in Australia) or purchaser of the specimens, the taxonomist, the publisher, the agent, and the distributor of the parts or volumes. He never claimed he was the artist for these plates, but repeatedly wrote of the 'rough sketches' he made from which, with reference to the specimens, his artists painted the finished drawings. The design and natural arrangement of the birds on the plates was due to the genius of John Gould." Thanks to his eye for composition and the talents of his wife and other artists for drawing and color, "a Gould plate has a distinctive beauty and quality."
A previous (and probably the first) owner of this copy was the pioneering pharmacist and politician Jacob Bell (1810-49), who had trained in his father's pharmacy and attended lectures at the King's College, London and at the Royal Institution on physic, anatomy, and chemistry, while also pursuing instruction in art. Realizing the limits of his own artistic talent, he devoted himself to pharmacology for his profession, but became a notable art collector and befriended a number of artists, among them Edwin Landseer and William Frith. A founder of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Bell became a Member of Parliament primarily to give his profession a voice in the creation of legislation designed to regulate it. He was also the founder, proprietor, and editor--as well as the financial underwriter--of the "Pharmaceutical Journal," becoming acknowledged as one of the most important figures in the discipline's development during the 19th century. Bell's energy and achievements were typical of his epoch, and so was his philanthropy. When he realized in the late spring of 1859 that he was dying, Bell bequeathed £2,000 to the Pharmaceutical Society and 13 paintings (valued at as much as £20,000) to the nation. Just 10 days before his death, he gave a group of works by Gould (including the present book) to the Royal Institution. While individual plates from this work appear on the market with some regularity, it is uncommon to find all of them together, especially in a contemporary morocco binding and with distinguished provenance.. (Inventory #: Lhi21009)