The Nature Book

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Ask the international book dealer Bernard Shapero why there’s such a demand for rare old natural history books and he’s quick to answer. “People love to be surrounded by things they know, and everyone knows what a bird looks like, or a plant or an animal,” he says. “In addition, they’re also usually extremely beautiful.” They certainly are. When large-scale natural history books, such as Daniel Giraud Elliot’s The New and Heretofore Unfigured Species of the Birds of North America shown here, were printed in the 1800s, each illustration was hand-painted. The time invested in creating the books, says Shapero, “made them extremely expensive”. One of the most valuable books ever sold, The Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851), fetched $12 million at auction, and contained 500 hand-tinted watercolors. Those interested in dipping a toe into the rare book market should look to dealers, who have hundreds of books for sale about natural history. The website of the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller lists dealers and fairs around the world.;