George Edwards (1694-1773)
A Natural History of Uncommon Birds, and of some other rare and undescribed Animals, Quadrupeds, Reptiles, Fishes, Insects &c. London: for the Author, -1743-1751. 4 volumes, two parts in each volume including the French titles and text of 1745-51. Subscribers' list, general title in vol.I with engraved vignette, hand-coloured etched emblematic frontispiece to vol.I, 212 etched plates comprising 210 hand-coloured plates and two copies of the 'Samoyed' plate, uncoloured as usual.
[Uniformly bound with]:
Gleanings of Natural History, exhibiting Figures of Quadrupeds, Birds, Insects, Plants, &c. London: for the Author, 1758-1760-1764. 3 volumes. Parallel titles and text in English and French, engraved title vignette and tail-piece, hand-coloured etched emblematic frontispiece to the first volume, 152 hand-coloured etched plates, some with contemporary manuscript numeration. (Lacking engraved portrait).
Together seven volumes, 4° (247 x 230mm). The titles and dedications partly heightened in gold, some plates also heightened with touches of gold and gum arabic. (Some leaves lightly spotted or offset.) Contemporary speckled calf, covers with double-fillet border, spines in seven compartments with raised bands, green morocco lettering-piece in the second, red morocco in the third, the others with repeat decoration in gilt (extremities rubbed). Provenance: M. Raye de Breukelerwaert (18th-century armorial bookplate, with a note pasted-in first vol. of first work 'Cet éxemplaire à été repeint pour la plus grande partie sur les Originaux de mon Cabinet'); William Gibbs (bookplate).
"THE NATURAL HISTORY AND GLEANINGS WAS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL BIRD BOOKS, both as a fine bird book and as a work of ornithology. It is still high on the list (Fine Bird Books). "George Edwards was born at Stratford, Essex, and received his early education at a public school at Leytonstone, later being apprenticed to a tradesman in London. Having access to a large library of scientific books, Edwards studied these assiduously and, having made up his mind not to enter business, decided to travel abroad. Between 1716 and 1733 he visited many foreign countries but in December of the latter year settled down in London, and, through the influence of Sir Hans Sloane, was chosen Librarian to the Royal College of Physicians ... Almost immediately after he was appointed ... Edwards commenced the preparation of a series of coloured drawings of animals and birds, used later to illustrate [the present work]: for these he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Society and subsequently elected a fellow" (Lisney p.127).
The history of this publication of these works has not been fully unravelled. The opportunism of 18th-century publishing produced a large number of possible variants which have yet to be fully described bibliographically, but what is certain is that the works were hugely successful and went through a number of transformations whilst under Edwards' control, including the issue of a French text edition. Shortly after he retired in 1769 he sold "to Mr. James Robson, Bookseller ... all the remaining copies of my Natural History coloured under my immediate inspection, together with all my copper-plates, letter-press, and every article in my possession relative to it ... and that my labours may be handed down to posterity with integrity, truth, and exactness. I have delivered into his hands a complete set of plates, highly coloured by myself, as a standard to those Artists who may be employed in colouring them for the future" (George Edwards' declaration quoted in Robson's Some Memoirs ... of George Edwards, dated 1st May 1769). Cf. Anker 124-126; Fine Bird Books (1990) p.93; Lisney pp.128-144; Mullens & Swann p.195; Nissen IVB 286-288; Zimmer pp.192-198. (7)