Gallery Bookshop Index Queries Contact home Americana Maps NatHist Fine Vanity Views Historical British Sporting Marine AmerInd Rare

Alexander WilsonThe Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.

The First American Ornithology

[ First edition | Supplement | Second edition ]


First Edition:

Wilson plate 6
Prints by Alexander Wilson. From American Ornithology. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1808-14. Folio; ca. 10 x 13. Engravings. Original hand-coloring. Full, but narrow margins as issued.

Alexander Wilson is known as "the father of American ornithology." He 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. These are fine and important prints from the first American ornithology.

Note on condition: The first edition of Wilson's American Ornithology was issued on American made paper that had many impurities in it. Thus it is almost impossible to find these prints without some discoloration and spotting on the paper. All prints listed below are in good condition for Wilson prints, with specific blemishes noted. 'Good' condition indicates that while there may be some discoloration or spotting, it is not considered by us to be visually displeasing nor to affect the value of the print in a significant manner.


Prints by Titian Ramsey Peale and Alexander Rider. From C.L. Bonaparte's American Ornithology; or the Natural History of Birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey, 1825-33. Folio; ca. 10 x 13. Engravings by Alexander Lawson. Original hand coloring by A. Rider. Full margins. Very good condition.

Attractive prints from Charles Lucien Bonaparte's supplement to Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology. Wilson's project of issuing a complete ornithology of the birds of North America was interrupted by his death in 1813. His original nine volume set was completed by George Ord, but many birds were still missing. Bonaparte, Prince of Canino, tried to make the work more complete by issuing a four volume supplement from 1825 to 1833. This contained 27 extra illustrations engraved by Alexander Lawson and text by Bonaparte. The prints were drawn by Titian Ramsey Peale and Alexander Rider, except for one by John James Audubon. Many of Peale's drawings were taken from his sketches made on his travels in the far west in 1819 with Major Long. The prints are much in the style of Wilson's earlier prints, and the two parts together comprise a monumental document in the history of American natural science.

Prints after Titian Ramsey Peale

Prints by Alexander Rider:


Second Edition:

Prints by Alexander Wilson. From American Ornithology. New York & Philadelphia: Collins & Co. & Harrison Hall, 1829. Second edition. Folio; ca. 10 x 13. Engravings. Original hand coloring. Very good condition, except as noted.

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.