Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

John Gould (1804-1881): Birdman in the Australian Bush

December 22nd, 2020

When John Gould set out with his wife Elizabeth and eldest son (three younger children remained in England with their grandmother) in 1838 on the five-month sea voyage from England to Australia, his goal was to observe birds in the wild, collect specimens and enable Elizabeth, an artist, to make drawings for their planned book about Australian birds. Their first stop was Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land), where the Goulds were befriended by the governor, Sir John Franklin, and his wife. Elizabeth, who was pregnant, stayed with the Franklins and made drawings of plants and animals. Meanwhile, Gould explored the bush in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland in New South Wales and South Australia, including Kangaroo Island. After the birth of another son, the Gould party travelled to New South Wales, where Elizabeth’s brothers, Charles and Stephen Coxen, had settled. Following the Goulds’ return to England in 1840, The Birds of Australia appeared in 36 installments, the first on December 1, 1840 and the last in 1848. Elizabeth had died in 1841, so the later parts were illustrated by another artist, Henry Constantine Richter, working under Gould’s close supervision. The lithographic crayon drawings, printed in black and hand-watercolored by hired colourists, contributed to the success of this landmark early book about Australian ornithology.

Gould also wrote the descriptive text accompanying each illustration with assistance from his accomplished and devoted secretary, Edwin Charles Prince. The comments about many of the birds of southeastern Australia were based on Gould’s own observations. Although John Gilbert, an assistant who accompanied the Goulds to Australia, had supplied specimens and notes about birds from other parts of Australia (before being killed by Aborigines near the Gulf of Carpenteria), the examples discussed here are firsthand accounts that reveal Gould’s keen observational skills, deep interest in birds, and nascent ambivalence toward the killing of birds for sport, food, and scientific collection.

Image of the Rose-breasted Cockatoo / Cacatua eos in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Rose-breasted Cockatoo / Cacatua eos in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 5, plate 4. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Gould’s text enlivens this static picture of Rose-breasted Cockatoos by describing the breathtaking experience of seeing flocks in motion. “The Rose-breasted Cockatoo possesses considerable power of wing, and like the house-pigeon of this country [England], frequently passes in flocks over the plains with a long sweeping flight, the group at one minute displaying their beautiful silvery grey backs to the gaze of the spectator, and at the next by a simultaneous change of position bringing their rich rosy breasts into view, the effect of which is so beautiful to behold, that it is a source of regret to me that my readers cannot participate in the pleasure I have derived from the sight.”

Image of the Spotted Pardalote / Pardalotus punctatus in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Spotted Pardalote / Pardalotus punctatus in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 2, plate 35. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

The nesting habits of Australian birds were also intriguing. Gould writes that the Spotted Pardalote’s nesting habits differ from known members of its genus in nesting underground; “availing itself of any little shelving bank that occurs in its vicinity, [it] excavates a hole just large enough to admit of the passage of its body, in a nearly horizontal direction to the depth of two or three feet, at the end of which a chamber is formed in which the nest is deposited. The nest itself is a neat and beautifully built structure, formed of strips of the inner bark of the Eucalypti, and lined with finer strips of the same material.”

Image of the Spotted-sided Finch / Amadina lathami in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Spotted-sided Finch / Amadina lathami in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 3, plate 86. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Above ground, Gould was surprised to find that Spotted-sided Finch nests are “frequently built among the large sticks forming the under surface of the nest of the smaller species of Eagles…both species hatching and rearing their progeny in harmony. He observed “little finches…sitting on the small twigs close to their rapacious but friendly neighbor…a Whistling Eagle.”

Image of the Piping Crow-shrike / Gymnorhina tibicen in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Piping Crow-shrike / Gymnorhina tibicen in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 2, plate 46. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Some birds could co-exist with European settlers. Gould comments that the Piping Crow-shrike (Gymnorhina tibicen) “…is a bold and showy bird which, when not harassed and driven away, greatly enlivens and ornaments the lawns and gardens of the colonists by its presence, and with the slightest protection from molestation becomes so tame and familiar that it approaches close to their dwellings, and perches around them and the stock yards in small families of six to ten in number. Nor is its morning carol less amusing than its pied and strongly contrasting plumage is pleasing to the eye. To describe the notes of this bird is beyond the power of my pen, and it is a source of regret to myself that my readers cannot, as I have done, listen to them in their native wilds…”

Image of the Allied Kite / Milvius affinus in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Allied Kite / Milvius affinus in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 1, plate 21. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Equally bold but less welcomed by colonists, a raptor, the Allied Kite (Milvius affinis), has a “confident and intrepid disposition [that] renders it familiar to every one, and not unfrequently costs it its life, as it fearlessly enters the farm yard of the settler, and if unopposed, impudently deals out destruction to the young poultry, pigeons, &c. tenanting it. The temerity of one individual was such, that it even disputed my right to a Bronze-winged Pigeon that had fallen before my gun, for which act, I am now almost ashamed to say, it paid the penalty of its life; on reflection I asked myself why should advantage have been taken of the confident disposition implanted in the bird by its Maker, particularly too when it was in a part of the country where no white man had taken up his abode and assumed a sovereign right over all that surrounds him.”

Image of the Partridge Bronze-wing / Geophaps scripta in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Partridge Bronze-wing / Geophaps scripta in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 5, plate 67. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

While “a most delicate viand for the table,” the Partridge Bronze-wing (Geophaps scripta) is less endangered due to its isolation. “It is to be regretted that [it] should be so exclusively a denizen of the plains of the interior that it is available to few except inland travelers…It is withal so excessively tame, that it is not unfrequently killed by the bullock-drivers with their whips, while passing along the roads with their teams.”

Image of the Adelaide Parakeet / Platycercus adelaidiae in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Adelaide Parakeet / Platycercus adelaidiae in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 5, plate 22. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Gould’s regret for the predicted disappearance of the Adelaide Parakeet (Platycercus adelaidiae) did not curtail his specimen collecting. “This beautiful Platycercus…may in a few years be looked for in vain in the suburbs of this rapidly increasing settlement [Adelaide], as it…is even now much persecuted and destroyed by the newly arrived emigrants, who kill it either for mere sport or for the table; for, like the other Platycerci, all of which feed on grass seeds, it is excellent eating. It was only by killing at least a hundred examples, in all their various stages of plumage, from nestling to the adult, that I was enabled to determine the fact of it being a new and distinct species.”

We may disagree with him, but Gould was a man of his times, and his views are part of the history of ornithology. Although the science of ornithology has since moved on, aided by technological innovations not dreamed of in Gould’s lifetime, the artistry of the beautiful illustrations in his books still attracts modern viewers. These illustrations allow us to see the birds through the eyes of Gould and his artists, and it is equally worthwhile to read Gould’s eloquent written observations about them. The John Gould Ornithological Collection, accessible at the University of Kansas Libraries website, offers the opportunity to pair pictures and descriptive text while reading digitized copies of Gould’s books on the Internet. A nearly complete set of John Gould’s publications, along with about 2000 pieces of preliminary art from his workshop, was bequeathed to the University of Kansas in 1945 as part of Ralph Nicholson Ellis, Jr.’s natural-history library. The Gould books and artwork were digitized with funding support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Karen Severud Cook
Special Collections Librarian
Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Hugh Orr
Member, Royal Geographical Society of South Australia

Making the Hand-Colored Lithographic Prints in John Gould’s Bird Books

September 8th, 2020

We are periodically sharing some of the materials that are featured in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery permanent exhibit. We hope you’ll be able to visit the library and explore the full exhibit in person! This week’s post highlights materials by and information about English ornithologist John Gould.

John Gould, an English ornithologist based in London, published large, lavishly illustrated books about birds of the world from 1830 until his death in 1881. Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas holds 47 large-format volumes published by Gould, as well as nearly 2000 preliminary drawings, watercolors, tracings, lithographic stones, and proof prints from his artistic workshop. Digitized a decade ago, our Gould collection has recently migrated to new Islandora software that makes searching for bird images within the volumes as easy as finding the separate pieces of preliminary art. The digitized Gould collection is accessible at the University of Kansas Libraries website.

Lithographic portrait of John Gould, 1834
John Gould. Lithographic portrait by J. Maguire. Inserted as frontispiece in A Monograph of the Ramphastidae or Family of Toucans (London, 1834). Call Number: Ellis Aves H17, vol. 1. This volume has been digitized and is available online. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

The son of a humble gardener, John Gould had spent his boyhood in rural England. His youthful interest in birds and taxidermy would later grow into a career as a publisher of bird books. Hired in 1827 by the recently founded Zoological Society of London, his work maintaining their collection of bird skins enabled him to learn from member ornithologists. Gould and his wife Elizabeth, an amateur artist, ventured into ornithological publishing in 1830 with a book about birds of the Himalaya Mountains.

High-quality digital images downloaded from University of Kansas Libraries website are included here to help explain how the beautiful lithographic prints of birds that illustrate Gould’s books were made. Lithography was a chemical printing process based on the antipathy between grease and water. It involved drawing with greasy ink or crayon on blocks of fine-grained limestone imported from Germany. Invented in Bavaria about 1798 by Aloys Senefelder, lithography soon spread throughout Europe and beyond. By the mid 1800s lithography had replaced copper engraving as the preferred method for quality book illustration, because it was easier and faster (and therefore cheaper) to execute.

An initial rough sketch on paper, often drawn by John Gould himself, began the bird illustration process. The multiple lines and erasures on this sketch of two Asian ground thrushes (Pitta concinna) reflect Gould’s search for the best composition.

Rough pencil and chalk sketch of Pitta concinna by John Gould
Rough pencil and chalk sketch of Pitta concinna by John Gould. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1114. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

One of Gould’s artists, in this case William Hart, then developed the sketch into a detailed watercolor painting to be approved by Gould, who insisted on accurate proportions and coloring.

Finished watercolor of Pitta concinna by William Hart
Finished watercolor of Pitta concinna by William Hart. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1167. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Next Hart copied the outlines onto tracing paper and blackened the reverse side with soft lead pencil. By laying the tracing paper on a block of limestone prepared for lithographic printing and re-tracing the outlines, he was able to transfer a non-printing guide image onto the printing surface.

Outline drawing in pencil on tracing paper of Pitta concinna
Outline drawing in pencil on tracing paper of Pitta concinna. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1168.

Following the guide lines, Hart has used a greasy lithographic crayon to draw and shade the bird image on the lithographic stone. The stone had been rubbed with fine sand and water to give it a velvety texture or grain to which the crayon would adhere.

Lithographic crayon drawing on lithographic stone of Pitta coccinea
Lithographic crayon drawing on lithographic stone of Pitta coccinea. Call Number: Gould Drawing 2383.

Close examination with a magnifier would show small irregular dots of crayon adhering to the grained surface of the stone. At normal reading distance, though, the viewer’s eye blends the tiny dots and perceives them as shades of gray.

Enlarged view of grained stone surface
Enlarged view of grained stone surface. Charles Hullmandel, The Art of Drawing on Stone (London, 1824). Call Number: D725. Click image to enlarge.
Enlarged detail of lithographic crayon shading of feathers of Greylag Wild Goose (Anser palasurus)
Enlarged detail of lithographic crayon shading of feathers of Greylag Wild Goose (Anser palasurus). Uncolored proof copy of John Gould, Birds of Europe (London, 1837), Volume 5, Plate 347. Call Number: Ellis Aves H132. This volume has been digitized and is available online. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Turning the drawing on stone into a printing image was a chemical process. First, the crayon drawing was lightly etched with a gum arabic solution, which adhered to the non-image areas and made the bare stone surface there more water receptive. The crayon image was then washed out with turpentine, which formed a thin coating on the image making it receptive to the greasy printing ink.

Next the printer placed the stone on the bed of a lithographic printing press. Before inking, the stone was wetted, so the greasy black ink would adhere only to the crayon image. A blank sheet of paper was then placed on the inked stone and pressed against it by a scraper bar to transfer the black ink onto the paper, forming the printed image.

A printer inking a lithographic stone on a printing press. Elisha Noyce, The Boys Book of Industrial Information (London, 1858), p. 129. Accessed via HathiTrust. Click image to enlarge.

After the ink had dried, the print was hand colored with watercolors, copying a colored master print (called a pattern plate) that had been approved by Gould. Gould’s colorer was Henry Bayfield, who employed the female members of his family to help with adding watercolor washes by hand to uncolored prints. The washes not only tinted the black print but also blended visually with the lithographic shading to convey the shape, color and texture of the feathered bodies of the birds.

Photograph of a watercolor box with brushes and dry cakes of paint
Watercolor box with brushes and dry cakes of paint. Collection of K.S. Cook. Click image to enlarge.
Uncolored lithographic proof print of Pitta concinna pair
Uncolored lithographic proof print of Pitta concinna pair.
Call Number: Gould Drawing 1134. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Detail of a hand-colored lithographic print of Melanopitta sordida. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1265. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Above, in the middle, the print of a pair of ground thrushes (Pitta concinna) illustrates Gould’s book about the Birds of New Guinea. On the facing page is Gould’s scientific description of the bird, set in metal type and printed by the relief letterpress process. After being printed separately, the parts of the book were issued in installments to subscribers, who had them bound as volumes once complete.

Pitta concinna. John Gould, Birds of New Guinea (London, 1875), Volume 4, Plate 31. Call Number: Ellis Aves H129. This volume has been digitized and is available online. Click image to enlarge.

In vogue during the middle decades of the 19th century, such hand-colored lithographic prints of birds were superior in quality to the earlier hand-colored copper-engraved prints they had replaced. Although succeeded in the second half of the 19th century by color-printed chromolithographs, in the early 20th century by four-color process halftone photolithographs, and in the late 20th century by digital images, Gould’s hand-colored lithographic prints are still esteemed as quality bird images.

However, the Gould example is only one of the stories that could be told about lithography’s impact on the production of graphic images during the 19th century. This is because lithography’s versatility as a chemical process meant that it was not just one new technology but rather a cluster of image making technologies that could be used separately or combined in innovative ways. As well as drawing on grained stone with a crayon, early practitioners drew on polished stone with pen and ink, “engraved” (more accurately “scribed”) lines in a thin coating of gum arabic, or drew with lithographic ink on coated transfer paper. After the mid-19th century these were combined with new methods of transferring images to the printing surface and of printing in color (chromolithography) from multiple lithographic stones or (later) from metal plates. A ground-breaking example of chromolithography is Owen Jones’ book, Plans, elevations, sections, and details of the Alhambra (London, 1842-1845. Drawing flat areas of color on lithographic stones, one stone per color, he printed multi-colored illustrations in remarkably exact registration for his book, but this is a single example. The story of all the many technologies associated with chromolithography would fill a book, one which, in fact, has been well told by Michael Twyman in his 728-page book, A History of Chromolithography: Printed Colour for All (London: The British Library and New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2013).

Karen Severud Cook
Special Collections Librarian

The Art of Nature

July 31st, 2018

Just how heavy is an African elephant? What insects hang out together on milkweed plants? Satisfy your curiosity by visiting Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s summer 2018 exhibition before it closes on August 30.

Image of the T-Shirt Design by D.D. Tyler, "One African Elephant Is as Heavy as…" Milkweed Village T-Shirt design by D. D. Tyler

D.D. Tyler. “One African Elephant Is as Heavy as…” t-shirt and
“Milkweed Village” t-shirt. D. D. Tyler Collection.
Call Number: MS QA 22, Box 4. Click images to enlarge.

The pictorial T-shirts displayed in “The Art of Nature: Natural History Art and Illustrations by D.D. Tyler” answer such questions in the nicest possible way. These beautiful T-shirts selected from nearly 200 designed by natural-history artist D.D. (Diana Dee) Tyler charm the eye while they stimulate the mind. The same is true of her natural-history illustrations for periodicals, guidebooks, and children’s books.

Color drawing by D. D. Tyler of Mother Bear and Cubs for book Bears in the Wild by Ada and Frank Graham, 1981
D.D. Tyler. Mother Bear and Cubs. Color drawing for book
Bears in the Wild by Ada and Frank Graham, 1981.
Addition to the D. D. Tyler Collection received 12/17/2017. Click image to enlarge.

The detailed and scientifically accurate pen-and-ink drawings breathe life into each book author’s written descriptions of animals and their lives. In the exhibition, her impressive original drawings, never meant to be seen, can be compared with the published versions reduced photographically to half-size.

Ink and crayon drawing by D. D. Tyler of a Mother Squirrel Carrying Baby Squirrel for the book We Watch Squirrels by Ada and Frank Graham, 1985

D.D. Tyler. Mother Squirrel Carrying Baby Squirrel. Ink and crayon drawing
for book We Watch Squirrels by Ada and Frank Graham, 1985.
D. D. Tyler Collection. Call Number: MS QA 22, Box 1, Folder 30. Click image to enlarge.

A native Kansan, D.D. Tyler completed a Fine Arts degree at the University of Kansas in 1970. After backpacking around the world, she settled in Maine, where her career as an artist developed in tandem with her interest in the natural world. Now semi-retired, she recently donated her artistic archive representing forty years of work to Kenneth Spencer Research Library, where anyone using our reading room can request and view items from the D.D. Tyler collection, along with the many other books and manuscripts in the library’s collections.  Kenneth Spencer Research Library, located in the central KU Campus on Poplar Lane between Strong Hall and the Campanile, is open Mondays-Fridays 9-5 and (after fall semester classes begin August 20) Saturdays 9-1.

Karen Cook, DD Tyler, and Hank Tyler in front of the main exhibition title for "The Art of Nature," July 12, 2018

The artist, D.D. Tyler (center), and her husband, Hank Tyler (right), at the exhibition
with Karen Cook (left), curator of the exhibition. Click image to enlarge.

Karen Severud Cook
Special Collections Librarian

Meet the KSRL Staff: Karen Cook

November 14th, 2016

This is the tenth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Karen Cook is the Special Collections Librarian responsible for curating rare books and manuscripts from Continental Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia.

Karen Cook, Special Collections Librarian, Spencer Research Library.
Karen Cook, Special Collections Librarian,
Spencer Research Library.

Where are you from?

Although I was born in New York City, my hometown is Cooperstown, a small village located in at the foot of Otsego Lake in the lovely Appalachian foothills of upstate New York. It was founded by James Fenimore Cooper’s father in 1786 but is best known as the home of the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame (founded 1939).

What does your job at Spencer entail?

As a Special Collections Librarian in Kenneth Spencer Research Library (KSRL), I curate rare books and manuscripts from Continental Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia. My subject specialties are the graphic arts, maps, and the history of science. My main responsibilities are collection development, reference, instruction, and exhibitions.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

My academic background is in art history (BA) and geography (specializing in maps and their history) (MS & PhD). My first career was as a cartographer, but a move to London, England led to work as a librarian in the British Library Map Library. After a decade there, I returned to the USA in 1996 and came to KU, intending to learn computer mapping and return to my earlier career. At the same time, though, I began working part-time in KSRL, where the staff were so welcoming and the work so interesting that I decided to enroll in the library science graduate program program at Emporia State University (ESU). During three years of part-time graduate study at ESU I worked as the Operations Manager of the T.R. Smith Map Collection in Anschutz Library. Just as I finished the ESU program in 2001, a librarian position opened up in KSRL’s Special Collections, and I’ve been here ever since.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

The Consolidator, a satirical fantasy written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1705, criticizes the evils of life on Earth by contrasting it with an imaginary utopian civilization of Moon dwellers. The English narrator travels to China and thence by rocket ship to the Moon, where a Lunar philosopher shows him warfare and famine happening on Earth through magic glasses. The Lunarians debate how to depict this information and decide to produce a separate thematic map of each of these phenomena. This narrative, written a century before thematic maps would become common, has led me to research Defoe’s sources of information about mapmaking.

What part of your job do you like best?

The best part of my job is the variety of interesting tasks that I do, all centered around the history of books (and maps).

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

Research and writing about the history of cartography is a major interest. Less academic pastimes are gardening and botanical illustration.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Register and go into the reading room. Tell the librarian/archivist on duty what you are interested in and ask for suggestions or a referral to someone who handles that subject specialty.

Karen Cook
Special Collections Librarian
Special Collections