Eleazar Albin: A natural history of birds

Eleazar Albin: A natural history of birds

London: 1731-1738
Sp Coll Hunterian M.3.18-20

This work contains 306 hand-coloured engravings by Eleazar Albin and his daughter Elizabeth. It is one of the earliest elaborately illustrated bird books.

Albin was a teacher of watercolour painting who developed an interest in natural history. He published, by subscription, an illustrated work on insects in 1720 before embarking on this ornithological work. The title-page boasts that the illustrations were drawn from live birds: Albin's specimens came from a variety of sources. According to Peter Osborne (ODNB entry on Albin), his penchant for cultivating connections with the aristocracy provided him with access to the large collections of exotic birds owned by the Duke of Chandos, Thomas Lowther, and the naturalist Joseph Dandridge; in the preface to the first volume, Albin appealed to his readers for more examples, asking that ‘Gentlemen … send any curious Birds … to Eleazar Albin near the Dog and Duck in Tottenham-Court Road’.

Perhaps not a great scientific achievement, Albin has been accused of being ignorant of ornithology and for catering to the requirements of the gentleman reader rather than of the serious naturalist; although accurate, his illustrations have been criticised for being stiff and lifeless. Nonetheless, as Osborne points out, this work is a great achievement in being one of the first profusely illustrated natural history books aimed at the general reader.

Blue Heron


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