The January issue of 1923 features excerpts from Birds of California , the last major book by noted ornithologist William Leon Dawson. (His earlier titles include Birds of Ohio and Birds of Washington.) It’s a strange book, and I’ve tried to capture some of that strangeness in the excerpts. The Internet Archive hosts a scanned version of the deluxe first edition that was released to an “approved clientele of 250” patrons.
If you just want beautiful bird illustrations from 1923, you might do better with Birds of America by T. Gilbert Pearson, also available in its entirety on the Internet Archive. That volume is the source of the beautiful egg drawings that grace the cover of this edition and the Kickstarter campaign—I found them before I found Dawson’s work and I was too attached to them to use anything else.
But I selected Birds of California for its idiosyncratic style. Dawson is a man obsessed with birds, and that obsession is (usually) infectious. Where readers might have expected a dry textbook-ish approach, they instead got a strange and incredibly detailed paean to avian kind.
And honestly, I couldn’t express that better than Dawson does in the excerpt I selected for the opening page. It works as a bit of an introduction to his philosophy and—I hope—to mine with this zine project. There is beauty and wonder in the archive! But you must open yourself up to seeing it.Download this issue as pdf.