Subcribing to Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology
Subcribing to Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology
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Subscribing to Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology

THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1807

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Subscribing to Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology
Thomas Jefferson, 1807
JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826). Autograph note signed in the third person ("Th:Jefferson") as President to Alexander Wilson, Washington, 9 October 1807.

One page, bifolium, 235 x 197mm. Addressed in his hand on the integral address panel and franked ("free Th:Jefferson Pr. U.S") with a circular cancellation in brown ink: ("WASHINGTON OCT 9") on wove paper watermarked, "John Wise 1804" (text slightly faded, address panel lightly soiled, minor losses at fold intersections, seal tear neatly repaired with tissue). Custom chemise and slipcase.

Thomas Jefferson subscribes to Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology. A superb association linking two pioneers in the study of North American birds. In his own Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson had compiled a list of American birds and upon receiving Wilson's prospectus he enthusiastically endorsed the nine-volume project that became the first American ornithological book with color plates: "Th. Jefferson having a few days ago only recieved [sic] a copy of the printed proposals for publishing a work on American ornithology by mr. Wilson, begs leave to become a subscriber to it, satisfied, it will give us valuable new matter as well as correct the errors of what we possessed before. He salutes mr. Wilson with great respect."

Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), whose work earned him the title of "father of American ornithology," was largely self-taught as both a naturalist and artist. He began planning this work in 1803, and in 1806 convinced Samuel Bradford to issue it in an edition of 200 copies, provided that enough subscribers could be found. Early in 1807, Wilson printed a prospectus for his work, and as an ardent political supporter of Jefferson, he must have been especially pleased by the President's favorable response. The first volume appeared in 1808 with the final two, completed by his friend George Ord, appearing a year after his death. American Ornithology proved a landmark work. It depicted many new species, including some encountered on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and was unprecedented in both the number of American bird species it identified and the area of the United States it encompassed. It was most appropriate that Jefferson, a great promoter of science who was ever curious about the American continent, would support such an endeavor. Not published in Papers, but the text is known to the editors and will appear in a future printed supplement. Provenance: Christie's, New York, 14 December 2000, lot 345.

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