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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Highlights from our Collection - John Gould

John Gould (1804 - 1881) was both a zoologist and an ornithologist and is renowned for his large-scale, lavishly illustrated volumes of birds. He was in his twenties when his first work, ‘A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains’ was first issued (1830-32) and he continued publishing without a break until his death in 1881. In fact, his very last book, the ‘Birds of Paradise’, was published posthumously (1891-98). He produced the illustrated plates with the assistance of his wife Elizabeth Gould and collaborated with several other artists including Edward Lear, Joseph Wolf, William Hart and Henry Constantine Richter.

Birds of Paradise

Gould was prolific, but demanded a high standard of work, not only from the various artists working on the books, but also in the science. Minutely examining each bird, he noted differences and similarities previously unrecorded and some of the species ‘found’ in this way were even named after himself and his family. He corresponded with established zoologists and ornithologists as well, adding their knowledge to his and vice-versa and no doubt this contributed to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. This level of accuracy was not only limited to birds, as we can see in many of the humming-bird plates, the beautiful and closely examined flowers and plants are accurate enough to identify.

John Gould's humming-bird plates also depict detailed and accurate flowers and plants.

The humming-bird plates are considered the brightest & most decorative of Gould's prints.
The style of Gould’s work changed over the years, along with the other artists involved. He often drew the preparatory sketch from which the watercolour and then the lithograph were made, but occasionally one artist did the whole process, Edward Lear for example or William Hart. John Gould, his wife Elizabeth and Edward Lear worked together on the early books, until Elizabeth died and Gould and Lear fell out. It was at this time that Richter and Hart began to work with Gould, as they were both already established natural history artists. Later on, the publisher of ‘Birds of Paradise’ Bowdler Sharpe also became involved. 

Gould collaborated with a number of other artists, most notably Edward Lear.

The earlier works, the ‘Birds of Europe’, ‘Birds of Australia’, ‘American Partridges’, and the first edition of the monographs on Trogons and Toucans are quite different in style from the later ones, concentrating the image on the bird itself and leaving the background rather sketch-like. The drawings of the birds in these earlier works are also sketch-like, displaying the qualities of lithography to the full. By the time Gould was publishing the monograph on humming-birds, the whole image was much more like a painting, with more realistic backgrounds (showing the plants that the individual species ate and how they ate them) and a less painterly effect on the actual birds. In an attempt to accurately show the colours of the birds, Gould combined innovative printing techniques with a heavy use of colour. The use of complete backgrounds is particularly evident in the ‘Birds of Great Britain’ which is recognised as Gould’s most ambitious work, both in the number of birds depicted and the size of the edition.

Birds of Great Britain is considered Gould's most ambitious work.
John Gould masterminded one of the most outstanding bodies of work ever produced in the field of ornithology. Following his death in 1881, Henry Sotheran Limited who were already involved in publishing some of Gould's later works, bought his entire estate which included a number of black and white lithographs with the pattern plates used for the hand-colouring. This put Henry Sotheran in the unique position of carrying on the hand-colouring of the original 19th century lithographs according to Gould's exacting standards. These later hand-coloured plates sell for around half the price of the original colour equivalents. Well over a century after Henry Sotheran's felicitous acquisition, we remain the world's leading dealers in Gould's magnificent original hand-coloured lithographs.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Beautiful Botanicals to Celebrate the Chelsea Flower Show 2014

As the trade gets swept up this month in bookfair fever it is easy to forget that there are other things happening in London at the moment! Not to be missed this month is the wonderful RHS Chelsea Flower Show, one of the most, if not THE most famous flower show in the world, it is yet another reason to be proud of our capital city. Whilst other booksellers scramble to get their trade lists out before the start of Olympia this Thursday we have decided to pay homage to a different event entirely with a selection of some of the most significant botanical books and prints to have ever been published.

James Sowerby & John E. Smith
Where better to start than with the collective work of the renowned artist James Sowerby and the founder of the Linnean Society John E. Smith? One of our latest acquisitions is an apparently unique pairing of Sowerby and Smith's two greatest collaborations: Exotic Botany[...] bound together with A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The sheer beauty of the plates aside, both publications broke new ground. Exotic Botany (1804-5) introduced several plants that had recently been discovered in America, Australia, Asia and South Africa, whilst New Holland (1793-5) is even more significant as it is the first set of hand-coloured plates of Australian flora and the first published book on that subject.

Robert Sweet
From epic collaborations we move to scandalous accusations! The accomplished botanist and artist Robert Sweet achieved much success in his lifetime, naming several new species of plants from around the world, he even had the Genus Sweetia named after him in 1825. Of his many finely illustrated works, The Florist's Guide, and Cultivator's Directory pictured here, is one of the rarest.

Sweet's success attracted scandal. In 1824 he was wrongly accused, probably by an official with whom Sweet had quarrelled, of stealing plants from Kew. He was acquitted at a subsequent well-publicised Old Bailey trial; many of the witnesses for his defence gave him the highest praise as a botanist.

Ellen Willmott
The last of our selection of books is The Genus Rosa by Ellen Willmott. The first and only edition, this book is a monument to Willmott's garden at Warley Place, near Brentwood, where she employed on average eighty-five gardeners at a time and cultivated more than 100,000 species of plant. Gertrude Jekyll described her as ‘the greatest of living women-gardeners’. All of the roses depicted were found in her garden, which gives some idea of her incredible devotion, thoroughness and financial investment. This is one of the most lavish rose books of the twentieth century and is Willmott's landmark work. It is illustrated by plates after the naturalistic paintings of Alfred Parsons.

We also have a number of new additions to our botanical collection in the print gallery. We’re delighted to have recently acquired ‘The Dragon Arum’ from ‘The Temple of Flora’ by Robert John Thornton, an original mezzotint with added aquatint by Ward, after the drawing by Henderson. ‘The Temple of Flora’ is the third and final part of Thornton’s ‘New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus’ and is probably the most sumptuous and renowned of all great flower books. It contains a total of thirty-one plates which were produced by a variety of techniques, including acquaint, mezzotint, stipple and line engraving. The impressions were printed in colour and then afterwards finished by hand. During the production of the volume, many of the plates were altered or added to from time to time, producing a different ‘state’ for each; as a result, some plates have as many as four different states noticeable by subtle differences to the composition. With the watermark ‘H.Smith 1810’ we know that our print of ‘The Dragon Arum’ is the IVth state.

Robert Thornton
Another new addition to the gallery is our collection of botanical prints from the early 1600s by Basilius Besler. Besler, a pharmacist and botanist from Nurnberg is recognised for his monumental ‘Hortus Eystettensis’ first published in 1613. A landmark work in the history of botanical art, it is considered one of the greatest botanical sets ever created. Over 1,000 flowers representing 667 species are depicted on 374 folio size plates. Historically significant on several levels, the prints show a remarkably large number of tulips chronicling the introduction of exotic species to Germany. Our selection from the first edition of ‘Hortus Eystettensis’ includes tulips, peonies, orchids, sunflowers and more. Each species is identified with its Latin name on the print.

Basilius Besler

Alongside our important botanical prints, we also have a fun selection of original vintage seed packets dating from the 1920s. Mounted in off-white, these would make perfect gifts for any keen gardeners!

Vintage 1920s Seed Packet

Love flowers? More beautiful botanicals here.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

OxCrimes - 27 killer stories from the cream of crime writers

For all the lovers of crime fiction out there this Tuesday Sotheran's will be hosting the launch of OxCrimes - 27 crime stories compiled to raise money for Oxfam. Feel free to join us next week for the chance to own a great book and support an even better cause.

Sotheran's will be launching a signed, cased edition of OxCrimes (of which we are the sole distributors), produced in a limited edition of 100 copies at £250.00 each. The book will be offered for a special price at the launch party (or for advance orders) for only £195.00 - so get in there quick! 

Oxfam and Profile are publishing a new anthology of crime short stories in order to raise a further £200,000 for Oxfam's work. The book is introduced by Ian Rankin, and includes contributions from the cream of crime writers including Mark Billingham, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Horowitz, Val McDermid, Peter James, Adrian McKinty, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh.

Tuesday 20th May

from 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Henry Sotheran Limited
2 Sackville Street

If you would like to attend please contact Daisy on or 0207 439 6151

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew

Henry Sotheran's are proud to be hosting the launch of Max Egremont's new book

Some Desperate Glory 

The First World War the Poets Knew

Thursday 8th May
6:00 - 8:00 pm
Henry Sotheran Limited
2 Sackville Street

If you would like to join us here at Sotheran's HQ this Thursday then please RSVP to Daisy via email: or telephone: 0207 439 6151

After his highly successful history of Prussia, the authorized biographer of Siegfried Sassoon examines the First World War through the lives of the poets who fought at the front.

 2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of what many believed would be the war to end all wars. And while the First World War devastated Europe, it inspired profound poetry – words in which the atmosphere and landscape of battle are evoked perhaps more vividly than anywhere else.

The poets – many of whom were killed – show not only the war’s tragedy but the hopes and disappointments of a generation of men. In Some Desperate Glory, historian and biographer Max Egremont gives us a transfiguring look at the life and work of this assemblage of poets. Wilfred Owen with his flaring genius; the intense, compassionate Siegfried Sassoon; the composer Ivor Gurney; Robert Graves who would later spurn his war poems; the nature-loving Edward Thomas; the glamorous Fabian Socialist Rupert Brooke; and the shell-shocked Robert Nichols all fought in the war, and their poetry is a bold act of creativity in the face of unprecedented destruction.

Some Desperate Glory will include a chronological anthology of their poems, with linking commentary, telling the story of the war through their art. This unique volume unites the poetry and the history of the war, so often treated separately, granting readers the pride, strife, and sorrow of the individual soldier’s experience coupled with a panoramic view of the war’s toll on an entire nation.