YARRELL, William (1784-1856). A History of British Birds. London: Jan Van Voorst, 1843, 1845.

$ 12,000.00

5 volumes in 4. 8vo., (11 x 7 ¾ inches). Half-titles, armorial device on title pages, additional title page in volume IV (supplement). 544 in-text wood-engraved illustrations by J., C.T., and R.A. Thompson. Near contemporary fine English binding of full green morocco by Bedford, each cover extravagantly decorated with broad gilt border of scrolls on the outer edge, 3 fillets, and then a floriated rolled tool with large, detailed flower tools at each inner corner; the spine in six compartments with five raised bands, red and citron morocco lettering pieces in the second and third, and the others elaborately decorated with fine floral tools, elaborate inner dentelles with floriated rolled tool, 2 fillets, and scrolls.

Provenance: Mrs. Hugh T. Fattorini, her sale, Sotheby’s 4 November 2014 Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History, Lot 20. With the bookplate of Robert Hoe to front pastedowns.


First edition. A fine example with an EXQUISITE BINDING and DISTINGUISHED PROVENANCE. Upon publication “A History of British Birds” became the standard illustrated textbook for ornithology. “The value of [Yarrell’s]… works and the admiration which they still evoke may be said to be due to the accuracy of the information they contain together with the simplicity of their style and the charm and fidelity of the illustrations” (Mullens and Swann).

“Yarrell lived in London and was an all-around naturalist, also being known for his proficiency as an angler and shooter. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society and was one of the original members of the Zoological Society of London. In 1833 he was a founder of what became the Royal Entomological Society of London. He made many important contributions to ornithology, notably publishing a two-volume book in 1843, A History of British Birds, which he later revised several times. In 1830 he was also the first person to describe Bewick’s Swan, distinguishing it from the Whooper Swan. The British subspecies of White Wagtail, Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii, was named after him” (Andrew Self, “The Birds of London”).