Gould the publisher

John Gould was an immensely successful publisher. Over the course of his lifetime he produced 21 titles, 15 of which were folio sets consisting of 49 volumes containing 2999 unique plates. In 1870, 1062 individuals, institutions and libraries possessed one or more of his titles and, at one point, Gould's subscription list was valued at £143,000.

John Gould, 1860s

Unknown © University of Sydney Library

Gould's publishing legacy

Gould had quickly recognised the commercial possibilities offered by the hand-coloured lithographic format in a limited edition. Gould also understood the importance of selling to institutions such as public, university and museum libraries. The complete sets held by these institutions have become increasingly rare, given the breaking up of many of the volumes once owned by private individuals.

The illustrated folio works of John Gould

  • 1830-33 A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains 1 volume, 80 plates; London.
  • 1832-37 The Birds of Europe 5 volumes, 22 parts, 448 plates; London.
  • 1833-35 A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans 1 volume, 3 parts, 34 plates; London.
  • 1835-38 Monograph of the Trogonidae, or Family of Trogons 1 volume, 3 parts, 36 plates; London.
  • 1837-38 The Birds of Australia and the Adjacent Islands 1 volume, 2 parts, 20 plates; London (later suppressed).
  • 1837-38 Icones Avium, or Figures and Descriptions of New and Interesting Species of Birds from Various Parts of the Globe ('world' in part 2) 1 volume, 2 parts, 18 plates; London.
  • 1840-48 The Birds of Australia 7 volumes, 36 parts, 600 plates; London.
  • 1841-42 A Monograph of the Macropodidae, or Family of Kangaroos, 1 volume, 2 parts, 30 plates; London.
  • 1844-50 A Monograph of the Odontophorinae, or Partridges of America, 1 volume, 3 parts, 32 plates; London.
  • 1845-63 The Mammals of Australia 3 volumes, 13 parts, 182 plates; London.
  • 1849-61 A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds, 5 volumes, 25 parts, 360 plates; London.
  • 1849-83 The Birds of Asia 35 parts, 7 volumes, 530 plates; London (completed by R Bowdler Sharpe).
  • 1851-69 Supplement to The Birds of Australia, 1 volume, 5 parts, 81 plates; London.
  • 1852-54 A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans, 2nd edition, 1 volume, 3 parts, 52 plates; London.
  • 1855 Supplement to the first edition of 'A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans', 1 volume, 2 parts, 20 plates; London.
  • 1858-75 A Monograph of the Trogonidae, or Family of Trogons, 2nd edition, 1 volume, 4 parts, 47 plates; London.
  • 1862-73 The Birds of Great Britain 5 volumes, 25 parts, 367 plates; London.
  • 1875-88 The Birds of New Guinea, and the Adjacent Papuan Islands 5 volumes, 25 parts, 320 plates; London (completed by R Bowdler Sharpe).
  • 1880-81 A Monograph of the Pittidae, or Ant-Thrushes of the Old World, 1 volume, 2 parts,10 plates; London (incomplete).
  • 1880-87 Supplement to the 'Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Humming-birds' 1 volume, 5 parts, 58 plates; London (completed by R Bowdler Sharpe).

Gould's set of folios

I bequeath to my daughter Eliza Muskett ... the complete set or copy of my ornithological works which I use as my own private Library copy ... but my wish is that they shall all be kept in the family in the nature of heirlooms.

Gould, John, 'Gould will', Somerset House, London, 1878

At the height of 'Gould fever' in the late 1980s, Gould's complete personal set was offered for sale in England, but no buyer could be found for the £350,000 price tag. Each title was then auctioned separately, raising little more than the original asking price.

John Gould's copy of The Birds of Australia, one of only 250 sets published, along with his Mammals of Australia, A Monograph of the Macropodidae and Birds of New Guinea were sold to an Australian bidder in 1987. Their owner subsequently broke up the volumes and auctioned 1213 plates individually.


Matthew Stephens
Ms Leone Lemmer
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