The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Mark Catesby (1682/83–1749). London: at the expense of the author, [1729-] 1731-1743 [-1747]. Physical Description: 2 volumes. Folio (20 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches). 220 hand-colored plates, double-page map; two leaves with a marginal tear (one catching a headline), scattered spotting and the usual offsetting, but a generally VERY FINE COPY. With the 44-page Appendix (of 1747) bound in vol. 2. Contemporary diced russia, covers with gilt borders incorporating insect and animal tools, gilt spines; joints split, one cover nicked.
Provenance: Front pastedown with 18th century armorial bookplate of Fane William Sharpe, “Student of Ch[rist] Ch[urch, Oxford]”; From the Estate of Clarence Dillon, Far Hills, New Jersey. VERY FINE First Edition. Trained as a botanist, Catesby travelled to Virginia in 1712. He lodged in Williamsburg with his sister and brother-in-law, who had emigrated to the New World in 1712, and began to fulfill his “passionate desire of viewing as well the Animals as Vegetable Productions in their Native Countries; which were Strangers to England” (preface). He remained in British America for seven years, sending back to England collections of plants and seeds, as well as beginning to make natural history drawings.
With the encouragement of Sir Hans Sloane, William Sherard, and others to whom he had supplied botanical specimens and who had seen his first drawings (now in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle) Catesby returned to America in 1722, to continue work on his Natural History, and the next four years he travelled extensively in the Carolinas, Florida, and the Bahamas. His preface provides a lengthy account of the development of this work, including his decision to study with Joseph Goupy in order to learn to etch his plates himself to ensure accuracy and economy.
Catesby also makes clear that he considered his illustrations, rather than his equally significant field observations, to be his most important achievement: “The Illuminating [of] Natural History is so particularly Essential to the perfect understanding of it, that I may aver a clearer Idea may be conceiv’d from the Figures of Animals and Plants in their proper Colours, than from the most exact Description without them: Wherefore I have been less prolix in the Discription, judging it unnecessary to tire the Reader with describing every Feather, yet I hope sufficient to distinguish them without Confussion” (preface).
Catesby’s Natural History was an immediate sensation; in a contemporary review in Philosophical Transactions, Cromwell Mortimer, secretary of the Royal Society, called it “the most magnificent work I know since the Art of printing has been discovered.” Unusually for a work of this size and expense, two further eighteenth-century editions were called for, and Catesby’s illustrations were pirated and copied across Europe.
“Mark Catesby made a valuable and important contribution to ornithological illustration. He was confident enough to break new ground to portray his birds more naturally than before, with foliage backgrounds, and to adopt the folio format. He depicted the natural history of one area in its entirety, and often drew from living models. He was the first in a long line of ornithologists to teach himself to translate his drawings into a medium that produced multiple copies. As his was the earliest published natural history of a part of the New World, he has been called ‘the father of American ornithology’” (Jackson).
Dunthorne 72; Ellis/Mengel 476; Fine Bird Books 65; Great Flower Books 53; Hunt 486; Jackson, Etchings 86-87; Nissen, BBI 336; Nissen, IVB 177; Nissen, ZBI 842; Pritzel 1602. Guidance: Sotheby’s, 2007 - $657,000. Sotheby’s, 1989 - $462,500