Mark Catesby, Pl. 92 The Canada Goose, The Natural History of Carolina, Vol. 1, 1771, hand-colored engraving

$850 this week only (list price $1,400). Offer expires 5-8-2017

Laura Oppenheimer

Mark Catesby, Pl. 92 The Canada Goose, Vol. 1, The Natural History of Carolina...1771, hand-colored engraving

Enjoy special pricing on Plate 92 The Canada Goose, Anser canadensis, from Mark Catesby's The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, third edition, revised by George Edwards, printed for George White, London, 1771. Catesby's bold portrait (circa 1722–26) represents the head of a Canada Goose, and in particular the unique detail of the white "muffler" around the bird's neck, which distinguishes it from all other species of geese. A plan native to the Bahama Islands that he called Chrysanthemum is also shown in the plate. The current name for this plant is rong bush, Wedelia bahamensis. The current scientific name for the Canada goose is Branta canadensis (Linn.). 

In Catesby's text, he offers a description of this bird by a predecessor, the English ornithologist and ichthyologist Francis Willughby (1635–72). Willughby was mentored by the influential naturalist John Ray, who also inspired Catesby's youthful aspiration to become a naturalist. Due to Willughby's premature death, Ray published his book, Ornithologie libri tres posthumously in Latin in 1676. Stating his own observations agree with Willughby's description, Catesby says "it is sufficient to recite his Account of it....", further noting "the white Stay or Muffler before mentioned is sufficient to distinguish it from all other of the Goose kind." Catesby adds, "[o]f the migration pattern of Canada geese, "In Winter they come from the Northern parts of America to Carolina, & c."

Interestingly, referring to the the wintering grounds in the north, the name "Canada" did not come into use as the name of a country until 1791, and formerly was the name of the area of Quebec City. However, Canada geese were known in England long before Canada became the official name of the country, brought by the Hudson's Bay Company as early as 1665. Unofficially, the name "Canada" had been widely used since 1535.

Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands was sold by subscription and published in London from 1831 to 1847. The work was issued in ten parts, each part comprising 20 plates. However, the first part was published earlier than generally cited, in 1829, and the appendix was completed in 1747. Plate 92, The Canada Goose was first issued in part five in 1732.

This rare hand-colored engraving is in perfect condition with pristine original color; 14.5 x 20.5 inches.

$850 this week only (list price $1,400). Offer expires 5-8-17.

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A naturalist-explorer and self-taught artist who executed almost every aspect of this historic work, Mark Catesby (1683–1749) possessed a unique combination of talents. To publish his work, he learned the complicated process of etching from the print maker Joseph Goupy. From 1731 to 1747, The Natural History was published in two volumes of five parts comprising a total of 200 plates. The Appendix, which was compiled from specimens available in England, added 20 more. The artist George Edwards revised and re-issued both volumes from 1748 to 1756, and in 1771 the publisher Benjamin White reissued the Edwards version adding Linnaean names to all Catesby’s plants and animals. All editions have the same number of plates.

Catesby added significantly to eighteenth-century natural history, introducing many of the plants he found in colonial America to Europe, and contributing more than 20 new plant species as well as over 70 bird illustrations to Carl Linnaeus' landmark work, Systema Naturae

Mark Catesby traveled from England to the new world on a legendary discovery expedition a century before Audubon first published his work. Born in Castle Hedingham, Essex, England, to John Catesby, a lawyer, and Elizabeth Jekyll, the daughter of a prominent family, Catesby’s interest in the natural world began in childhood, when as a boy he was introduced to the renowned naturalist John Ray, who lived nearby and became an early influence. Catesby explains the forces that motivated him in the preface to volume I:

“The early Inclination I had to search after Plants, and other Productions in Nature, being much suppressed by my residing too remote from London the Center of all Science, I was deprived of all Opportunities and Examples to excite me to a stronger Pursuit after those Things to which I was naturally bent: yet my Curiosity was such, that not being content with contemplating the Products of our own Country, I soon imbibed a passionate Desire of viewing as well the Animal as Vegetable Productions in their Native Countries; which were Strangers to England. Virginia was the Place (I having Relations there) suited most with my Convenience to go to, where I arriv’d the 23d. of April 1712. I thought then so little of prosecuting a Design of the Nature of this Work, that in the Seven Years I resided in that Country, (I am ashamed to own it) I chiefly gratified my Inclination in observing and admiring the various Productions of those Countries, —- only sending from thence some dried Specimens of Plants and some of the most Specious of them in Tubs of Earth, at the Request of some curious Friends, amongst whom was Mr. Dale of Braintree in Essex, a skilful Apothecary and Botanist: to him, besides Specimens of Plants, I sent some few Observations on the Country, which he communicated to the late William Sherard, L. L. D. one of the most celebrated Botanists of this Age, who favoured me with his Friendship on my Return to England till the Year 1719; and by his Advice, (tho conscious of my own Inability) I first resolved on this Undertaking, so agreeable to my Inclination.

Catesby gained extensive knowledge of the new world on his first visit to the colony of Virginia from 1712–19. His return visit in 1722 was sponsored by William Sherard, Hans Sloane and others in the Royal Society. Landing in Charles Town (Charleston, South Carolina), for five years Catesby explored the wilderness, taking notes, collecting specimens, and making drawings that documented quadrupeds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, fish, birds, and plants. Whenever possible, he drew his subjects from life. Again, the preface to his monumental work provides insights into his painting of natural history subjects.

“As I was not bred a Painter I hope some faults in Perspective, and other Niceties, may be more readily excused, for I humbly conceive Plants, and other Things done in a Flat, tho’ exact manner, may serve the Purpose of Natural History, better in some measure than in a more bald and Painter like Way. In designing the Plants, I always did them while fresh and just gather’d: And the Animals, particularly the Birds, I painted them while alive (except a very few) and gave them their Gestures peculiar to every kind of Bird, and where it would admit of, I have adapted the Birds to those Plants on which they fed, or have any Relation to. Fish which do not retain their Colours when out of their Element, I painted at different times, having a succession of them procur’d while the former lost their Colours: I dont pretend to have had this advantage in all, for some kinds I saw not plenty of, and of others I never saw above one or two: Reptiles will live many Months without Sustenance, so that I had no difficulty in Painting them while living.”

References: The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, Beehive Press, 1974; The Curious Mister Catesby, edited for the Catesby Commemorative Trust by E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott, Forward by Jane O, Waring, University of Georgia Press, 2015; Eighteenth Century Naturalists of the Hudson Bay, Stuart Houston, Tim Ball, and Mary Houston, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003, Appendix F, pages 200–202; Empire's Nature, Mark Catesby's New World Vision, Amy R. W. Meyers and Margaret Beck Pritchard, University of North Carolina Press, 1998, page 91.

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