London, J. and A. Churchill, 1874. Folio (43.7 x 31.8 cm). [Board size 44.5 x 33.0 cm]. xii, 178 pp.; 31 lithographed plates of which 28 in fine chromolithography, of which two double-sized. Contemporary polished half calf over marbled boards. Spine with six raised, gilt-ornamented bands; compartments rich gilt and with red and blue morocco labels with gilt title. Edges speckled red.
A splendid copy of this beautifully illustrated and scientifically important work written by Joseph Fayrer (1824-1907), an army surgeon with a keen interest in venomous snakes. "[O]ne of the classics on venomous snakes.....The double-page illustration of the king cobra is one of the most imposing drawings of a snake ever published" (Adler). Thanatophidia, a word coined by Fayrer, combines the Greek words for death and snakes, thus aptly summarizing, in a single word, what this work is all about. It is very much reminiscent of Patrick Russell's equally rare work on venomous Indian snakes published some 80 years earlier, but Fayrer's illustrations are arguably more natural - and science had made quite some progress, as becomes evident when comparing the experiments both authors described in their respective works. The three uncoloured plates, depicting safe treatment of living snakes, their fangs, and anatomy, are intentionally not coloured. Inscribed by the author, being a hand-written dedication to Dr A. B. Harris, dated 4 July 1905. Harris was probably a fellow physician. A very fine copy without the usual foxing or browning and in a beautiful binding, highly desirable indeed. Adler II, pp. 96-97; Das, I. (2004) Herpetology of an Antique Land: The History of Herpetological Explorations and Knowledge in India and South Asia; Nissen ZBI, 1339.