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Bird, Art, British, Gould, Toucans, Ramphastidae, Antique Prints, London, mid 19th Century

John Gould (1804-1881) (editor)
from A Monograph of the Ramphastidae,
or Family of Toucans

London: 1833-35 (1st ed.) and
1852-55 (2nd ed. and supplement to 1st ed.)
Hand-colored lithographs
Price on Request

This was Gould’s first monograph of a bird family, featuring the toucans of the tropical forests of South America. Nine of the brilliantly colored plates were by Edward Lear, who also drew the backgrounds of tropical plants for his birds. The work was published in three parts from 1833-35, a second edition in 1852-54 and a supplement to the first edition in 1855.

Prints from this famous series on toucans are widely admired for their verisimilitude, including the brilliant colors of the toucan’s plumage and beaks. This was Gould’s first monograph of a bird family rather than birds of a particular locale, featuring the toucans of the tropical forests of South America (toucans are native to Mexico, Central and South America and parts of the West Indies). The first edition of this work was published in 1833-35 with 34 color plates, a second expanded edition was published 1852-54 with 52 color plates, and a supplement to the first edition with 20 plates was published in 1855. Gould considered the second edition to be a completely separate work since the plates were all lithographed again (with 18 additional plates) and the text updated. Ramphastidae includes Ramphastos, which are sometimes called “the true toucans” and Pteroglossus, which are smaller birds generally referred to as aracaris.

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John Gould (1804-1881) is considered the Audubon of Great Britain for his prolific and exhaustive production of color plates of birds in the 19th century. The son of a gardener at Windsor Castle, Gould was a self-taught artist and naturalist. He was hired as Curator and Preserver of Birds at the Zoological Society of London in 1828. Shortly thereafter, he married Elizabeth Coxen Gould (1803-1840), who became his collaborator and traveled and worked with him until her death. Together the Goulds began their new career as ornithological illustrators, publishing their first collection of prints in 1830-31 A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains, based upon a collection of bird skins from the Himalayas, which Gould had acquired.

Gould chose the medium of lithography, influenced by the work of Edward Lear (1812-1888), who had just recognized the advantages of this printing technique in cutting out the “middleman” engraver and preserving his own artistic vision. Gould enlisted Lear to work on The Birds of Europe with his wife, Elizabeth Gould, followed in 1833 by a commission of 10 plates for Gould’s A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans. Gould’s biographer, Isabella Tree notes the importance of Lear: “It was Lear’s example that provided the impetus for the Gould’s first publication, and it was Lear who later transformed Gould’s static and unimaginative style into the confident and innovative work that characterized his second and all subsequent publications.”

John Gould generally made the original sketches, and Elizabeth transferred them to lithographic stones and meticulously hand-colored them, though, in addition to Lear and Elizabeth, there were numerous other print artists involved in these works, such as Joseph Wolf (1820-99), William Matthew Hart (1830-1908) and Henry Constantine Richter (1821-1902), as well as numerous unnamed colorists. Gould traveled to Asia, Australia and the East Indies to see and collect birds of the world. He developed a collection of 1,500 mounted specimens, many of which were used as models for his lithographs. The specimens were exhibited in 1851 at the Royal Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park, London, as part of the festivities surrounding the Great Exhibition.

Gould’s prolific publishing output was 49 large folio volumes, in 15 sets, containing more than 3,000 plates, though some were published posthumously under the supervision of his later collaborator Richard Bowdler Sharp. The bird prints were issued in unbound parts to subscribers only, and due to the labor-intensive nature of their production, only wealthy individuals and institutions could afford them. Gould also published numerous scientific papers, many describing new species, and his contributions to the study of ornithology were recognized by being elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1843.

Gould’s monographs of hummingbirds, toucans, and birds of the Himalayas, Europe, Great Britain, New Guinea, and Australia are among his most popular works. His hummingbirds are particularly decorative, with the inclusion of exotic flowers of the birds’ habitats and the highlighting of the birds’ iridescent plumage with gold leaf under the hand color, and heightened with gum Arabic. The striking esthetic qualities of his toucans are likewise emphasized, each large bird with bright orange or green plumage, and a prominent colorful beak.

Condition: Each generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, soft creases. Paper tone may vary from one print another. Some with disbound string hole marks in far left or right margin edge, as issued. Some available with original text. Some with minor defects such as faint mat burn, scattered pale foxing, etc. For a specific condition report on a particular print of interest, contact us.


Anker, Jean. Bird Books and Bird Art. 1938. New York: Martino, 1990. p. 177.

“Charles Joseph Hullmandel.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at (18 November 2010).

Gould, John. John Gould’s Hummingbirds. Secaucus, N.J.: Wellfleet, 1990.

Hyman, Susan. Edward Lear’s Birds. New York: William Morrow, 1980.

“John Gould.” Australian Museum. 2004. (18 November 2010).

Nissen, Claus. Die Illustrierten Vogelbucher: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1976.

Sauer, Gordon. John Gould the Bird Man: A Chronology and Bibliography. Melbourne, Sydney, New York, London: Landsdowne Editions, 1982. 16 and 29.

Sitwell, Sacheverell. Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

Tree, Isabella. The Ruling Passion of John Gould. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991. pp. 36-50, 161-162, 239-240.

Wood, Casey A. (ed.) An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology Based Chiefly on the Titles in the Blacker Library of Zoology, the Emma Shearer Wood Library of Ornithology, the Bibliotheca Osleriana, and Other Libraries of McGill University, Montreal. London: Humphry Milford, Oxford University Press, 1931.

Zimmer, John Todd. Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library. Zoological Series, Publ. 239-240, Vol. 16. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1926.

Additional information


19th Century