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Strecker’s Rare Plate Book on Lepidoptera

Including Lithographs of Specimens Collected in Texas

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514.     STRECKER, Herman [Ferdinand Heinrich] (author & artist). Lepidoptera, Rhopaloceres and Heteroceres, Indigenous and Exotic; with Descriptions and Colored Illustrations, by Herman Strecker. Reading, Pennsylvania: Printed for the Author, January 1, 1872 [1879]. [1-4] 5-143 [1, blank] pp., 14 (of 15) plates drawn on stone and hand-colored by Strecker, illustrating over 200 specimens (wanting Plate IV, provided in color facsimile). 4to (29 x 23.6 cm), contemporary three-quarter dark brown roan over brown cloth, spine gilt-lettered and with raised bands, edges red. Professionally recased, new sympathetic front endpaper supplied. Hinges and spine worn, corners moderately bumped, cloth slightly stained. Title page and first few leaves lightly stained, last signature and one plate with mild waterstaining at top right, a few leaves at very end and lower endpapers with juvenile scribbling and drawings in purple pencil, overall text good. Plates generally fine. Contemporary binder’s pencil note on title “C.H. Peakham | 1 vol | T. Red Edge | Brown Cloth.”

Second edition (first edition, 15 parts, 1872-1877; three supplements without plates were published in 1898-1900). Bennett, American Nineteenth-Century Color Plate Books, p. 102 (first edition). British Museum (Natural History), p. 2035 (first edition). The history of printing the first edition is given in the following article containing an interview with Herman Strecker in 1887: H.B. Weiss, Journal of the New York Entomological Society, Vol. 61, No. 4, pp. 201-210:

There was something almost pathetic in the naturalist’s struggles to publish his first book. Of course it was about butterflies. A work on that subject is expensive, for it must be illustrated with colored plates. Mr. Strecker saved enough money to buy a lithographic stone, and then drew and engraved upon it the group of butterflies to appear on the first page of illustrations. He sent the stone to Philadelphia, and expended his last spare dollar in having 300 plates printed from it. Then the stone was returned, and he cleaned it and drew upon it another group of butterflies. By the time the work was completed, he had hoarded enough money to pay for the printing of 300 impressions from the stone. Thus the stone traveled back and forth between Reading and Philadelphia until the plates were all finished. Then the text was printed and the book issued. The 300 copies were soon sold, but the demand for the work increased. Alas, the poor artist had destroyed his lithographic work necessary for the illustrations, and he could not meet the demand. The book is, of course, now out of print, and worth a fabulous sum.

     In the preface to this second edition, Strecker remarks that he eventually started making enough money on the first edition to order overruns of some of the lithographs. However, for the second edition, he apparently had to redraw and reprint the earliest lithographs. The text sheets, he says, contain corrected text, but otherwise this edition is the same as the first. Which plates here survive from the first edition and which are redone is unknown. In the present edition, some of the images, all of which were hand-finished by Strecker himself, have been either highlighted with or painted directly on mica flakes to reproduce the natural iridescence of the wings of some of the specimens. The resulting images are exceptionally detailed, precise, accurate, and refined. The paper used to print the first few plates is on thinner, coated stock, whereas the remaining plates are on thick, uncoated paper.

     Strecker states that the work includes specimens from around the world, all of which have never been illustrated. Most of the specimens, however, are North American, including California, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and Texas. Strecker’s work will be included in Dr. Ron Tyler’s forthcoming work on nineteenth-century lithographs of Texas. Tyler identifies twenty-one illustrated specimens collected in Texas, primarily either by Jacob Boll or by members of the Pope and Ruffner expeditions. Boll (1828-1880), according to Strecker’s text, collected nineteen of the twenty-one specimens shown here. Boll, a colleague of Louis Agassiz, collected in Texas during 1870, before returning to the East and eventually to his native Switzerland. In 1874, he settled in Dallas, Texas, and resumed his biological collecting. He was known for his large collection of tiny butterflies and moths, in addition to other biological specimens he collected. See Handbook of Texas Online.

     German-born Herman Ferdinand Heinrich Strecker (1836-1901) was a sculptor by trade, to which he was apprenticed by his father at a very early age, but his fame derives from his outstanding work as an outstanding amateur biologist. On his mother’s side were three naturalist-artists especially noted in U.S. Western exploration, Benjamin, Richard, and Edward Kern. Spending most of his life in Reading, Pennsylvania, Strecker nevertheless managed to travel extensively in the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico. Because of his intense interest, passion, and tenacity in the study of Lepidoptera, he eventually amassed the largest collection of those insects in existence accumulated from all over the world by himself and his far-flung colleagues, who supplied him with specimens. During his latter years he was considered the greatest collector of and writer about American butterflies and was known to every collector. On his death, his collection of about one hundred thousand specimens was acquired by the Field Museum for $20,000. Although not highly educated, Strecker was a recognized expert in his field and given an honorary doctorate by Franklin and Marshall College.



Auction 22 Abstracts

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