AbeBooks has sold a rare 1765 ornithology book for $191,000, making it the most expensive item in its 19-year history.
The book, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame e miniate al naturale, normally translated and shortened to A Natural History of Birds, was published in Florence in Italian in five volumes. It contains 600 beautiful hand-colored engraved plates of birds. Commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, the book took ten years to complete. This copy’s fine condition coupled with the fact that only ten complete copies have been offered at auction in the past 40 years, helped assure a record price.
Here is the bookseller’s description: Together 10 volumes. Folio (19 x 15 inches). 6 plate volumes: 600 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE engraved plates with original hand-colour after Manetti, Lorenzi and Vanni (a few plates loose, one or two marginal stains, top outer corner of plates 100 and 101 affected by damp, plates 197 and 198 torn in upper margin, plates 221 and 225 with repaired tears (without loss), plates 267 and 336 slightly shorter,). 4 (of 5) text volumes: elaborately engraved half-titles by Lorenzi after Giuseppe Zocchi, 2 letterpress title-pages with engraved vignettes, one in Latin and one in Italian in each volume, parallel text in Latin and Italian, engraved allegorical plate by Lorenzi in volume IV, descriptions for 480 birds (small wormhole on first leaf in text volume I without loss, r1 and T1 of text volume I with marginal repairs).
Contemporary speckled calf backed marbled paper boards, the spines in six compartments with five raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others with gilt-ruled borders and small decorations (a bit scuffed, but attractive). Provenance: with the contemporary gilt initials “F.B.” at the foot of each spine; remains of later printed paper shelf labels at the foot of each spine, early shelf-marks to endpapers. First edition of a great 18th-century ornithological book. Manetti was a physician and director of the Florentine Botanical Gardens from 1749-1782.
Manetti worked almost exclusively from real specimens, beginning with the extensive collection of Marquis Giovanni Gerini. The result was one of the largest surveys of ornithology attempted up to that date, a work which became ‘the flamboyant forerunner of the splendid ornithological folios which were to appear in the nineteenth century. The production of its five massive folio volumes must have been one of the most remarkable publishing ventures ever undertaken in Florence. Begun in 1767 and completed ten years later, it was larger, better engraved and more vividly coloured than any previous book on birds’, notable for its lively posturing of the specimens which seem to reflect ‘the habits and mannerisms of contemporary Italian society’ (Dance p.70); Nissen IVB 588; Wood p.450; Fine Bird Books p.10; Zimmer I, 241. Bookseller Inventory # 72nhr128
Certainly all of this is worth following up. Feather by feather, leaf by leaf, tome by tome: this is how we discover the world.
Ornithological flights leave in all directions from this page:
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