London, The Zoological Society of London, 1848-1861; 1863-1866. 8vo (22.2 x 15.1 cm). 7849 pp., 653 mostly hand-coloured lithographed plates. Uniform contemporary full polished tree calf. Spines with five raised, gilt-stippled bands; compartments with elaborate intricate gilt ornaments and red and green morocco labels with gilt title. Marbled endpapers, marbled edges.
An exceptionally fine set of one of the most important zoological periodicals of the 19th century, if not in the entire history of descriptive and illustrated zoology. Started in 1833, the first volumes, up to 1847, contained only text. This set starts with the first illustrated volume, being volume 16 (1848). The early volumes contained 200 pages at most, but in the period covered, the number of pages and plates grew steadily and rapidly. Subscribers could chose between unillustrated copies, plain copies, and hand-coloured copies, the latter being much more expensive and sought after. Most plates in this set are hand-coloured; several are intentionally not coloured. In the volumes up to 1860, the plate numbering was separated into seven main groups: mammals [78 plates], birds [173 plates], reptiles [32 plates], fish [11 plates], molluscs [51 plates], "Annulosa" (arthropods, including insects and crustaceans) [72 plates] and Radiata (including corals and echinoderms) [18 plates]. The numbers between brackets are the highest in each category, showing that ornithology is best represented, followed by Mammalia, "Annulosa" and Mollusca. From 1861 onwards, plates were numbered consecutively per volume. Most papers deal with new and little-known species - in particular from the tropics - others are monographic revisions, with a strong preference for the more gaudy and exotic birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, and shells. Small chip to the lower cover of volume 29; lacking nine plates in the first volume, and one in the 1850 volume; one plate of the 1849 volume bound into the 1850 volume; a few plate numbers and captions shaved, but all the images complete; the volume for 1862 not present; scattered foxing to several plain plates, but the hand-coloured plates were printed on superior paper and are hardly affected at all. In fact, we have never seen a set as clean and bright as this one. The bindings are nothing short of spectacular. Anker, 547; Nissen ZBI, 4744.