Rare Ornithological Books from the Frances R. Cope, Jr. Collection Exhibition The Library Company of Philadelphia April 25 - September 23, 1994

Dale R. Thompson

Abstract


In 1980, while in Holland l had the privilege to view one of the original large folio volumes of John Gould. This volume was titled Birds of Australia which had beautiful handcolored plates of many of the psittacines found in our aviaries, along with many of the other families of beautiful birds found in Australia. This volume was owned by a superb aviculturist of Australian parakeets including the Hooded Parakeet. The volume was kept in very good condition. It was truly an honored experience to view close up this historical piece of artwork.

I was very excited when Eileen Shapiro, Development and Publicity Coordinator of The Library Company of Philadelphia, wrote me concerning an exhibition of many rare ornithological books ficrn the Francis R. Cope, Jr. Collection. This is truly an incredble collection of rare books which not only includes a complete set of John Gould's 12 monumental works but also the works of John]. Audubon, Alexander Wilson and other superb artists. To explain in detail, I have taken the following information directly from the news release from the Library Company-of Philadelphia.

"The exhibition Fine Feathered Friends: Rare Ornithological Books from tbe Francis R. Cope, .Jr. Collection will be on view from April 25th to September 23rd, 1994 at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The Cope Collection contains major works by John James Audubon, John Gould, Daniel Giraud Elliot, and R. Bowdler Sharpe - the most important artistornithologists of the 19th century. The huge folio volumes of delicately handcolored plates are among the most beautiful and most prized of all books. Tn this first interpretive exhibition of the Cope Collection, these natural history masterpieces are placed in historic, scientific, and artistic context. Fine Feathered Friends shows how the works of these 19th-centu1y ornithologists and artists are artifacts of the historical period in which the beauty of nature was discovered just as it was beginning to disappear.

Audubon, Gould, Elliot, and Sharpe's data on classification, coloring, habitat, nests, eggs, and the like is still used by scientists and environmentalists. For much of the 19th century, natural history was the most rapidly advancing branch of science. At the beginning of the century, the endless and colorful variety of birds was persuasive evidence that nature was ordered by the hand of God; by 1900 it was generally accepted as proof that nature was ordered by the Darwinian principle of natural selection. Ornithologists were also part of the advance guard of an expanding industrial civilization which was soon to spoil the beauty they celebrated. The discoveries of the 19th-century naturalists captivated the popular imagination. Amateur naturalists found they could make important contributions to science....

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