Press release: 19th century ornithological volumes at risk of leaving the UK

Department For Culture Media Sport

June 18
23:00 2024

  • Volumes valued at nearly 130,000
  • Export bar is to allow time for a UK gallery or institution to acquire the work

An export bar has been placed on the 19th century volumes of A history of the birds of Europe by H. E. Dresser.

The books have a recommended price of 127,000 and are at risk of leaving the UK unless a domestic buyer can be found to acquire them for the nation.

Henry Eeles Dresser (1838-1915) is considered to be one of the most influential ornithologists of the late 19th century. His work was cited by the likes of John Gould in his The Birds of Great Britain, and he published major articles on the subject of ornithology that helped progress the study of the behaviour of birds as a science.

Dresser used many leading bird illustrators to create the lithographic plates for the imagery that would accompany his text within these volumes. This particular set was Dressers private and unique copy which he had specially printed. They include the original colour proofs painted by the artists, which were used to produce all other published copies of the volumes.

The decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. The Committee made its recommendation on the basis that the volumes met the third Waverley criterion for their outstanding significance to the study of book publishing and printing technique, as well as ornithological representation, illustration, and annotation. They were also found to be of outstanding significance to the study of Dressers own collection.

Committee member Mark Hallett said:

This remarkable private edition of H. E. Dressers celebrated A History of the Birds of Europe offers a rich research resource for all those interested in the history of ornithology and in the visual representation of birdlife in nineteenth-century Britain. Published for the author, and featuring numerous written annotations by Dresser himself, this series of seventeen volumes is further distinguished by the hundreds of original, hand-coloured plates that illustrate his text, produced by some of the leading wildlife artists of the day.

If saved for the UK, this unique version of A History of the Birds of Europe would not only serve as a scholarly treasure-trove in its own right; it would also provide the perfect complement to the major Dresser archive of ornithological specimens held at the Manchester Museum.

The decision on the export licence application for the volumes will be deferred for a period ending on 18 September 2024 (inclusive). At the end of the first deferral period owners will have a consideration period of 15 Business Days to consider any offer(s) to purchase the volumes at the recommended price of 127,000. The second deferral period will commence following the signing of an Option Agreement and will last for three months.

Notes to editors

  1. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the volumes should contact the RCEWA on 02072680534 or

  2. Details of the volumes are as follows: 17 volumes comprising 9 volumes of text (including index and supplement) and 8 volumes of plates. Large quarto size (320 x 250 mm). Authors own unique copy with signed bookplate.

  3. Provenance: Private collection of the author of the volumes, Henry Eeles Dresser (18381915) of which they were his own copy. They hold his bookplate and his signature, to index volume.

  4. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by the Arts Council (ACE), which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specifi

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