Hill Collection Early- to Mid-19th
American artists & authors
The "father of American ornithology," Alexander Wilson [1766-1813]
, is well represented in the Hill Collection by beautiful copies of the first and second
printings of the first edition of American
ornithology, published from 1801 to 1814 in nine volumes, with a revised volume
nine issued as a supplement in 1825.
The birds in the first edition were grouped and presented by Wilson in random order.
Later Wilson's close friend and collaborator on the first edition, George Ord [1781-1866],
produced a four-volume version of American
ornithology (1828-1829) arranged systematically by species. At about the same
time, Charles Lucien Bonaparte [1803-1857] prepared a supplementary four-volume American
ornithology: birds not given by Wilson (1825-1833). Copies of the Ord and
Bonaparte works round out the original editions of Wilson in the Hill Collection.
Later editions and reprints of Wilson's American ornithology appeared throughout
the century, edited or presented mainly by Robert Jameson, William
Jardine, and Thomas
Brewer. Some early versions are represented in the Hill Collection, but all editions
are available in one or more of the library collections at Cornell. Of special interest is
the three-volume "Jameson edition", mainly because of the magnificent set of
plates by Captain Thomas Brown [1785-1862], which were issued separately but designed to
accompany the text of this small popular edition. Brown's Illustrations
of the American ornithology of Wilson and Bonaparte (1831-1835), dazzles the eye,
and a particularly lovely copy reposes in the Hill Collection.
Students of Wilson may also be interested in the Life and letters of Alexander
Wilson, by Clark Hunter, issued in 1983 as volume 154 in the Memoirs series of the
American Philosophical Society. There is a copy in the History of Science Collection, as
well as circulating copies in the Mann and Olin libraries at Cornell.
Wilson's important contributions to American ornithology were eclipsed temporarily by
the publication of the splendid bird art of John James Audubon [1785-1851]
. Audubon's magnificent Birds
of America, published from 1827 to 1838, presented 435 plates of birds in life
size, engraved on copper and hand colored. This "double elephant" folio, with
its groupings of colorful, active, related birds in correct natural settings, was a major
departure from the stiff renderings of unrelated birds so characteristic of the period.
Audubon was the first ornithological illustrator to work from fresh-killed specimens
collected in the field and to capture the essence of life in his art. His influence and
fame have continued to the present.
Many editions of The Birds of America have been published over the years, and
many biographies of Audubon and discussions of his work have been issued. The Cornell
libraries have comprehensive coverage of the works by and about Audubon, only a few of
which will be mentioned here.
Cornell is particularly fortunate in having a beautiful set of the original double
elephant folio of The Birds of America. The Hill Collection also includes the handsome seven-volume
first octavo edition (1840-1844), as well as the second (1856) and third (1861) octavo
editions. Also present is Audubon's five-volume Ornithological
biography of 1831-1849 (i.e., 1839); Cornell's copy is a presentation copy signed
A modern publication of interest is a facsimile of Audubon's manuscript My
style of drawing birds (1979), edited by Michael Zinman. In the Hill Collection,
too, is an amusing small work of 1972, issued by the Caxton Club in Chicago and authored
by Gordon R. Williams. Its self-explanatory title is Fantasy
in a wood-block: or, What occurred when John James Audubon, the naturalist, visited with
Thomas Bewick, the wood engraver, in the year 1827.
Other American artists & authors
At about the same time as the appearance of Audubon's Ornithological biography,
another ornithologist, Thomas Nuttall [1786-1859], was issuing his
of the ornithology of the United States and of Canada (1834). Illustrated simply
with woodcuts in the text, this careful, detailed study of land and water birds is
considered the first American handbook on birds. The Hill Collection contains a first
edition of both volumes.
While the two giants of American ornithology, Wilson and Audubon, dominated North
American ornithology early in the 19th century, a great deal of important work was being
carried on elsewhere in the world.
Online guide developed from:
Ornithology Collections in the Libraries at Cornell University: A Descriptive Guide
Revised Edition, 1999
Ithaca, New York
© 1999 Cornell University Library
Webpage last revised: 6/10/99 by jfc & clsb.