The avifauna of Laysan and the neighbouring islands : with a complete history to date of the birds of the Hawaiian possessions

Cover of The avifauna of Laysan and the neighbouring islands
In 1890, when Rothschild was 23, he sent a sailor named Henry Palmer to the Sandwich Islands (as the Hawaiian Islands had been named by Captain James Cook in the late 1770s) and most particularly to Laysan, one of the Leeward Islands in the Hawaiian archipelago now part of the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation. His instructions were to collect as many different birds as possible, with special attention to inter-island variation.
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In 1890, when Rothschild was 23, he sent a sailor named Henry Palmer to the Sandwich Islands (as the Hawaiian Islands had been named by Captain James Cook in the late 1770s) and most particularly to Laysan, one of the Leeward Islands in the Hawaiian archipelago now part of the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation. His instructions were to collect as many different birds as possible, with special attention to inter-island variation. Palmer spent over two years at the task, from December 1890 to August 1893, and sent almost 2000 specimens back to Tring, including representatives of 15 species previously unknown to Western science and several species which have since become extinct.

These specimens formed the basis of Rothschild's monograph The Avifauna of Laysan and the Neighboring Islands. The work includes a survey of the literature on the birds of Hawaii to that date, as well as a condensed version of Palmer's collecting diary. Except for its contemporary publication Aves Hawaiienses by Scott B. Wilson and A.H. Evans (London, 1890-99), The Avifauna of Laysan was the only illustrated work on the birds of Hawaii to that time. The text is accompanied by 83 plates, of which 55 are hand-colored lithographs, mostly by John Gerrard Keulemans, drawn from the skins collected and preserved by Palmer.

On the History and Importance of Rothschild's Avifauna of Laysan
by Storrs L. Olson
Curator of Birds, National Museum of Natural History

Although scientific knowledge of the birds of the Hawaiian Islands began with the European discovery of the archipelago in 1778 by Captain James Cook, more than a century elapsed before any serious ornithological exploration of the islands took place. In 1887, Scott Barchard Wilson, with the support and encouragement of Alfred Newton, Professor of Zoology at Magdalene College, Cambridge (England), embarked on a collecting expedition to the Hawaiian Islands, where he stayed until the end of 1888. Descriptions of new species began appearing under Wilson's name in August 1888, when he was still in the islands, and it has long been my belief that Newton wrote the bulk of everything that was attributed to Wilson and to Wilson and Evans.

The new discoveries arriving from the Hawaiian Islands excited the imagination of Newton's pupil Walter Rothschild, who, using the wealth at his disposal, determined to send out his own collector. It is far from certain to what extent he may initially have attempted to collaborate with Newton in this effort---the correspondence concerning this published by Rothschild's niece Miriam can be interpreted in a different light from that she cast upon it. Regardless, the relationship between Newton and Rothschild soured, with the result that Hawaiian ornithology in the last decade of the 19th century became a very competitive enterprise.

Young Rothschild had somehow engaged the services of one Henry Palmer, said to have been a sailor, though little is known about him. He seems to have first appeared in New Zealand, but after his sojourn in Hawaii and a short stay in England, he returned to Australia, where he was later "obscurely murdered" in the gold fields (Amadon 1964, Mearns and Mearns 1992). Rothschild first sent Palmer to the Chatham Islands, off New Zealand, in December 1889 - January 1890. These islands had been relatively well worked by then, so that Palmer obtained only one new species, a pigeon, for Rothschild to describe and name. Palmer was then sent to the Hawaiian Islands, where he arrived in December 1890, with his New Zealander assistant George Munro, who stayed with him until 1 March 1892, when he was replaced by another New Zealander, Ed. ("Ted") B. Wolstenholme. Palmer remained in the islands until August 1893, sending back shipments of bird skins from which Rothschild eventually named 18 valid new species and subspecies.

Because Wilson could not be induced to resume his collecting activities, Newton became the prime motivator in arranging for a joint committee of the Royal Society of London and the British Association for the Advancement of Science to sponsor the explorations of R. C. L. Perkins, but the delay proved disastrous to Newton's ambitions, as was later lamented in the introduction of the volume attributed to Wilson and Evans (p. xx): "The loss of the season of 1891 was unfortunate for the credit of the Joint Committee; for many discoveries which its collector, had one been sent out in that year, could not have failed making fell to the lot of the persons employed by Mr. Rothschild in 1890-92 . . ."

By the time Perkins arrived, the font of new species had nearly dried up, and he was able to secure only one, the Black Mamo Drepanis funerea, that Palmer had missed. Perkins insisted that Newton take credit for describing this new species. Meanwhile, the results of Scott Wilson's and Perkins' ornithological endeavors were appearing as Aves Hawaiienses: The Birds of the Sandwich Islands, a royal quarto volume issued in eight parts from 1890 to 1899, with hand-colored plates by Frohawk, ostensibly authored by Wilson and Arthur H. Evans, a colleague of Newton's at Cambridge.

At the same time, in order to secure priority for his names during the period of competitive discovery, Rothschild was publishing brief descriptions of his new species in rapidly appearing periodicals, but had plans for an even more imposing monograph than Aves Hawaiienses, to be published in imperial quarto with colored plates by Keulemans. The first two parts of this appeared in 1893, after the first four parts of the Wilson and Evans work had been published. They bore the rather curious title The Avifauna of Laysan and the Neighboring Islands: With a Complete History to Date of the Birds of the Hawaiian Possessions. One can only speculate now why Rothschild chose to emphasize Laysan, a small island in the northwestern Hawaiian chain, when his work covered the entire archipelago. Perhaps he had a particular fascination for Laysan with its myriad seabirds and five endemic land birds in less than a square mile of land area; perhaps he wanted a title that would immediately distinguish it from his competitor; or perhaps he was trying to impress his father, who controlled the money, with the importance of Laysan, for the money that Rothschild's collector, Palmer, had to pay Capt. Wheeler for his miserable passage to the northwestern islets was the single greatest expense of the entire expedition. In his account book, a copy of which is in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Palmer entered for 18 August 1891 "passage for self & assistant on 'Kaalohai' @$250.00 per month $709.30." For perspective, Rothschild was paying Palmer an annual salary of £250, then equivalent to $1200.

Published in August 1893, the first part of Avifauna of Laysan indeed deals exclusively with the birds of Laysan Island and its exploration. The second part, containing accounts of some of the species from the main Hawaiian islands, followed in November of the same year. At this time, Rothschild was only 25 years old. He, like Scott Wilson, must have benefited from an éminence grise, and in his introduction he acknowledges his curator of birds "Mr. Ernst Hartert for his assistance. He has taken great interest in the work from its commencement, and has helped me a great deal, especially with the synonymy and introductory chapters." His entomological curator Karl Jordan evidently viewed Hartert's contribution as being even more substantial. In the bibliography that accompanied his memoir of Lord Rothschild, he places Hartert's name in parentheses at the end of each entry for Avifauna of Laysan, which was the convention he adopted to indicate "collaborators," by which he meant co-authors.

The third and final part of Avifauna of Laysan did not appear until December 1900, and the reason for the delay is apparent. Perkins was still collecting in the islands and had the potential of discovering new species of birds, and in addition Wilson and Evans' Aves Hawaiienses was still being issued, with the last part not appearing until 1899. Rothschild clearly held back the last part of Avifauna of Laysan to be certain to include all the species of birds then known from the archipelago, and also, no doubt, to have the "last word" on the subject.

The Avifauna of Laysan is of lasting value to the ornithologist, historian, and aesthete. Many of the birds treated by Rothschild are now extinct or extremely endangered. For some of them, we know nothing other than what was recorded by Palmer and by Perkins, and our only source for Palmer's activities remains Rothschild (except for portions of G. C. Munro's unpublished journal in the B. P. Bishop Museum). Knowledge of Palmer's itinerary and time afield is important for assessing the former relative abundance of species that have either vanished or no longer occur in much of the range that they occupied in the 1890s.
Keuleman's illustrations are still probably the best in existence for most species of Hawaiian birds and are markedly superior to those of Frohawk that appeared in Wilson and Evans' work. Frohawk was better as an entomological illustrator and was not adept at rendering the postures of birds from study skins (or even from living individuals in the case of the Laysan Rail). Students of Hawaiian birds and of Hawaiiana have long needed better access to Rothschild's work because of its great scarcity and value.

The valid new taxa discovered on the Rothschild expedition and named by Rothschild in scientific journals include (those marked with an asterisk are now extinct): the *Laysan Rail Porzana palmeri (actually named by Frohawk for Rothschild), the *Laysan Island Millerbird Acrocephalus familiaris, the *Laysan Apapane Himatione freethii, the *Greater Koa FinchRhodacanthis palmeri, the *Lesser Koa Finch R. flaviceps, the *Greater Amakihi Loxops sagittirostris, the Laysan Duck Anas laysanensis, the Maui subspecies of Akepa Loxops coccineus ochraceus, the *Maui Nukupu'u Hemignathus affinis, the *Lanai Akialoa Akialoa lanaiensis, the Maui Parrotbill Pseudonestor xanthophrys, the *Molokai O'o Moho bishopi, the Maui subspecies of Maui Creeper Paroreomyza montana newtoni, the Maui Nui subspecies of Amakihi Loxops virens wilsoni, the Laysan Albatross Diomedea immutabilis, and the *Oahu subspecies of Akepa Loxops coccineus wolstenholmei.

Two new species were first described in the Avifauna of Laysan itself: the Small Kauai Thrush Phaeornis palmeri, and Perkin's Creeper Oreomystis perkinsi, believed to be an aberrant individual or a hybrid involving the Hawaii Creeper Loxops mana.

A unique contribution of the Rothschild Hawaiian expedition was the collection of eight specimens of the Lesser Koa Finch by Palmer and Munro in the Kona District of Hawaii Island. These were taken from 30 September to 16 October 1891, and the species was never seen again, even though Perkins searched specifically for it only a year later. Had Palmer and Munro not been collecting in Kona at that time, it is likely that we would know nothing whatever about Rhodacanthis flaviceps apart from what can be determined from fossils.

Chronologies of the Competitors in Hawaiian Ornithology in the 1890s

Dates of Hawaiian Visits

8 April 1887 -- end of 1888

December 1890 - August 1893

March 1892 - September 1894

March 1895 - March 1897

Publication of Valid New Species

collector: Wilson
author: Wilson
10 species August 1888 -- June 1891

collector: Palmer
author: Rothschild, Frohawk
18 species March 1892 -- July 1893

collector: Perkins
author: Newton
1 species 1894

Summary of Monographic Publications

Wilson & Evans. Aves Hawaiienses. December 1890 - July 1899

Rothschild. Avifauna of Laysan. August and November 1893, December 1900

Literature Cited

Amadon, Dean. 1964. Obituary. George Campbell Munro. Auk, 82: 256.

Manning, Anita. 1986. The Sandwich Islands Committee, Bishop Museum, and R. C. L. Perkins: Cooperative Zoological Exploration and Publication. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers, 26: 46 pages, 4 appendices.

Mearns, Barbara, and Richard Mearns. 1992. Audubon to Xantus. The Lives of Those Commemorated in North American Bird Names. London: Academic Press. xix + 588 pages.

Munro, George C. 1944. Birds of Hawaii. Honolulu: Tongg Publishing Company. 189 pages, 20 plates.

Rothschild, Miriam. 1983. Dear Lord Rothschild. Philadelphia: Balaban. 398 pages.

Wilson, Scott Barchard, and Arthur Humble Evans. 1890-1899. Aves Hawaiienses: The Birds of the Sandwich Islands. London: R. H. Porter, xxvii + 257 pages, 69 plates. With two appendices by Hans Gadow. [A facsimile reprint was issued in 1974 as part of the series "Natural Sciences in America" by Arno Press, New York. The original was issued in eight unpaginated parts, later completely rearranged for binding according to the table of contents, which gives the publication dates for each of the species accounts.]

Introduction to and Bibliographic Description of 
Lionel Walter Rothschild- The Avifauna of Laysan (1893-1900)

Lionel Walter Rothschild

Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), 3rd baronet and 2nd Baron Rothschild, pursued a boyhood interest in natural history to an unprecedented conclusion, devoting his life and his fortune to the acquisition and scientific study of the largest zoological collections ever amassed by a single person.

He was born into the British branch of the fabulously wealthy and influential Rothschild family. His father, Nathan Meyer Rothschild, the first Baron Rothschild, was the first professing Jew to be seated in England's House of Lords. The eldest of three children, Walter was deemed to have delicate health and was educated at home. As a young man he traveled in Europe, attending the university at Bonn for a year before entering Magdalene College at Cambridge. In 1889, leaving Cambridge after two years, he was required to go into the family banking business to study finance. Always rather unworldly about money according to family and friends (although he spent it liberally in pursuit of his zoological collections and research), he evidently lacked any interest or ability in the financial profession, but it was not until 1908 that he was finally allowed to give it up. Already a recognized authority in ornithology and entomology, from then on he devoted himself full-time to his scientific interests. He retired from Parliament in 1910, having served as Member for the Aylesbury division of Buckinghamshire since 1899. He could not, however, retire completely from public life, especially after he succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1915; as head of the family he assumed numerous civic, political, and religious responsibilities. Among other things, he was active in Jewish causes and was the Lord Rothschild to whom the British Government in 1917 directed the Balfour Declaration, approving a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Despite all of these roles and duties, he remained dedicated to his research and continued publishing important scientific papers and monographs to the end of his life.

His niece Miriam Rothschild, who became a respected entomologist, depicts him as a great favorite with the children in the extended family, but Rothschild himself never married. He suffered from a speech impediment and is said to have been extremely shy. As is sometimes the case, these personal difficulties disappeared when he was speaking about things that interested him passionately. This passion - a single-minded pursuit of and unalloyed delight in his scientific interests - no doubt also gave rise to his notable eccentricities, which included maintaining a zoo of exotic animals and driving a coach pulled by zebras through London, as well as his unorthodox work habits and phenomenal memory.

Rothschild had begun collecting Lepidoptera (butterflies) and Coleoptera (beetles) at age seven, and by the time he was ten he had started a museum in a shed at Tring, the family estate in Hertfordshire where he lived his entire life. He began building a real museum when he came of age in 1889 and opened it to the public in 1892. Having come under the influence of renowned ornithologist Alfred Newton while at Cambridge, his interest in birds moved to the fore for many years; entomology and ornithology remained the focuses of his scientific work for the rest of his life. He built the collections continuously over the decades, until they formed the largest zoological collection ever amassed by a private individual.

Although Rothschild himself traveled and collected in Europe and North Africa for many years, his work and health concerns limited his range, and beginning while at Cambridge he employed others - explorers, professional collectors, and residents - to collect for him in remote and little-known parts of the world. He also hired taxidermists, a librarian, and, most importantly, professional scientists to work with him to curate and write up the resulting collections: Ernst Hartert, for birds, from1892 until his retirement at the age of 70 in 1930; and Karl Jordan for entomology, from 1893 until Rothschild's death in 1937. At its largest, the collection included 300,000 bird skins, 200,000 birds' eggs, 2,250,000 butterflies, and 30,000 beetles, as well as thousands of specimens of mammals, reptiles, and fishes. The bird collection in particular was unparalleled, considered in many ways the finest in the world, and invaluable for the study of geographical variation and other aspects of evolution.

Rothschild was strongly interested in island faunas, geographical distribution and variation, speciation, and extinction of species, all of which play an important role in modern studies of biogeography and in larger issues of ecology and bio-diversity. He and his curators wrote numerous important scientific monographs on various groups of insects and birds, and ornithologists and other scientists from all over the world came to study the collections. Many published in the Novitates Zoologicae, a respected journal that Rothschild established in 1894 for scientific articles about the specimens in the collections. Thousands of new species were described and named (the bird collection, alone, at Tring contained over 2,000 types), and many revisions of higher groups were made.

Rothschild was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Giessen in 1898, was elected a Trustee of the British Museum in 1899, and was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1911.

Added to the normal expenses of a man in his social position (estate, household, employees, charities, civic projects, etc.), the scientific activities which he single-handedly underwrote for decades - collectors, museum, staff, publications, and an untold number of miscellaneous other things - came close to exhausting even a Rothschild's resources. Sadly, for many years he had been the target of unrelenting blackmail arising from a long-ago sexual affair with a peeress, and in 1932 the intense financial pressure of a final demand forced him to sell most of his collection of bird skins to the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Upon his death in 1937, Lord Rothschild's remaining collections, the museum in which they were housed, and his superb library of 30,000 scientific reference works and rare books were bequeathed to the British Museum (Natural History), the largest and most significant such donation ever received. With various modern additions, Tring today houses the staff and collections in ornithology of the Natural History Museum, as the BM(NH) is now called. The museum building itself is still open to the public, its exhibits preserved as they were in Rothschild's time.

The Avifauna of Laysan (1893-1900)

In 1890, when Rothschild was 23, he sent a sailor named Palmer on Laysan surrounded by frigate birdsHenry Palmer to the Sandwich Islands (as the Hawaiian Islands had been named by Captain James Cook in the late 1770s) and most particularly to Laysan, one of the Leeward Islands in the Hawaiian archipelago now part of the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation. His instructions were to collect as many different birds as possible, with special attention to inter-island variation. Palmer spent over two years at the task, from December 1890 to August 1893, and sent almost 2000 specimens back to Tring, including representatives of 15 species previously unknown to Western science and several species which have since become extinct.

These specimens formed the basis of Rothschild's monograph The Avifauna of Laysan and the Neighboring Islands. The work includes a survey of the literature on the birds of Hawaii to that date, as well as a condensed version of Palmer's collecting diary. Except for its contemporary publication Aves Hawaiienses by Scott B. Wilson and A.H. Evans (London, 1890-99), The Avifauna of Laysan was the only illustrated work on the birds of Hawaii to that time. The text is accompanied by 83 plates, of which 55 are hand-colored lithographs, mostly by John Gerrard Keulemans, drawn from the skins collected and preserved by Palmer.

John Gerrard Keulemans

John Gerrard Keulemans (1842-1912), a skilled scientific artist in late 19th-century England, became one of the best-known and most prolific bird illustrators in a world exploding with discoveries, descriptions, and publications of species of animals and plants from all over the globe.

The eldest son of a prosperous embroidery manufacturer in The Netherlands, Johannes Gerardus Keulemans, as he was named in Dutch, received a good education as a child and in adolescence the training necessary to join the family business. But it became clear during this time that both his interests and his talents lay in natural history, particularly in field observation and the illustration of birds and other animals. In these pursuits he also learned methods of preserving zoological specimens, and by the age of 19 he was working as a taxidermist (like the great bird illustrators Audubon and Gould before him) supplying prepared bird specimens to the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie in Leiden.

At the invitation of that museum's Director, the renowned zoologist Dr. Herman Schlegel, Keulemans joined an expedition to West Africa in 1865-1866, where his field observations and systematic contributions in ornithology as well as his skills in specimen preparation and illustration proved very useful. Upon his return Schlegel hired him onto the museum staff and supported the development of his artistic abilities in particular. Within a few years Keulemans published a work of his own on cage birds and was receiving commissions for illustrations in a variety of scientific monographs and journals, especially in England.

In 1869 Richard Bowdler Sharpe, ornithologist and Librarian at the Zoological Society of London, hired Keulemans to create the 120 full-page lithographs for his Monograph of the Alcedinidae, or Family of Kingfishers (London, 1868-1871) and convinced him to move to London. From that base he flourished in career-long associations with the most prominent naturalists and scientific institutions in England, illustrating (as artist, lithographer, or both) an extraordinary number of the major ornithological monographs published between 1870 and 1910: works by Sharpe, Elliot, Dresser, Buller, Mathews, Yarrell, Grandidier, Mivart, Lord Lilford, Milne-Edwards, Salvin & Godman, Lydekker, Sclater, and many others including, of course, Walter Rothschild, for whom Keulemans illustrated The Avifauna of Laysan, Extinct Birds (London, 1907), and the Novitates Zoologicae (from 1894 until 1911). In addition, he illustrated many volumes of the British Museum's Catalogue of Birds (London, 1874-1898) and, for decades, the journals of the British Ornithological Union, the Linnaean Society, and the Zoological Society of London. Fluent in five languages, he was also in demand in continental Europe, traveling to France and other countries as his prodigiously busy schedule allowed.

Although drawing from direct observation of the living animal is always preferable and he did so extensively in his early years, through much of his career drawing exotic birds from remote areas of the world Keulemans had to work from skins and stuffed specimens. He developed a rather formal compositional style similar to Gould's, featuring a single bird, or at most a pair, in a perching position amid sparingly suggested backgrounds. Although his drawings are sometimes criticized for a lack of vitality or animation, the style permitted the scientific exactitude that was his goal for the huge of numbers of new species that his illustrations depicted. Keulemans excelled at draftsmanship, and the consistently high standard of scientific precision and accuracy of his illustrations was widely acknowledged and appreciated. In the journal British Birds, G.M. Mathews, the first volume of whose massive Birds of Australia (London, 1910-1927) was Keulemans's last commission, noted that for thirty years he was the unrivalled and unequalled draughtsman of ornithological subjects and that from 1870 to 1900 scarcely any ornithological work of importance was complete without "illustrations by Keulemans."

In illustrating for publication Keulemans created a preliminary sketch, sent it for review and comment by the author of the work, revised the sketch, repeated the comment/revision cycle as many times as necessary, and ultimately produced a final pencil & water-color drawing. Being also, unlike many artists, a skilled lithographer, he then transferred the image to the lithographic stone himself and printed off proof copies. Finally he colored the proofs by hand, as a guide or exemplar for the colorists who handled the hundreds of copies run off for the publication.

The delicate and detailed coloring of natural-history illustrations is crucial to their finished appearance and quality and to their value as scientific illustrations of a species. Naturalists had long recognized the importance of accurate and consistent coloring of plates, but success in this regard was highly variable. While some did the work themselves (Mark Catesby, for example, in the early parts of his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, London, 1731-1743 [sic]), more commonly the scope of such a job limited the author or artist to a supervisory role over the work done by hired colorists, who were often women earning piece-work wages. At least a few authors were fortunate enough as to have the assistance of wife, sister, or daughter in this capacity (for example, Eleazar Albin's Natural History of Birds, London, 1731-1738), and the fact is sometimes mentioned in the work as an assurance of careful attention and accuracy. In Keulemans's time, Bowdler Sharpe's three daughters carried on this tradition, learning the skill and working with Keulemans on the illustrations to several titles. Chromolithography, which was developed in the middle years of the 19th century and became common in its last decades, applied the colors on the stones in the printing process. In theory it achieved a uniformity of coloring among all copies, but it could not come close to producing the precise hues and varied depth of hand-coloring. Only a few of the works to which Keulemans contributed illustrations used chromolithography (e.g., the 2nd edition (London, 1888) - but not the first (London, 1873) - of Buller's Birds of New Zealand, and Lord Lilford's Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands, which contained both chromolithographed and hand-colored plates).

Many of the original water-color drawings for Rothschild's Avifauna of Laysan and other titles which Keulemans illustrated are in the library at Tring. Other collections of his original work are held in the Natural History Museum (London), the McGill University library (Montreal), and the National Library of Australia (Canberra).

Bibliographic description

Lionel Walter Rothschild. The Avifauna of Laysan and the Neighboring Islands: with a Complete History to Date of the Birds of the Hawaiian Possessions. London: R.H. Porter, 1893-1900.
f 598.29969 .R84 Birds [RB]

Text volume

Pagination: xx, xiv, 1-21(Di.)+3 blank, 320 pp. 39 cm.
Collation: a-b4c2d1 [2nd sequence:]a4b2c1 B-H4I2 1-34 K-R4S-T2U-Z4 2A-2T42U22X1.
Format: Imperial quarto.

[a1] --- Title page
a2-d1 [i]-xx Preliminary text (including p.[xvii]-xx "List of plates")
--- --- Front wrapper, Pt. I (recto & verso)
[2nd] a1-c1 [i]-xiv "I. The island of Laysan"
B1-I1 [1]-58 Text
[I2]? --- "Errata" slip, tipped on blank leaf
--- --- Back wrapper, Pt.I (recto & verso)
11-[33] [1(Di)]-21(Di) "Résumé of Palmer's diary"
--- --- Front wrapper, Pt. II (recto & verso)
--- --- "Notice" slip, tipped in
K1-S2 [59]-126 Text
--- --- Back wrapper, Pt.II (recto & verso)
--- --- Front wrapper, Pt. III (recto & verso)
T2--2X1 127-320 Text, cont. (including supplements, index...)
--- --- Back wrapper, Pt.III (recto & verso)

Plates volume

Pagination: [83 plates, un-numbered]. 39 cm.
Collation: [No signature marks]

See "List of plates" for plate sequence.

The plates volume lacks a separate title page, and there is no evidence that one was ever issued. The plates were printed by the Mintern Brothers company, and in the 83 total there are:

  • 20 collotype plates: black-and-white photographs of Laysan, birds, etc.;
  • 55 colored plates: 51 plates of birds drawn and lithographed by Keulemans; 4, mainly of eggs, drawn and lithographed by Frohawk; all hand-colored; and
  • 8 lithographic plates: 6 tinted lithographs of Laysan by Frohawk; 2 black-and-white lithographs of bird anatomy by Frohawk.

SIL's volume has all 83 plates called for in the "List of plates," in the exact sequence listed. Numerous plates include captions that are slightly different than those published in the List. In many cases this change in "lettering" is noted in the List entries; in other cases the connection must be inferred from the "var." (variant, or variety) level of the species' scientific name as published in the List. The reader is presumed capable of making these matches between the plate and its listing.

However, the following 3 plates have captions that differ in their generic names from the List, with no note or explanation to connect the two:
XXIII. Sterna lunata in the List, is captioned on the plate: Haliplana lunata.
LIX. Chlorodrepanis virens... in the List, is captioned on the plate: Himatione virens....
LXIX. Rhodacanthis flaviceps in the List, is captioned on the plate: Telespiza flaviceps.

The Avifauna of Laysan was issued in 3 parts (parts I and II in 1893, and part III in 1900) in a limited edition of 250 copies. It was sold by subscription only, with subscribers expected to purchase all parts - no separate or individual parts were to be sold, according to the wrappers of Parts I and II. Each part cost three guineas (£3 3s.), and the high price, presumably resulting at least in part from Rothschild's luxurious production values, placed this important taxonomic work beyond the financial reach of the scientists who needed it, as at least one of his own contemporaries noted. The limited number originally produced, reduced even further by the number of copies that reside in private libraries or have been broken for their plates, has rendered the work relatively unavailable to scientific researchers. Only 24 copies are held by libraries in the United States, as listed in OCLC, RLIN, and The National Union Catalogue: Pre-1956 Imprints. Although a Swiss company seems to have reproduced the work on microfiche in 1983, that version is not listed by any library, and the work has never been reprinted or published in facsimile, as far as can be determined.

SIL's copy retains the original wrappers of all three parts. Part I (containing pages i-xiv, 1-58, and 41 plates) and Part II (pages 59-126 and 15 plates) are dated August 1893 and November 1893, respectively, in type on the front of each wrapper. The versos of these front wrappers have the small rectangular stamp of William Wesley & Son, booksellers in the Strand, London, through whom the parts were purchased. Part III (pages i-xx, 1(Di)-21(Di) +3 blank pages, 127-320, and 27 plates) is dated December 1900 in type on the front wrapper and was date-stamped upon receipt at the Institution on February 11, 1901, on the back wrapper. The dates of the parts are recapitulated on p.ii, at the foot of the second page of the Contents.

The wrappers as well as the text and plates are sparsely annotated in pencil, in the hand of Charles W. Richmond, ornithologist and bibliographer at the Smithsonian from 1895 to 1932. In addition there are various markings, usually penciled on or just behind the title page and the beginnings of the three parts, which reflect the original accessioning and cataloging of the book.

SIL's copy was bound in library buckram in two volumes, the plates separately from the text. The original signatures had been cut, and each leaf of text and plates had been attached to individual hinges. The paper of both the text and the plates is a heavy and glossy one, now brittle and chipping; many leaves had broken loose in both volumes. The decision to digitize the work gave the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Book Conservation Laboratory the opportunity to remove the text leaves and plates from the stiff hinges and buckram covers and to preserve them in archival enclosures.

The book and its online digital edition have been sequenced in accordance with its original issuance, in that the wrappers have been re-inserted around the text that they originally encompassed. An obvious exception to this has been made for the title page and other preliminary materials, which, as usual, were not issued until the completion of the publication, and for Palmer's diary, which was also issued with part III but is called for in the table of contents between parts I and II.


On Rothschild

Jordan, Karl. [Obituary of] "Lord Rothschild, F.R.S." in Nature, 140, 1937: 574.

--- . "In Memory of Lord Rothschild, Ph.D., F.R.S., J.P." in Novitates Zoologicae, 41, 1938: 1-16.

--- . "Lord Rothschild, 1868-1937" in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol.II: 1936-1938. London, [n.d.]: 385-386.

--- . Dictionary of National Biography. 1931-1940 Supplement. London, 1949: 754-755.

Rothschild, Miriam. Dear Lord Rothschild: Birds, Butterflies and History. London, 1983.

Tate, Peter. Birds, Men and Books. London, 1986.

On Keulemans

Dance, S. Peter. The Art of Natural History. New York, 1978; New York, 1990.

Jackson, Christine E. Bird Illustrators: Some Artists in Early Lithography. London, 1975.

Keulemans, Tony. Feathers to Brush: the Victorian Bird Artist, John Gerrard Keulemans, 1842-1912. Epse, The Netherlands, 1982.

Lambourne, Maureen. The Art of Bird Illustration. Secaucus NJ, 1990.

Mathews, Gregory M. "The late John Gerrard Keulemans" in British Birds, 6(2), 1912: 58.

Pasquier, Roger F. and John Ferrand, Jr. Masterpieces of Bird Art: 700 Years of Ornithological Illustration. New York, 1991.

Skipworth, Peyton. The Great Bird Illustrators and Their Art, 1730-1930. New York, 1979.

On the book

Anker, Jean. Bird Books and Bird Art: an Outline of the Literary History and Iconography of Descriptive Ornithology. Copenhagen, 1938.

British Museum (Natural History). Library. Catalogue of the Books, Mauscripts, Maps, and Drawings in the.... London, 1903-15.

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological John Todd Zimmer. Chicago, 1926.

Nissen, Claus. Die Illustrierten Vogelbücher: Ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie.Stuttgart, 1953.

Sitwell, Sacheverell, Handasyde Buchanan, and James Fisher. Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900. London & New York, 1953; New York, 1990.

Wood, Casey A. An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology, Based Chiefly on the Titles in the Blacker Library of Zoology, the Emma Shearer Wood Library of Ornithology, the Bibliotheca Osleriana and Other Libraries of Mcgill University, Montreal. London, 1931.

And the library databases OCLC and RLIN, and The National Union Catalog: Pre-1956 Imprints.

Leslie K. Overstreet
Curator of Natural-History Rare Books
Special Collections Department
Smithsonian Institution Libraries

February 2002

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