SELBY, Prideaux John (1788-1867). Illustrations of British Ornithology. Edinburgh and London: W.H. Lizars; Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman; W. Curry Jun. & Co., -1834 [pates watermarks 1826-33].
2 volumes (lacks 8o text volumes), 2o (650 x 515 mm). With engraved titles by W.H. Lizars after J. Stewart and Lizars. 218 hand-colored etched plates by W.H. Lizars, Robert Mitford and Selby after William Jardine, Mitford and Selby, colored by Daniel McNee and others, 3 folded at foot, and 4 etched plates by and after Selby. (Vol. I with some scattered foxing and light off-setting, vol. II with corner of plate 11 torn, light off-setting and minor foxing, titles creased.) 20th-century morocco and cloth boards, edges gilt (some wear and staining to sides and edges).
"[SELBY'S] GREATEST WORK WILL EVER BE DEEMED HIS CELEBRATED ILUSTRATIONS OF BRITISH ORNITHOLOGY..., OUR ENGLISH EQUIVALENT OF AUDUBON'S FAMOUS WORK" (Mullens and Swann, p.518). Selby's interest in ornithology began at an early age, when he would draw birds seen locally while still a schoolboy, supplementing these images with notes on their lives, and beginning the remarkable collection of skins which would eventually serve as the models for these plates. The plates of Illustrations of British Birds were begun in 1821, and issued over the following 13 years in 19 parts, from which the two plate volumes in the present set (which bear watermarks ranging from 1815 to 1833) were bound up. Like Audubon -- who Selby had befriended in Edinburgh, and who shared a publisher in Lizars -- Selby wished to avoid distributing copies of the exspensive plate volumes to the copyright libraries, and issued the text volumes on their own, to secure the copyright at minimal expense. The fine plates were etched by Selby and his collaborators, then finished by Lizars' engravers, and colored by a team which included Daniel McNee, a talented artist who later became President of the Royal Scottish Academy. As Christine Jackson states, "much credit is [...] due to the engravers and printers in W.H. Lizars' firm, who went on to issue other bird books with illustrations printed from both steel and copper plates, but never surpassed the work done for Illustrations of British Ornithology" (Bird Etchings (Ithaca and London: 1989), p.212). In Jackson's opinion, "The two volumes of Illustrations of British Ornithology are outstandingly beautiful. In many people's estimation, the clarity and crispness of his figures give them an austere beauty that is lacking in the pretty lithographs in H.L. Meyer's and John Gould's books about British birds". BM(NH) IV, pp.1895-1896; Brunet V, col.267; Fine Bird Books (1990) p.141; Mullens and Swann pp.519-520; Nissen IVB 853; Zimmer pp.571-572. (2)