Monograph of the Meropidæ

by Henry Eeles Dresser
Illustrated by J.G. Keulemans
Published by The Author, London, 1884-1886
Book dimensions: H 380 x W 300 x D 45mm
Box dimensions: H 482 x W 412 x D 77mm
Sample board #61
Bound in 2022
Private Collection of The Athenæum, London

About the book:
The full title of the book is Monograph of the Meropidæ or Family of the Bee-eaters. The author, Henry Eeles 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 Englishman to collect their eggs; this brought him fame amongst English ornithologists, most of whom were egg and skin collectors. Through the 1860s, he travelled widely through Europe and sought out ornithologists with whom he could exchange birds and eggs.

Dresser became a leading figure in ornithological circles and was the author of more than 100 scientific papers on birds, mostly concerned with geographical distribution, descriptions of new species and illustrated the eggs of many species for the first time. This book on bee-eaters, alongside other publications of his own, were based upon examination of the leading collections of the day, most notably his own. The book contains 34 hand-coloured lithographed plates by J.G. Keulemans. The author was a Member of the Athenæum Club, from 1885, and donated this copy to the Library.

About the binding:

  • A full leather stub binding sewn onto five tapes.
  • The pages of the books were all in single sheets, rather than folded sections, so were gathered in groups and glued at the spine edge before being guarded and attached to turquoise coloured stubs for binding.
  • The boards of the book are bound in teal bull-skin with onlays in a variety of colours across the whole cover. 
  • The onlays are cut from a series of different colours of thinly-pared leather, and coloured with acrylic paints.
  • The front and back covers of the binding are hand-embroidered with threads in a large variety of different colours, building up the stitches over the onlays.
  • The spine of the book is covered in fair goatskin with the title of the book hand-embroidered down the centre in a variety of coloured threads
  • The original gilt top edge of the binding was retained, and the fore edge and bottom edge coloured with acrylic paints in a linear pattern to match the feathers embroidery.
  • The double core endbands were made from orange and teal coloured leather with added thread detail in the centres.
  • The doublures were created by roller-ing acrylic paints in a variety of colours onto Zerkall paper to match the colours of the hand-coloured bee-eater plates within the binding.
  • The binding is housed in a Tulipwood box, lined with yellow felt. 
  • There is an embroidered feather on the end of the yellow lifting ribbon inside the box.
  • The top of the box has a hand-cut leather title applied, and four embroidered feathers adorning the lid.

Design Description:
The cover design of this binding was based on the wonderful colour plates found in this book. Seven species of bee-eater were selected from the 34 hand-coloured lithographed plates: Blue-tailed bee-eater, Little bee-eater, Blue-throated bee-eater, Northern Carmine bee-eater, White-fronted bee-eater, White-throated bee-eater and the Red-throated bee-eater. A selection of feathers from these seven bee-eaters were traced and laid out across the front and back covers of the book. The feathers were embroidered in colours to match their natural markings and they were laid out in a scattered fashion across on the boards, with a more dense mix on the front cover.

More details about this binding can soon be read about over a series of blog posts.

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