DE KAY, James Ellsworth
[New York Natural History and Geological Survey.] Natural history of New York. 30 vols.Albany, NY: [Various], 1842 – 1894.
The New York Natural History and Geological Survey was established by the state legislature in 1836 under the direction of James Ellsworth DeKay. By far the most ambitious scientific project undertaken in the United States to that date, it was issued in six sections: Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Geology, Agriculture, and Paleontology. Volumes began to appear in 1842. The first four parts, a total of twelve volumes, were issued in 1842-44, and the five volumes of the Agriculture section between 1846 and 1854. The final section, Paleontology, began publication in 1846, but under its editor, James Hall, it took on a life of its own. Hall managed to turn it into a long career in his position as state paleontologist, ultimately issuing thirteen volumes where only one had been planned. Without Hall’s lobbying for additional state funds, the entire project would have been completed in the 1850s. Instead Hall was still in office, at age 83, when the final volumes were published.
Natural History of New York is notable for its vast array of color plates, and in later volumes its use of other innovative forms of natural history illustration. In all it contains several thousand plates, colored and uncolored, making it a project on the same scale as the Pacific Railroad Survey. The set is much less well known because far fewer volumes were produced than the U.S. government publications, but it clearly was the model on which the great U.S. surveys of the 1850s were based. Meisel includes a detailed collation.
Subjects: NATURAL HISTORY › Illustration, U.S.: CONTENT OF PUBLICATIONS BY STATE & TERRITORY › New York