# 39412

LEWIN, John William (1770 - 1819)

A natural history of the birds of New South Wales, collected, engraved and faithfully painted after nature.

$75,000.00 AUD

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Illustrated with twenty-six plates. London : J. H. Bohte, 1822 [but 1826 or later]. Folio, 366 x 262 mm, original publisher’s binding of half straight-grained red morocco, gilt-lettered to spine ‘Lewin’s Birds’, expertly re-backed and re-cornered, original grey papered boards, engraved paper title label to front panel, a few light stains, armorial bookplate to front pastedown, front free-endpaper creased and with tissue repairs, etched frontispiece, title page, a further 25 etched plates with original hand-colouring on paper watermarked Whatman 1826, the earlier states of plates 3 and 19-26 [without the plate nos.], small browning to verso of margin of final plate, accompanying letterpress text, some offsetting to text (as always), housed in a modern red cloth box.

A fine example, in original condition, of one of the rarest illustrated works of Australian natural history.

The naturalist and natural history artist John William Lewin had arrived in New South Wales in 1800, and under the patronage of Governor King he was able to sketch and collect specimens in uncharted and exotic locations. He was allowed to join expeditions to the Hunter and to Bass Strait, as well as to make a voyage to Tahiti. His first collection of copperplate engravings, The Natural History of Lepidopterous Insects of New South Wales, was published by his brother Thomas in London in 1805. Lewin probably completed the copperplates for his birds of New South Wales some time in 1805, and The Birds of New Holland, with their Natural History was published, again by Thomas Lewin, in London in 1808. Only six copies of this work are known to be extant, all of these, including the copy given to George III, having been distributed in London. For reasons unknown – possibly fire or loss at sea – the shipment of several dozen copies destined for colonial subscribers never arrived in Sydney.

In the wake of this disappointment, Lewin decided to compile a colonial version of The Birds of New Holland. Without access to the original plates, which were in London, and deciding to undertake the authorship of the text to accompany the plates himself, Lewin was compelled to commence the venture completely anew. Making use of various earlier state plates, the colonial edition, printed and bound by George Howe, eventually appeared in 1813. The Birds of New South Wales with their Natural History is recognised as the first illustrated book published in Australia, and contains some of the first engravings printed in New South Wales (Wantrup, Australian rare books 1788-1900, p.278, who refers to the eight known complete copies of this phenomenal rarity, describing the first edition as “virtually unprocurable”).

The present copy of A natural history of the birds of New South Wales is a secondary issue of the third edition of 1822, with some of the plates printed on paper watermarked “1826”. Note that there is only one recorded copy of a primary issue of the 1822 edition, that being the copy from the collection of Dr. Norman Wettenhall (The Wettenhall Library. Melbourne and Sydney : Andrew Isles and Hordern House, 1995, no. 164). The unique Wettenhall copy contains a number of plates remaining from the 1808 edition, printed on paper watermarked “A. Stace 1798”. All other known copies of the third edition are variants of the secondary issue, containing plates on paper watermarked either “1825”, “1826, or “1827”. Secondary issue copies thus represent, to all intents and purposes, the “standard” version of the third edition. The later editions of 1838 (heavily revised by Gould, Vigors and Horsfield) and 1875 ( the “Quaritch” edition) have plates coloured in gouache rather than watercolour, and the appearance of the plates differs quite dramatically from the 1822 edition. The secondary issue of the 1822 edition therefore remains the earliest and most desirable version of Lewin’s Birds realistically obtainable.


Donovan family (Framfield Place, Sussex, armorial bookplate on cream satin to front pastedown)


Christie’s London, Fine printed books and manuscripts from the library of the 17th Earl of Perth, 20 November 2003, lot 27

Private collection, Australia