EDWARDS, George (1694-1773)
A Natural History of Uncommon Birds, and of Some Other Rare and Undescribed Animals ... [With:] Gleanings of Natural History Exhibiting Figures of Quadrupeds, Birds, Insects, Plants, &c.
London: Published by Will. Gardner ... C. Rickaby, Printer [vols. 1-5]; Printed by George Sidney [vols. 6-7], 1802-1806. 7 volumes. (11 3/8 x 9 inches). [Uncommon Birds:] 4 parts in 4 vols. Lacks the general letterpress title, part titles to vols. 2-4. Engraved portrait frontispiece in vol. 1, etched emblematic frontispiece in vol. 1, 210 finely hand coloured etched plates, all by and after Edwards. [Gleanings:] 3 parts in 3 vols. Titles in English and French, text in two columns in English and French. 152 finely hand coloured etched plates by and after Edwards and others (numbered 211-362).
Early nineteenth century red morocco, bound by J. Wright, covers with an elaborate gilt border composed of small tools, spines in six compartments with raised bands, morocco lettering pieces in the second and third compartments, the others with an overall repeat decoration in gilt, marbled endpapers, gilt edges
A spectacular set of the second edition of "one of the most important of all bird books, both as a fine bird book and a work of ornithology" (Fine Bird Books).
This issue of the second edition, bound circa 1840, benefits greatly from being published at a time when two book-arts were at a high point: the art of hand-colouring was at its most sophisticated and the design and execution of bindings was equally exceptional. The colouring in this issue has the clear jewel-like quality that is a feature of the work of the best colourists of the Regency period. In the present set, The Natural History of Uncommon Birds is largely printed on wove paper, with the text watermarked 1800-1802, with the plates watermarked 1816 (though with at least three plates on earlier laid paper [e.g. 177, 184 and 194]); the Gleanings of Natural History is with the text printed on wove paper (watermarked 1802-1803) but with the plates mostly printed on laid paper, though with some plates on wove paper (watermarks to 1822).
Edwards "has been well described as an unscientific but very accurate describer and painter of animal life, and his writings will always remain of paramount authority, from the faithfulness of his description of many new birds, subsequently incorporated in the Linnaean System. He had, says Swainson, the simplicity and piety of Izaac Walton, and may be looked upon as one of our greatest worthies. He retired about 1764 to Plaistow, died July 23, 1773" (Mullens and Swann p.194). "Through the influence of Sir Hans Sloane, [Edwards] was chosen Librarian to the Royal College of Physicians ... Almost immediately after he was appointed ... Edwards commenced the preparation of a series of coloured drawings of animals and birds, used later to illustrate [the present work]; for these he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Society and subsequently elected a Fellow" (Lisney p.127).
The work was quite successful and went through a number of transformations whilst under Edwards' control, including the issuing of a French text edition. Shortly after he retired in 1769 he sold "to Mr. James Robson, Bookseller ... all the remaining copies of my Natural History ... coloured under my immediate inspection, together with all my copper-plates, letter-press, and every article in my possession relative to it ... and that my labours may be handed down to posterity with integrity, truth, and exactness, I have delivered into his hands a complete set of plates, highly coloured by myself, as a standard to those Artists who may be employed in colouring them for the future" (George Edwards, declaration quoted in Robson's Some Memoirs… of George Edwards , dated May Ist, 1769).
This set is beautifully bound by John Wright of London. Flourishing between 1830 and 1860, Wright was among the most fashionable of London binders in this important period. Ramsden refers to Wright as "a binder of the highest order" (Ramsden, London Book Binders, p.154).
Anker 124-126; Fine Bird Books (1990) p.93; Lisney 191, 196, 199, 202, 207, 210 and 212; Mullens and Swann pp. 195-196; Nissen IVB 286-289; Zimmer pp.192-194 and 196-199; cf. Mason, George Edwards: The Bedell and His Birds (London: 1992).