John Edwards Holbrook (1794-1871)
North American Herpetology; or a description of the reptiles inhabiting the United States. Philadelphia: E.G. Dorsey for J. Dobson, Robert Baldwin (London), Hector Bossange (Paris), Perthes, Besser & Mauke (Hamburg), 1842. 5 volumes, 4to (294 x 233mm). 147 hand-coloured lithographic plates drawn on stone by L. Brechemin, L. Cichowsky, A. Heimann and others after J. Sera and others, printed by P.S. Duval or Lehman & Duval of Philadelphia. Publisher's red half morocco, spines in five compartments with raised bands, lettered in gilt in the second and numbered in the fourth (light scuffing to extremities).
A FINE SET OF THE SECOND, ENLARGED EDITION OF THE FIRST COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF THE REPTILES OF NORTH AMERICA. The first edition is virtually unobtainable, Bennett notes that it is "ten times rarer, right and complete, than the giant folio Audubon". Holbrook published the first edition between 1836 and 1838 (with 111 plates), but it quickly became apparent that new information and new specimens required a second edition. As a result the classification was revised and descriptions and plates of 36 additional species were added, and the work as a whole was issued in five rather than four volumes.
Born in South Carolina, Holbrook spent four years in Europe after gaining a degree in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. He formed particular friendships with a group of eminent French zoologists, including Valenciennes, Duméril and Bibron. Their major area of study was reptiles, and Holbrook decided to follow their lead, returning to America in 1822 and settling in Charleston. Whilst practising medicene and filling the post of professor of anatomy at the newly constituted University of South Carolina, he undertook the preparation of the present work. According to the DAB the second edition "at once took its place as one of the most valuable works upon reptiles published during the nineteenth century, receiving notable recognition in Europe, where Holbrook was regarded as the leading American zoologist of his day".
The work includes 30 plates of turtles and terrapins, an alligator, 13 lizards, 47 snakes, 24 frogs and toads and 32 salamanders and others. The text about each species generally includes a detailed description (colour, dimensions, etc.), geographical distribution, habits and general remarks. Holbrook intended the work to include "with a few exceptions,.. descriptions of such Reptiles only as inhabit the United States, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, and from Canada to the confines of Texas" (vol.I, p.xiv). Bennett p.57; BM (NH) II,p.861; Nissen ZBI 1980; Sabin 32454; Wood p.388. (5)