Alexander Wilson “15. 1. Red-cocaded Woodpecker, 2. Brown-headed Nuthatch, 3. Pigeon Hawk, 4. Blue-winded Yellow-Warbler, 5. Golden-winged W., 6. Blue-eyed Yellow W., 7. Black-breasted Blue W.” From American Ornithology. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1808-14. Folio; ca. 10 x 13. Engraving. Original hand-coloring. Very good condition.
An original antique print by Alexander Wilson, “the father of American ornithology.” Wilson earned this title both because of his American Ornithology–the first natural history just on American birds, which was first issued from 1808 to 1814 and so predated Audubon by about two decades–and because he was the first American citizen to become a full-time scientist in this field. Wilson, a Scottish immigrant, drew most of the birds for his ornithology himself; the engraving was mostly by Alexander Lawson and John G. Warnicke. Wilson worked with a small budget and so had to crowd as many specimens as he could onto one plate for the series. This led to the characteristic appearance of many of his prints, with several birds, juxtaposed in different combinations, filling the page right up to the plate mark. Although he fell far short of his goal of depicting every species of bird in North America, Wilson’s is a highly respected work in the history of science, and he was the leading competitor and chief precursor of Audubon.
The importance and popularity of Wilson’s Ornithology led to the creation of a second edition of the work about a decade later. By this time there was more money available for the work, so the paper is larger and of better quality. The plates used are the same, so the images are identical and of essentially the same historic interest as those from the first edition.