Acquisition of Audubon books, exhibition and conference

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This may surprise most people, but John James Audubon, a renowned ornithologist and naturalist, was a bit of a joker at times. His monumental work, Birds of America, even includes a handful of birds that never existed!

In July 2021, Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections purchased a copy of the third seven-volume inoctavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, published in 1859 in New York City, from a Philadelphia bookseller.

“I had seen this set for sale on the bookseller’s website, and when the opportunity arose for Binghamton to purchase it, the libraries were able to make it,” said Jeremy Dibbell, Special Collections Librarian. “We were able to come up with a proposal highlighting not only the value of prints, but also what we can do with books in teaching and research for a wide range of audiences. “

The collection, in its original and sturdy bindings, includes 500 colored plates – all hand-colored printed lithographs – as well as Audubon’s detailed background text on each species, including the five that never existed, such as the carbonate marsh warbler.

“Audubon did the printing and engraving in London and Edinburgh for the original large format edition, but these were created in New York, so our collection is American,” said Dibbell. “We don’t know how many of this third octavo edition were printed, but only about 15-20 copies of this edition exist in libraries today.

“The special collections are meant for the entire university and we buy everything from planks to wood printing blocks and items that will be used in classes in many different areas,” Dibbell said. “Like this set, we are trying to acquire what I like to call the Swiss Army books because they have so many uses.”

Audubon’s Birds of America, originally published in a large “elephant folio” format from 1827 to 1838, is a Herculean work of American ornithology. The smaller in-octavo editions, like the one now available at Binghamton University, made the work more accessible to a wider audience and featured additional birds that were not included in the original edition as well as several which are now extinct.

“Dibbell went to Union College for his undergraduate degree, where they have a set of original Audubon Folio Birds in their library. “I have had a great experience working with these volumes and seeing how useful they are in the classroom,” he said.

At Binghamton, this major acquisition will be used extensively in courses, exhibitions and events on topics ranging from the impact of climate change on bird populations over time, the history of illustrative processes, the ‘species extinction (two of the birds featured in the volumes were officially declared extinct last month) and ornithology-related social justice initiatives that tackle the pressure to rename the birds that were named in the honor of people linked to slavery or other injustices.

They are endlessly fascinating, ”he added. “The importance of these historical prints and collections is precious to science. In book form, they correspond to the actual physical specimens, as you can see how they were viewed at the time the books were printed. It would be interesting to study a bird to see how it has been interpreted over time.

As an example, Dibbell stated that the Turkey Vulture would not have been seen in northern Pennsylvania during Audubon’s time, and that the Cardinal would not have been in this area regularly, but they are prevalent in our region now.

The volumes will be readily available in special collections, Dibbell said. “The books will be in a foam cradle for support and all we ask is that everyone wash their hands to be clean and dry before using them,” he said. . “In addition, only pencils are allowed in the reading room where they will be seen. It is above all a gentle manipulation that we ask for. There is no need for gloves.

And when you ask her what is her favorite print?

“I really like the Carolina Parakeet, which shows some of Audubon’s really interesting techniques,” Dibbell said. “He’s got one of the birds scratching his ear. It positions the birds so that you can see as many angles as possible.

Two events are planned to launch the Birds of America exhibition, “(Re) presenting the Birds of America”. First, an open house will be held from 2:30 pm to 3:15 pm on Friday, November 12 in the Special Collections on the second floor of the Glenn G. Bartle Library. The open house will be followed by an interactive lecture, “Science in Scientific Gathering,” with Professor Bartle Anne Clark of the Department of Biological Sciences, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, November 12, at the Zurack Center on the first floor of the library tower. Light refreshments will be available during the conference.

Register online for the Clark conference.


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