John Gould

Humming Birds

1849-1887

The Family of Humming Birds displays a tour de force of the hand-colored lithograph as a medium. This folio is among the finest we have ever seen or offered.

The lithography is rich and detailed; the hand coloring is brilliant and nuanced. Gold leaf is shimmering and present in many plates. Please enjoy the stunning selection.

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Considered to be Gould’s masterpiece in both breadth and beauty, Monograph of the Trochilidæ or Family of Humming Birds, was produced in London during the height of the Victorian era. Gold leaf, transparent oil colors, watercolors, lacquers, and gum arabic are combined to capture the iridescent quality of these most colorful of birds. Strong botanical elements add a dimension not found in other bird folios. For both scientific and aesthetic purposes, Gould included depictions of plants native to the same regions as the hummingbirds. When described by Gould in the text, we have included the botanical name given.

In total, 418 hand-colored plates were produced for this folio, drawn and lithographed by the artists John Gould, H. C. Richter (1821–1902), and William Hart (1830–1908), and printed by Hullmandel and Walter in London. The first five volumes comprising 360 hand-colored lithographs were published in 25 parts from 1849 to 1861. The Supplement, a sixth volume with 58 additional plates, was published in five parts from 1880 to 1887 and completed by Richard Bowdler Sharpe after Gould’s death in 1881.  

In total, 418 hand-colored plates were produced for this folio, drawn and lithographed by the artists John Gould, H. C. Richter (1821–1902), and William Hart (1830–1908), and printed by Hullmandel and Walter in London. The first five volumes comprising 360 hand-colored lithographs were published in 25 parts from 1849 to 1861. The Supplement, a sixth volume with 58 additional plates, was published in five parts from 1880 to 1887 and completed by Richard Bowdler Sharpe after Gould’s death in 1881.  

The Englishman John Gould (1804–1881) was an ornithologist, artist, and publisher extraordinaire. He traveled widely and employed other artists to help create his lavish, hand-colored lithographic folios. Over a period spanning more than fifty years, he produced 15 natural history folio sets in 49 volumes comprising over 3,000 plates. Often working on multiple monographs simultaneously, he organized the regular release of parts to subscribers while corresponding with artists, subscribers, scientists, and specimen collectors around the world. His life’s work was an astounding undertaking in service to art and science.

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Mid-nineteenth-century Victorians were passionate about natural history. All aspects of the topic enjoyed a seriously involved audience, including many from the aristocracy. Among the subscribers to Family of Humming Birds was “Her Most Gracious Majesty The Queen,” to whom the folio was dedicated (referring to Queen Victoria), as well as a long list of nobility from throughout Europe. A recognized leader on the subject, Gould's hummingbird folio dazzled with exotic beauty and scientific accuracy. 

Gould introduced the first magnificently colored plates of the folio to the public at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, during the Grand Exhibition of 1851, the first international scientific exposition of its kind. There, he was credited as an inventor, recognizing the innovation of employing gold leaf as a part of the hand-colored lithographic printing process. His new technique captured the life-like iridescence of the birds’ feathers. During the exhibition, he also erected a temporary building in Regents Park and displayed his vast collection of hummingbird specimens there to great acclaim, attracting nearly 80,000 visitors. Gould, himself, was positively smitten with hummingbirds, calling them “this family of living gems.”

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