Friday, 1 October 2021

Natural History: Birds

Freeman and Wertheimer note that this is the second of a five-volume set of little natural histories for young people; the others being Mammalia, Reptiles, Fishes and Mollusca. (See the previous Gosserie blog.)

In 1860, the publisher (Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge) requested Gosse to revise the work and it was ordered to be reprinted.

The undated edition is the revised work. The book in my collection is the edition dated 1849, and is therefore to be acknowledged as a first edition.

The book is full of woodcut illustrations, with Gosse himself contributing the most by far.

Some of the woodcuts contain the names of Whimper (pp. 25, 34, 71, 88, 110, 145, 153, 165, 201, 214, 221, 228, 232, 257, 306, 321) and S. Read (p. 137). Two of them, the green tody (p. 41) and the long-tailed humming bird, are redrawn from Illustrations of the birds of Jamaica. 

The book in my collection has a case of dark purply-brown morocco, with blind ornamental frames on both boards.

Details to the back of the title page and on the rear end paper inform us that the printer was S. & J. Bentley, Wilson & Fley, Bangor House, Shoe Lane, London.

The woodcuts are far too numerous to be reproduced here in their entirety. A selection of Gosse's own work is shown below.

© John Dunn.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Natural History: Mammalia

Freeman and Wertheimer note that this is the first of a five-volume set of little natural histories for young people; the others being Birds, Reptiles, Fishes and Mollusca.

Freeman and Wertheimer also note that although all five are uniform in titles and format, we have yet to see even two which are uniformly cased.

The woodcuts were designed by Gosse and J. W. Whymper.

Freeman and Wertheimer describe three variants of the first 1848 edition and one separate 1862 edition.

My collection holds one of the first variant editions of this volume. The case is a dark purply-brown morocco, with blind ornamental frames on both boards.

 All were published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Details to the back of the title page and on the rear end paper inform us that the printer was S. & J. Bentley, Wilson & Fley, Bangor House, Shoe Lane, London. 

A blind stamp on the front endpaper informs us that this book was sold by:


The woodcuts are numerous and must have held those Victorian young people spellbound. The following is a selection.

© John Dunn.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Monuments of Ancient Egypt

Freeman and Wertheimer note that Gosse published four books on Bible lands and this, the first of them, was written as a manual to the British Museum collection of Egyptian antiquities and to show how these monuments illustrate scripture history. The other three are:

Sacred Streams
The History of the Jews

The first edition was published in 1847.

A second edition came out in 1855, and it is this edition held in my library.

It is to be presumed that the illustrations are by Gosse, except for two, which are signed by Josia Wood Whimper (1813-1903), a fine example of which is the frontispiece - ‘Interior of the temple of Esne’.

Both editions contain ‘many illustrations’, as described on the title page. In fact I have counted 119, making this book a work of prodigious labour in the illustrations alone.

The book is a fine example of Victorian binding, with both boards having blind ornamental borders and floral corners. The binder’s ticket is on the back endpaper - Spencer & Son.

The book holds a small piece of social history in the blind stamp on the title page and elsewhere, which reads - Chorlton on Medlock Working Men’s Institute.


© John Dunn.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Birds of Jamaica

Freeman and Wertheimer describe this as ‘one of Gosse’s most important books and perhaps the most enduring of them all’.

The publisher Van Voorst severely overestimated the demand for the book however.

The same first print 1847 edition appeared in a variety of bindings over the years. The book was still available at the original price in 1880, and new copies were again available 30 years later as remainders in John Wheldon and Co’s catalogue.

I have three examples in my library.


Of my three books, only this one is listed in Freeman and Wertheimer. It is down as 27d, described exactly as seen.

My own book carries some notable additions as seen in the photographs.

The bookplate of Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee is on the left hand front endpaper.

This bookplate has a wonderfully elaborate image of armorial bearings, possibly associated with his De Schauensee name, which does have a ring of nobility about it. 

De Schauensee (1901 - 1984) was curator of birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia for nearly fifty years. He was particularly noted for his study of South American birds.

The right hand front endpaper is inscribed with ‘Jamaica 1887’.

Stuck down on to the right hand front endpaper is a press cutting. The golden wedding of Sir Edmund Gosse (P. H. Gosse’s son), provides the occasion for a Gosse anecdote.

‘In his diary for 1849, the elder Gosse made this quiet entry: “E. delivered of a son. Received green swallow from Jamaica.”’

The bird arrived two years too late and there is no mention of a green swallow in The Birds of Jamaica.

The title page is inscribed with ‘Kingston Jamaica Oct. 1887’.


This variant binding of the first edition is in all respects bar one the same as the one numbered 27a in Freeman and Wertheimer. The exception is in the author attribution on the spine, which on my book reads simply - ‘P H Gosse’. On the book listed as 27a it reads ‘By Philip H. Gosse’


This final variant is a one-off leather binding of the same 1847 book. The spine is a repair done circa 1993 as a project to match this book to a book box containing the separately published illustrations to The Birds of Jamaica. This latter item will be described in a later blog post.

Most notable on this book is the beautiful Victorian marbling to the front and back end papers.

Ownership inscription of Thomas Harney.

This is most likely to be the Thomas Harney (?- 2011)of the Smithsonian Institution where he worked for many years as a Science writer at the Museum of Natural History.

© John Dunn.