Due to popular demand, more remarkable plates from this work will be on display throughout the year!
The rare book on display from our collection is: A history of the birds of Europe including all the species inhabiting the Western Palaearctic region, by Henry E. Dresser. Volume 5. London: Published by the author; 1871-1887.
Balfour Library shelf mark: qKZ.4 (1)
The book is open at: Plate 299, Cuculus canorus (Cuckoo). This plate is a hand coloured lithograph produced by J. G. Keulemans, a renowned ornithological illustrator, and depicts an adult male and a young cuckoo perching on a branch. Keulemans’ lithograph displays beautifully the variations between the adult and juvenile birds, especially in the detailed plumage of the young cuckoo.
Henry Eeles Dresser (1838-1915) was born in Thirsk. After his schooling in Bromley, Kent and at a German school near Hamburg he entered his father’s timber-merchant business and travelled extensively in northern Europe from 1834 to 1862. From his time at school in Germany he began to systematically collect the eggs and bird skins of Palaearctic birds. He deposited some 12,000 items at the Manchester Museum from 1899 onwards.
Dresser left England with a cargo for Texas in 1863 and spent over a year collecting there. Shortly after his return to England he published his first scientific paper, Notes on the birds of southern Texas, in Ibis in 1865. He continued to contribute to Ibis from then until 1909; and also joined the British Ornithologist’s Union in the same year. He was also a member and fellow of the Linnean Society and Zoological Society of London, and was an honorary fellow of the American Ornithologist’s Union. He was an authority on the birds of Europe and the author of several important works, including A history of the birds of Europe. Eight quarto volumes of this were published between 1871 and 1881, which were illustrated with 633 hand coloured plates, mainly prepared from drawings by Joseph Wolf, J. G. Keulemans and E. Neale.
After returning from Texas, Dresser started work in the iron trade in London but continued to travel extensively throughout the whole of his life.
John Gerrard Keulemans (1842-1912) provided the plate on display here. He was a Dutch bird illustrator who worked in London from 1868 and regularly provided illustrations for Ibis and The Proceedings of the Zoological Society, and many important bird books such as A history of the birds of Europe. His illustrations were produced through traditional lithography [a method for printing using a stone (lithographic limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface], allowing for a finished product that depicts a vivid, life-like figure through depth and tone.
Professor Alfred Newton subscribed to A History of the Birds of Europe as it was published in its parts. He has made a note inside the first volume of the number of subscribers (374), the top three of whom are “His Majesty the King of Italy, H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh K.G., H. H. Duleep Singh, Elveden Hall, Thetford”, in that order. Interestingly, the Newton family lived on the Elveden Estate on the Norfolk-Suffolk border until Newton’s father died in 1863.
The adult cuckoo usually arrives in late March or April and departs in July or August. Cuckoos are famous brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Cuckoo eggs hatch earlier and their chicks grow faster so they are able to evict any eggs or young of the host species to improve their own chances of survival.
Dresser’s obituary in Ibis 58 (2) 340:342 (April 1916) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1474-919X.1916.tb07939.x/abstract
Handbook of Texas Online http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdr12
Wikipedia ‘Cuckoo’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuckoo
Wikipedia ‘John Gerrard Keulemans’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gerrard_Keulemans
Wikipedia ‘Lithography’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithography