Muscipeta cyaniceps

Muscipeta cyaniceps
from Mammalogy and ornithology
by John Cassin

 

 

[Flamingo Head]

[Flamingo Head]
from The water birds of North America
by Spencer Fullerton Baird

Hill Collection — Late 19th Century

American artists & authors

In the 19th century the United States joined in exploring the world and particularly in exploring and expanding its own lands. In 1838-1842, Captain Charles Wilkes led the United States Exploring Expedition to the South Seas. The resulting narrative report included, as volume eight, a detailed Mammalogy and ornithology (1858), by John Cassin [1813-1869], with plates drawn mainly by Titian Ramsey Peale [1799-1885].

Cassin also published Illustrations of the birds of California, Texas, Oregon, British and Russian America (1855) intended to provide a general synopsis of North American ornithology and to describe all North American birds not previously reported by other American authors.

Another serious ornithologist at the close of the 19th century was Charles Johnson Maynard [1845-1929]. Maynard's best-known publication was the Birds of eastern North America. A revised edition of 1889-1896 appears in the Hill Collection, along with the atlas of plates (1906) that were drawn and hand-colored chiefly by Maynard himself. The quality of the art does not approach that of many fine 19th-century illustrated bird books, but Maynard reached a large audience with accurate and useful information. Most of his published works are part of the ornithology collection in Cornell's Mann Library.

Very significant among many important reports of government sponsored expeditions within the United States were the Reports of explorations and surveys to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, sponsored by the U.S. War Department. In 1858 John Cassin and George Newbold Lawrence [1806-1895] joined with Spencer Fullerton Baird, one of America's most important ornithologists, in issuing volume nine, Birds, a tome of over a thousand pages. Shortly thereafter Baird revised, added to, and corrected the report and published it with an atlas of one hundred colored plates as The birds of North America (1860).

Spencer Fullerton Baird [1823-1887] was a major figure in American ornithology. Appointed assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1850, and then secretary in 1878, he demonstrated dedication and organizational ability that resulted in rapid growth of the museum's collections. It was at Baird's insistence that the various governmental exploring expeditions, primarily concerned with geographical studies, included zoological components.

Baird's many writings, thoroughly covered in the collections of the Cornell libraries, culminated in 1874 and 1875 in the History of North American birds, written with the assistance of Thomas Brewer and Robert Ridgway. Numerous printings followed, since this work was accepted as the standard authority on North American birds for many years. First published in 1874 with the plates in black and white, plus hundreds of woodcuts, it appeared in 1875 in an edition that included 101 hand-colored plates. The Hill Collection contains a fine copy of the scarce 1875 version with the colored plates.

Another of the foremost American ornithologists of the late-19th century was Daniel Giraud Elliot [1835-1915] . Elliot served as the first curator of zoology for what is today the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and was one of the founders of the American Ornithologists' Union. He published a number of outstanding monographs lavishly illustrated in color by noted artists such as Joseph Wolf, Joseph Smit, and John G. Keulemans, as well as Elliot himself. Some of these works were published in New York, breaking away from the 19th-century tradition of looking to London for production of all illustrated ornithological books.

Among Elliot's important works in the Hill Collection are a first edition of A monograph of the Pittidae, or family of ant thrushes (1863); A monograph of the Tetraoninae, or family of the grouse (1864-1865); A monograph of the Bucerotidae, or family of the hornbills (1882); and a particularly nice copy of The new and heretofore unfigured species of the birds of North America (1866-1869). Also present are signed first editions of the three companion volumes published during the last decade of the century, North American shore birds (1895), The gallinaceous game birds of North America (1897), and The wild fowl of the United States and British possessions (1898).

In 1872 D. G. Elliot's A monograph of the Phasianidae, or family of pheasants was published. Just over ten years ago, in 1988, a new edition of this work was issued entitled Pheasant drawings by Joseph Wolf. It contains reproductions of the original sketches and the colored plates of the Elliot monograph, an introduction by David M. Lank, and biographical sketches of Elliot and Wolf, as well as the artists J. Smit and J. G. Keulemans. The Hill Collection contains a handsome copy of this limited edition volume.

One of the most delicately beautiful bird books of the 19th century was produced by a family of amateur ornithologists, the Jones family of Circleville, Ohio. Illustrations of the nests and eggs of birds of Ohio (1879 to 1886), with its sixty-eight hand-colored lithographs, is perhaps the loveliest and most accurate portrayal of birds' nests ever published.

Prepared over a period of seven years, the project was begun by young Genevieve Jones, who died suddenly after just five plates were issued. Her parents, with other family members and friends, carried the work to its completion as a memorial to Genevieve. Dorothy Hill gave her personal copy of this charming two-volume set to the Hill Collection in 1997. Her gift was celebrated as the six millionth volume to be added to the Cornell University Library's collections.

 

 

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.
 

 

Falco aurantius

Falco aurantius
from The new and heretofore unfigured species...
by Daniel Giraud Elliot