ABBOT, John (1751-1839) and Sir James Edward SMITH (1759-1828). The Natural History of the rarer Lepidopterous insects of Georgia. London: T.Bensley for J.Edwards, Cadell & Davies and J.White, 1797.
2 volumes, 2° (395 x 300mm). Titles and text in French and English. 104 FINE PLATES PRINTED ON VELLUM, HAND-COLOURED OVER AN ENGRAVED BASE by John Harris, 15 signed in pencil 'J.Harris Pinxt.', some heightened with gum-arabic. FINELY BOUND BY STAGGEMEIER & WELCHER in red straight-grained morocco gilt, covers with wide decorative border composed from fillets, greek-key, palmette and anthemion rolls enclosing an inner section composed from repeated corinthian column tools linked at the top by semi-circles, with a styllised vase tool between, with an inner decorative roll, decorative cornerpieces, spines in seven compartments with double raised bands, black and green morocco lettering-pieces in two, the others with repeat pattern of small tools surrounding a large central Apollo's mask within a sun-burst tool, turn-ins tooled in gilt and blind, yellow, white and black silk headbands, g.e.
1. Prince Michael Alexandrovich Golitsin (1803-1860, in his library catalogue [Ch. Gunsbourg. Catalogue des livres de la Bibliothèque du Prince Michel Galitzin, Moscow, 1866, no. 303], not mentioning that the plates are on vellum, see.4)
2. Joseph Neeld (19th-century armorial bookplate).
3. Moncure Biddle (armorial bookplate).
4. Sale: Parke-Bernet, 28 January 1947 lot 110 (included Prince Michael Golitsin's large armorial stamp on blank leaf before title of vol.I, subsequently removed).
5. Harvard University: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library (Mildred Bliss bookplate, sale Christie's New York, 17 November 1978, lot 103, sold to:)
6. Bernard Quaritch Ltd. (sold to a private collector).
A SUMPTUOUS AND APPARENTLY UNIQUE COPY WITH PLATES ON VELLUM BOUND BY STAGGEMEIER & WELCHER. The only published work by John Abbot, one of the best natural history artists working in North America during the pre-Audubon era. Born in Turnham Green, west London, in 1751, he went to Virginia in 1773, then travelled south to Georgia in 1775, where he spent much of his life studying and completing a large series of drawings of local birds and insects. The vast majority of his drawings (he completed more than 5000 watercolours) remained unpublished during his lifetime, and after his death his reputation languished until 1896, when his ornithological works were 're-discovered'. The quality and range of Abbot's work places him on a level with Catesby, Wilson and Audubon, and he recorded the fauna of Georgia more thoroughly and at an earlier date than any other region of America.
The work was edited by Sir James Smith, botanist, co-founder and first president of the Linnean Society in London. John Abbot was involved in the study of natural history before he left England and is known to have kept in touch with scientific friends in London. It is not known who contacted whom with the suggestion for the present publication, but the introduction between Smith and Abbot was probably arranged by a mutual London friend. The Linnean Society have notes from Abbot to Smith with suggestions about the form the work should take. Writing in the preface, Smith notes that 'The materials of the following work have been collected on the spot by a faithful observer, Mr.John Abbot, many years resident in Georgia, who, after having previously studied the metamorphoses of English insects, pursued his enquiries among those of Georgia and the neighbouring parts of North America. The result of his observations he has delineated in a style of beauty and accuracy which can scarcely be excelled, and has accompanied his figures with an account, as well as representation, of the plants on which each insect chiefly feeds, together with many circumstances of its manners, times of the different metamorphoses, and other interesting particulars.'
The plates in the present copy are greatly superior to those printed on paper. This is partly due to the vellum (the traditionally preferred surface of botanical and zoological artists) which gives the butterflies and moths a particularly life-like, warm, velvety appearance, but also because the colourist(s) have clearly taken much greater care than usual over the plates. They have the appearance of original watercolours, and only by close scrutiny can the engraved lines be detected. Each plate shows the dorsal and ventral sides of the insects, displaying the difference in markings, together with many of the stages of each insect's metamorphosis and the caterpillar's preferred food-plant.
Two volumes containing Abbot's original drawings, bound with the English text, were presented to Maria-Anne Johnes (the dedicatee, and daughter of Thomas Johnes), by Smith and are now part of the Garret Collection at Johns Hopkins University. The original manuscript catalogue, 'A Natural History of the North American Insects, particularly those of the State of Georgia', together with 'Introductory Notes' which originally accompanied the watercolours, is part of the James Edward Smith Collection at the Linnean Society of London.
The binding shares a number of tools with the signed binding on Prince Golitsin's set of George Edwards's Natural History (sold in these rooms, 25 October 1995 lot 13). These include the outer elements of the border on the covers, notably the palmette and anthemion roll, the greek-key roll and the tools used for the cornerpieces (for the apollo/sun-burst tool on the spine see Ramsden London.. plate XXIII Staggemeier & Welcher). The Edwards binding was executed in 1806 (or later); the present binding in 1801 (or later, some of the blank guards to the plates are watermarked 1801). The similarity in the designs of these bindings suggest they were produced for the same patron. Their presence in Prince Michael's library by 1866 point to their original patron being a member of the Golitsin family.
Nissen ZBI 2; Dunthorne 287; Sabin 25.