DRESSER, Henry Eles

A History of the Birds of Europe


A History of the Birds of Europe

London For the Author 1871-1896

In stock

A History of the Birds of Europe

SKU: 98975 Categories: , ,


A monumental work giving a comprehensive account of all the European birds with illustrations of each species. Dresser’s collection of twelve thousand bird skins was used by Keulemans (who did most of the drawings) and the other artists. Publication took place originally with the co-operation of R. Bowdler Sharpe, but after the first twelve parts his partnership with Dresser ended.

Henry Eeles Dresser (1838-1915) was the eldest son of Henry Dresser and Eliza Ann Garbutt; he had five sisters and three brothers. His father intended him to take over the family business in the Baltic timber trade so took him out of school in Bromley and sent him to Ahrensburg in 1852, to learn German and in 1854, to Gefle and Uppsala to study Swedish. Henry Dresser spent a time in Hackman’s offices in Vyborg learning Finnish during 1856–58, during which time he travelled round the Baltic coast. Dresser had a lifelong interest in birds and collected bird skins and eggs from his early teenage years. Whilst he was in Finland in 1858 he discovered breeding Waxwings and was the first English person to collect their eggs bringing fame among English ornithologists, most of whom were egg and skin collectors.

Through the 1860s, Dresser travelled widely through Europe and was twice in New Brunswick at his father’s sawmill. He sought out ornithologists with whom he could exchange birds and eggs. In 1863, during the American Civil War, he travelled to Texas via the Rio Grande on behalf of Liverpool and Manchester businessmen, taking a cargo of blankets, quinine and other goods in short supply to be sold and purchased raw cotton with the proceeds. During his time in Texas from June 1863– July 1864 Dresser made a collection of around 400 bird skins from southern Texas. His notes from his time in Texas, published in The Ibis (1865–66) are a leading source of information for the period and include mention of several interesting birds including the extinct (or almost extinct) ivory-billed woodpecker, the almost extinct Eskimo curlew and the endangered whooping crane.

Dresser was a leading figure in ornithological circles: he was elected a Member of the British Ornithologists’ Union in 1865 and served as its secretary from 1882 to 1888. He was a member and fellow of the Linnean and Zoological societies of London and an honorary fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union. He was a close friend of Professor Alfred Newton, Thomas Littleton Powys, 4th Baron Lilford and Alfred Russel Wallace and he knew all the leading ornithologists of his day. He was particularly well-known to European, American and Russian ornithologists. He worked with Alfred Newton on the development of a close time for British birds when they could not be hunted during the 1860s and 70s, an early part of the development of the bird conservation movement. He was heavily involved with the early Society for the Protection of Birds (which developed to become the RSPB).

The Birds of Europe was published in separate parts, by subscription, so that Dresser could use the income from subscriptions to fund the entire project. Subscribers, of which there were eventually more than 300, received an unbound section of both letterpress and plates in blue paper covers every month, as is the case in this copy, and many of those were eventually bound into leather-covered volumes by the subscribers. The whole set cost subscribers £52 10s, or about £5000 at todays rates.


First edition, nine volumes, including supplement, large 4to., additional vignette title and 723 lithographed plates (721 hand-coloured), after and by J.G. Keulemans, J. Wolf, E. Neale, and A. Thorburn, uniformly bound in contemporary tan half morocco gilt, a very attractive collection.

The Earl of Cromer’s copy.



Stock ID: 98975