"the first coloured illustrations ever attempted in a printed book"
MUDIE, Robert. The Feathered Tribes of the British Islands. Whittaker & Co. 1834.
8vo. 2 vols. Original green cloth, gilt lettering to spine, with gilt crest of owner added to front of vol I; pp. xxvi + 379, 391 + [8, ads], 2 colour title page vignettes by George Baxter, 19 handcoloured plates (not chromoxylographed as stated in Nissen), text illustrations; volume I with new endpapers, a little occasional spotting to edges, browning to title pages as usual, otherwise very good indeed. Provenance: front pastedown of vol I with bookplate of James Dearden 1798 - 1862). Justice of the Peace and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; front pastedown of vol II with bookplate of Horatio Noble Pym (1844-1896), book collector and editor; ffep of vol II with bookplate of Hugh Fattorini (1934-2005), the noted natural history book collector and dealer.
First edition. Robert Mudie was a prolific writer and this was the first instalment in his series of books on natural history subjects, each of which combined attractive and authoritative text with charming illustrations. It not only marked his first collaboration with George Baxter, who had recently invented a revolutionary method of printing in colour with a series of wooden blocks, it marked "the first coloured illustrations ever attempted in a printed book" (Max E. Mitzman, George Baxter and the Baxter prints, p. 15). Mudie himself in his preface to this book recognises the significance of Baxter's work: "I should mention that the vignettes on the title pages are novelties, being the first successful specimen of what may be termed POLYCHROMATIC PRINTING, or printing in 'many colours' from wooden blocks… Baxter has, I believe, completed what was the last project of the great Bewick, but which that truly original and admirable genius did not live to accomplish" (pp. xii-xiii). His innovation is still recognised as a triumph: "From the middle of the 1830s George Baxter began producing in London his celebrated prints which used an intaglio steel plate, usually in aquatint, for the image, with colour from up to twenty woodblocks ... The use of the intaglio plate, with its special potential for fine but deeply inked lines, gave a dramatic quality to the Baxter process which was lacking in pure chromoxylography or chromolithography" (Bamber Gascoigne, How to Identify Prints, p. 29).
Aside from Baxter's important vignettes, the nineteen illustrations, often depicting two birds to a plate on a plain background, although the frontispiece of vol 2 portrays a gannet against a beautiful blue wash sky, are extremely delicate and finely coloured.
Nissen 654; Zimmer p.446 (4th edition only); Wood p. 473-4 (later editions only).