Special Feature England’s pride of 19th CenturyThe John Gould Bird Series
Interest in natural history reached its height in nineteenth century Britain.
John Gould, born in 1804, began his career as a taxidermist, and helped by this great surge of interest, quickly adopted the newly invented printing technique of lithography. He had his wife Elizabeth learn the technique and began a series of publications including hand-coloured lithographs of birds.
The first of these was A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1832).
Gould chose a large folio format (c. 56 x 39 cm) which abled him to portray large birds in actual size. For this reason the volumes became quite heavy, the total 40 volumes weighing about 500 kilograms.
Gould soon hired eminent artists such as Edward Lear, and the finest lithographic printer of his day, Charles Hullmandel, to establish his own workshop, while at the same time collecting subscriptions from the upper classes.
The nobility that subscribed to Gould's bird books, which were published in fascicles, would bring them to their favorite binders to have them lavishly bound to their tastes.
For this reason the 40 volumes in 39 books (1 book containing 2 volumes) in the Tamagawa collection have the privilege of containing various different bindings.
The meticulously drawn 2946 plates of birds include extinct birds and endangered species, depictions of intriguing habits of birds, and their scholarly importance is immense. The various plants and flowers often drawn in the background provide important botanical information as well, and are highly regarded as examples of nineteenth century English botanical art.