American entomology, or descriptions of the insects of North America. Philadelphia Museum: Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1824-25-28.
Three volumes. 8vo. Extra engraved title page in Volume I. With 54 beautiful hand-coloured plates, each with accompanying text which includes description of generic and specific characteristics, as well as the author's observations. Half polished green calf and marbled boards, spines in six compartments with elaborate gilt and morocco spine labels. An exquisite copy from the library of Nannette and Richard Selig, the American poet and scholar, with their bookplate in each volume. $6,500.00
First edition of the first substantive American book on insects. Eighteenth-century publications dealt with specific insects, such as Paul Dudley's account of bees in 1723 and Moses Bartram;s work on the seventeen-year cicada in 1767. "Amateurs in the United States customarily sent specimens to Europe for identification . . . Say's entry into entomology changed that, for his published descriptions were accurate and readily usable by others . . . He was familiar with American and European literature on insects and was a natural taxonomist, showing excellent judgment in selecting the significant features of each species so that his descriptions did not leave taxonomic counfusion. Say described many important economic insects, which bear his name" (DSB). Apparently his collection of insects was neglected long after his death before finally being placed at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Say (1787-1834) was born in Philadelphia, the son and grandson of physician-apothecaries. In 1819-1820, Major Stephen Harriman Long led an exploration to the Rocky Mountains and the tributaries of the Missouri River with Thomas Say as zoologist. Later, in 1823, Say served as chief zoologist in Long's expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. He developed a friendship with William Maclure, president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, who founded the utopian community at New Harmony, Indiana, to which Say moved in 1825. His other major work was American conchology (1830-34).