Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Parrots Found In Rare Book On German Birds: The Writing Parrot Squawks

by Stephen J. Gertz
On command (his to me) once more, today's guest blogger is Albert the Writing Parrot, a thirty-five year old Yellow-Naped Amazon, Booktryst's mascot, my ward since his five-months old birthday, and, pathetically, my most successful long-term relationship. He knows more about parrot books than I do. If his writing voice sounds similar to mine do not be surprised. He is, after all, a parrot  - SJG.
Psittacus Albini
(Cacatua galerita fitzroy)
Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather: parrots in the Fatherland.

Greetings, bibliophiles and parrot-freaks, I'm Albert, the Yellow-Naped Amazon, who was once given a pen to render into plastic confetti but discovered, to my amazement and Gertz's, that when held in zygodactyl foot made comprehensible prose when applied to a sheet of paper  provided for my amusement. No bird-brain, I picked-up a thing or two while reading the newspaper on the bottom of my cage despite its crude punctuation with the end product of digestion.

Psittacus Rufus vertice nigro
(Lorius Domicellus)
Purple-Capped Lory

The other day Gertz presented me with another rare antiquarian book on birds for review, Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland und beiläufig auch einiger Fremden nach ihrer Eigenschaften beschrieben by Johann Leonhard Frisch (1666-1743).  It's a book on the birds of Germany originally published in Berlin, 1733, and issued in parts at irregular intervals over the next thirty years, the final section published in 1763. It’s considered to be the first great German color-plate bird book. Gertz brought home a copy of the third and most complete edition, a folio of fourteen parts in one volume issued 1817-1820 with 255 gorgeous hand-colored plates.

Psittacus viridis alis capite liteo
(Amazona barbadensis barbadensis)
Yellow-Shouldered Amazon

A book on the birds of Germany. What, you may ask, are parrots doing in this otherwise delightful strudel in print? Exotic, tropical birds like parrots are typically found in Central and South America, the Caribbean, India, the South Pacific (where they engage in Happy Talk on Bali Hai-Ai-Ai), parts of Africa, or as escapees on the lam in Southern California and San Francisco. Sightings in the Black Forest, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Bad Arolsen, Bad Bentheim, Bad Bergzabern, Bad Berka, Bad Berleburg, Bad Berneck im Fichtelgebirge, Bad Bevensen, Bad Blankenburg, Bad Bramstedt, Bad Breisig, Bad Brückenau, Bad Camberg, Bad Colberg-Heldburg, and Bad Düben through Bad Wünnerberg are non-existent. Yes, there's a whole lotta Bad in Germany but it's not as bad as it seems, though hamburgers in Heidelberg are nothing to write home about. As a natural habitat for parrots, however, it's definitely the opposite of good. I was once there in January and froze my pecker off. A bird that can't peck soon goes hungry but what bird eats blechküchen, anyway? Gott in Himmel! Gimme a bagel with a shmear of cream cheese.

Psittacus veridis fronte albo collo rubro

But enough about brunch at Nate n' Al's in Beverly Hills with a flock of ancient Hollywood dodos gumming schmaltz herring.

So, anyway, German linguist, entomologist and ornithologist Johann Leonhard Frisch began to publish Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland und beiläufig auch einiger Fremden nach ihrer Eigenschaften beschrieben in 1733. Following his death, the book was continued by his sons Leopold, who handled the text, and Ferdinand Helfreich and Philip Jakob who took care of the engraving and coloring of the plates, while a member of the third generation, Johann’s grandson Johann Christoph, created the final thirty plates. In 1763, the year the last part was issued, a second edition of the entire work appeared in Berlin from publisher Bey Friedrich Wilhelm Birnstiel.

Psittacus Rufus alis viridis
(Lorius garrulus garrulus).
Chattering Lory.

Here's the skinny on it: “One of the most enjoyable of all bird books but rare...Frisch's 'Vorstellung der Vogel' is not only an attractive book but it is very, very seldom seen. And there is no doubt whatever that this makes it much more exciting, when we do see it, or possess it" (Sitwell, et al, Fine Bird Books 1700-1900, p. 67).

How rare is it? Rarer than a rocky island off the coast of Peru without guano. (NB: bird guano has a fertilizer analysis of 11%-16% nitrogen - the majority of which is uric acid, FYI - 8%-12% equivalent phosphoric acid, and 2%-3% equivalent potash. Thank me the next time this comes up in casual conversation).

¿Quánto cuesta? When Gertz told me how much this copy of the third edition was going for I instantly moulted all my feathers. Looking like a plucked anorexic dwarf chicken with prosthetic hooked pecker, I exclaimed in a screech heard all the way to Swaziland, "$119, 045!?!"

After repeating the exalted sum seventeen times (because repetition is reflexive and what we parrots do) I asked him what a complete copy of the first edition is worth. No copies have come to auction within the last thirty-eight years and who knows how much farther back than that: Gertz accidentally left his fifteen-volume set of the ABPC Index 1923-1975 in a nightclub while partying with Rihanna, perusing it while she danced a wild tarantella on a tabletop, spliff insouciantly hanging from her lips while Chris Brown desperately clung to her hips. Still, he estimates a 1st ed. to go for $150K-$175K, maybe more. But what does Chris Brown know about rare books?

Polly wants a crack at it! No chance.

Psittacus Carolinensis
(Conuropsis carolinensis)
The Carolina Parakeet,
the only North American parrot, now extinct.

Alright, alright, alright, already, what are parrots doing in a book on the birds of Germany? it turns out that the third edition was augmented with a Supplement featuring some non-Aryan foreign species, I suppose to demonstrate the superiority of ornithology's master race by comparison. I tend to think, however, that a color-plate book of German birds needs a tonic to offset dull, drab, and dour Teutonic avifauna like Herr Schwartz's Brown Eagle below, hence the vivid splash of psittaciformes.

Der Schwartz braune Adler. Aquila melanaetus.

This copy also contains Verzeichniß der in Ferdinand Helfreich Frisch Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland...abgebildete Säugethiere und Vögel, nach der 13ten Ausgabe des von J.G. Gemelin bearbeiteten Linne’schen Natursystems geordnet (Berlin: 1819), an extra twelve-page Linnean index for those who appreciate fine linneans with 400 thread-count. 

Upcoming: my review of Kim Jong-un's new book, The Juche-Inspired Socialist Birds of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Are the Masters of the Country's Development: A Field Guide For The Education Of The Masses Yearning To Eat. It's a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection.

In answer to Angel Louy, Ph.D of Stamps, Arkansas: I know why the caged bird writes: the Met turned me down, the fools. Luciano Pavarotti? You haven't lived until you've heard me as Canio croon the intro verse of Vesti la Giubba - obviously written with a parrot in mind* - with typically psychotic psittacine chuckles passing for sorrowfully ironic laughter: 

Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio,
non so più quel che dico,
e quel che faccio!
Eppur è d'uopo, sforzati!
Bah! Sei tu forse un pappagallo?

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

 Lo sono un pagliaccio!
 Lo sono un pagliaccio!
 Lo sono un pagliaccio!
 Lo sono un pagliaccio!

*Act! While in delirium,
I no longer know what I say,
or what I do!
And yet it's necessary... make an effort!
Bah! Are you not a parrot?

I am a clown!

With apologies to Leoncavallo.

FRISCH, Johann Leonhard. Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland und beiläufig auch einiger Fremden nach ihrer Eigenschaften beschrieben.Berlin, Nicolaische Buchhandlung, 1817[-1820]. Third and most complete edition. 14 parts in 1 volume. Folio. With engraved frontispiece with a portrait of Johann Leonhard and Ferdinand Helfreich Frisch, 255 contemporaneously hand-colored engraved plates (31 x 20 cm.

Anker 155. Nissen  ZBI 339. Wood, p. 349. Zimmer I, pp. 233-234. Sitwell, p. 67, 76.

Images courtesy of Asher Rare Books / Antiquariat Forum, currently offering this title, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

The Writing Parrot On Rare Parrot Books.


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