One volume of Audubon’s truly monumental Birds of America is currently on display in the Special Collections foyer on level 12 of the library.
If this is not the largest book in the library, I don’t know what is!
This magnificent work was published in eighty-seven parts between 1827 and 1838. Its huge ‘double elephant’ folio size was dictated by Audubon’s determination to depict life size all the known species of birds in North America. It took thirteen years to make and consists of 435 plates, etched in aquatint and coloured by hand. An incredibly costly enterprise, it was produced on demand by subscription. The University of Glasgow was one of the original subscribers.
Audubon later produced a five volume work entitled Ornithological biography as a text to accompany the atlas of drawings.
We currently have one volume on display, open at plate 301: the Canvas backed Duck. The accompanying text from the Ornithological biography is shown alongside.
In ‘case’ you were wondering how we selected this plate, I have to confess it was chosen purely for practical reasons: only one landscape plate would fit into the case, and it had to be the first in the volume because it was impossible to support the weight of more than a couple of pages in an upright position; this ruled out any plates bound further into the book. As you see, exhibiting such large material can be a challenge – which is why this is such a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of this great book. As a taster, a couple of plates illustrate this blog (but you will have to come up to level 12 for the duck!).
We are quite avidly avian at the moment in support of the celebrations of the life of the poet, artist and ornithologist Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) that are currently ongoing. There is a great exhibition on at the University’s Zoology Museum where we have two volumes from our copy of Wilson’s American Ornithology on display – a book, incidentally, that predates Audubon and which you can find more out about if you visit Alexander Wilson: Local Hero.
The Audubon will be on display throughout the summer, until September (and we also have some Wilson postcards for sale in the Special Collections reading room – a bargain at 20p each or 6 for a £1!).
Categories: Special Collections