Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Rare book now on display

A history of the birds of Europe including all the species inhabiting the Western Palaearctic region, by Henry E. Dresser. Volume 7. London: Published by the author; 1871-1887.

Balfour Library shelf mark: qKZ.4 (1)

The book is open at: Plate 484, Lagopus albus, Lagopus mutus, “willow-ptarmigan” in winter plumage. This plate is a hand coloured lithograph produced by J. G. Keulemans, a renowned ornithological illustrator, and depicts the two ptarmigans in a snowy and mountainous scene. Although the dominant colour in this plate is white, the feathers of the birds, especially on the legs and feet, are extremely finely detailed. The hand colouring has been expertly done, especially in the eyes, and this helps to really animate the birds on the page.

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.

Lagopus muta (rock ptarmigan) is found in alpine and arctic tundra regions of Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, Finland, Greenland, etc. Winter habitat is usually brushy slopes near the timberline, where vegetation pokes through snow. All ptarmigans have feathered feet, which act as snowshoes. The feathers may also increase insulation.


Dresser’s obituary in Ibis 58 (2) 340:342 (April 1916).

Wikipedia John Gerrard Keulemans’

Wikipedia ‘Lithography’