Histoire naturelle des oiseaux. Paris: De l'Imprimerie royale, 1770-1786 10 volumes, folio (18 1/2 x 13 1/4 in.; 464 x 343 mm). 973 fine handcolored plates drawn and engraved by François Nicolaus Martinet under the supervision of Edme Daubenton, text within decorative borders, directions to the binder and errata at the end of each volume, general index at the end of volume 10; a few short marginal tears to plates, long tears to plates 1 (vol. 2), 650 (vol. 5), 276 (vol. 7) and 81 (vol. 8), all but one expertly repaired, small stain on inside margin of title-page of vol. 7 continuing to index leaf of plates, light occasional paper discoloration and scattered foxing, more pronounced in vol. 10. Fine contemporary mottled calf panelled gilt, the spine in 7 compartments gilt (2 reserved for green morocco lettering and numbering pieces), marbled endpapers, dentelles and edges gilt; joints rubbed, a few small tears to extremities neatly repaired.
Ayer/Zimmer 104-106; Copenhagen/Anker 76; Fine Bird Books 83; McGill/ Wood 267; Nissen IVB 158
Imperial Library of the University of Kasan, Russia (library stamps on verso of title-pages, stamp of the Imperial Eagle usually found on p. 35)
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A very fine copy of the large paper issue of the "most ambitious and comprehensive bird book" which still "ranks still as one of the most important of all bird books from the collector's point of view" (Fine Bird Books). The plates were originally intended to illustrate the ornithological section of Buffon's massive Histoire naturelle générale, but this idea was abandoned owing to the limited number of impressions the plates would yield. Instead Buffon prepared a text to accompany the sumptuously colored plates. Buffon's Oiseaux was issued in four formats: the large and ordinary paper folio sets were issued with handcolored plates by and after François Martinet. In 1765 at Buffon's direction, Martinet began drawing and painting, and engraved the plates under the supervision of Edme Daubenton. In the course of production, over 80 artists and assistants were engaged, ultimately producing 973 ornithological plates. An additional 35 plates depicting animals, reptiles, insects, and corals were produced at the same time, but they are not mentioned in the body of the text; and it is common to find most sets without them. Quarto and twelve-mo issues were also produced, illustrated with a series of black-and-white plates drawn by de Sève. In the past twenty years only eight copies of the large paper issue¿including the present set¿have appeared at auction.