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March 30, 2013

Natural Science Highlights: Perry's Conchology

Perry title Final.jpg

The rare book holdings include one of the most beautiful color seashell books ever published, Conchology, or, The natural history of shells, by George Perry, which appeared in 1811. In the opening paragraph of his Introduction he states: "The study of Shells or testaceous animals, is a branch of natural history which, although not greatly useful to the mechanical arts, or the human economy, is nevertheless, by the beauty of the subjects it comprises, most admirably adapted to recreate the senses, to improve the taste or invention of the Artist, and, finally and insensibly, to lead to the contemplation of the great excellence and wisdom of the Divinity in their formation." The introduction which also explains the arrangement of the work into two sections, univalves and bivalves, is followed by sixty-one exquisite, hand colored aquatint plates. The plates are signed as being published by William Miller, a prominent Scottish line-engraver who was best known in his day for his reproductions of the works of J.M.W. Turner. In the introduction credit for the original drawings and engravings is given to a Mr. John Clarke. It is very likely that the work was done by George Perry, who was a skilled artist, and others who were less skilled than he was. Antiquarian booksellers relate that Perry's Conchology is the only seashell book with aquatint illustrations but another has been identified. The work was printed at London by William Bulmer, one of the best printers of the time, who strove to improve the standards of English typography.

Although Perry was a distinguished English naturalist, the work was criticized during his lifetime for its use of vibrant pastel colors and shell forms that were not always true to life. His choice of nomenclature was also criticized but many of the generic and specific names he used are now accepted and used today.

Plate 25 Perry Final.jpg

Perry's text was based on the work of Linnaeus and the Frenchmen Jean Guillaume Bruguière, a zoologist whose main interest was snails and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who wrote a major work on the classification of invertebrates. The plates illustrate specimens from Australia, New Zealand, the South Seas, Pacific Ocean and Tahiti. Many of the shells that appear in the illustrations formed part of the collections of private individuals. It is thought that some of the shells were from a collection that belonged to Elizabeth Bligh, whose husband was William Bligh, captain of the Bounty when its crew carried out its famous mutiny in 1789.

This monumental work comes to the rare book collection from the library of Dr. Jared P. Kirtland (1793-1877). Kirtland was a physician and naturalist who was born in Connecticut and moved to Ohio in 1823. He founded the first scientific organization in Cleveland, the Cleveland Academy of Natural Sciences, which was formally established in 1845. This Academy was the forerunner of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Kirtland's contributions also include his establishment of the Cleveland Medical College which became the Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

For more on the Conchology see
George Perry's molluscan taxa and notes on the editions of his Conchology of 1811 by Richard E. Petit

For more information about the copy held by the Department of Special Collections at the Kelvin Smith Library contact us at 216-368-0189.

Plate 25: Conus

Posted by mxb19 at March 30, 2013 05:27 PM

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