A Bookplate for the Birds

Swann, H. Kirke, 1871-1926. A Synopsis of the Accipitres (Diurnal Birds of Prey), Comprising Species and Subspecies Described up to 1920, with their Characters and Distribution. 2nd edition, revised and corrected throughout. London: Privately Printed for the Author, 1921-1922.

The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History has a number of rare volumes formerly owned by naturalists. Some of the books have autographs or inscriptions attesting to their provenance. Occasionally, a book may have a special binding design or stamp to honor its former owner. However, my favorite symbol of ownership happens to be the custom bookplate, and the book featured this week has a particularly elegant example.

The book, recently acquired by the Cullman Library, is A Synopsis of the Accipitres (Diurnal Birds of Prey), by H. Kirke Swann (isn’t that a great name for the author of a bird book!). A noted ornithologist, Swann (1871-1926) worked for the natural history bookseller, Wheldon & Wesley, in Great Britain. Swann’s research on the Accipitres was based on his own collection of bird eggs and skins, as well as the fabulous collections at the British Museum.

This copy of Swann’s Synopsis of the Accipitres is from the second revised and corrected edition, privately printed for the author on large paper during the years 1921 and 1922. Only twenty-eight copies were printed in this edition. The text includes twenty-two leaves of colored plates illustrating eggs from the species featured in Swann’s book. A smaller, octavo-sized version of the second edition, lacking the colored plates, was also issued in 1921-1922.


The Cullman Library’s copy of the Synopsis of the Accipitres has a handsome bookplate identifying its former owner, Major John Frederick Robert Colebrook-Robjent. An accomplished ornithologist who lived on a farm in Zambia and specialized in the study of wild birds’ eggs, Major Colebrook-Robjent commissioned this bookplate which reflected his interest in birds. The design features a Hoopoe, an Old World bird with a dashing feather headdress that resembles a crown, which sits atop a heraldic device with the Latin motto “Servato Fidem” (meaning “Keep Faith”).

View this rare 2nd revised and corrected edition in BHL.

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Diane Shaw is a Special Collections cataloger at the Smithsonian Libraries.