Category Archives: History of Science

Smooth-billed Ani — in Philadelphia!

Like most birders, Philadelphians get excited about a rare bird. With over 250 years of bird records from Philadelphia, the birthplace of American ornithology, there are very few species that have been detected in the city only once—the rarest of the rare.


ANSP 24271. Ornithology Department, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (Photo: M. Halley)

One of the most mind-boggling records is actually not well known by birders today—a Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) was collected in the 1850s by John Krider, apparently on an island in the Delaware River near Kensington, Philadelphia. Today, and during Krider’s time as well (Baird 1860), the nearest breeding ground of this Neotropical cuckoo-relative (Cuculidae) is in southern Florida. Otherwise, the species is a widely distributed breeder in the tropical and subtropical savannas of the Caribbean, Central and South America.


ANSP 24271, label verbatim: “Shot on Peters Is. Delaware Riv. opp. Kensington Pa. J Krider Coll.” (Photo by M. Halley)


Closeup of Charles Ellet Jr.’s (1843) map of Philadelphia, showing the location of Petty’s Island in the Delaware River.

However, the island opposite Kensington is called Petty Island today (not Peters Island, which is actually in the Schuylkill River near Montgomery Dr.), and during Krider’s time it was called Petty’s Island — so something here is amiss. To confuse things further, in Krider’s (1879:16–17) published account there is no mention of the island, and it actually implies that the bird was collected in the expansive meadows of South Philadelphia (i.e., Passyunk, Moyamensing), a habitat that would later be consumed by urban development: “The Ani is a southern bird. I shot one specimen in the month of September, in the meadows below the built-up part of the City of Philadelphia. It was flying in company with a flock of rusty Gracles [probably Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscala, or perhaps Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus]; the specimen is now in the Academy of Natural Sciences.”

So the precise locality where the bird was collected is uncertain, because Krider’s (1879) account disagrees with the information on the (not original) specimen label. Nevertheless, it was evidently collected in one of the marshes along the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

Spencer Baird (1860:73) wrote: “A Crotophaga, killed near Philadelphia, and now in the collection of the Philadelphia Academy, appears to be a typical C. ani (as described by Burmeister) in the smoothness of the bill and other peculiarities. It is decidedly smaller than rugirostris, the culmen straight at its highest point, the anterior extremities of this nearly straight portion anterior to the nostril. The colors are, however, almost precisely the same with those of rugirostris. Length, 12 inches: wing, 6.10; tail, 7.75; tarsus, 1.25; chord of culmen, 1.15.”

Baird, S. F. 1860. The birds of North America: the descriptions of species based chiefly on the collections in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.
Krider, J. 1879. Forty years notes of a field ornithologist. Philadelphia: Joseph H. Weston.

1831: The Academy gets tax-exempt status!

The first 20 years of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia were an uncertain time, and had it not been for the generosity of William Maclure (1763–1840), known in perpetuity as the ‘Father of American Geology’, the persistence of the now storied institution through that period would be doubtful. But others too, including corresponding secretary Reuben Haines III, about whom I have written much, had the long-term scientific mission of the Academy in mind, and made steps to secure its finances for that reason. In 1831, a major step toward that goal was achieved — the Academy received tax exempt status by the PA state legislature.


In the Academy Library & Archives (Collection 396), there is a facsimile of a letter (above) dated February 22, 1831, written by Haines to his state representative, Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis, that chronicles the event:

Hall of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Philadelphia, February 22nd 1831.

I am instructed by the Academy to return you the sincere thanks of the Members for your zealous and successful exertions in obtaining for our institution an exemption from taxes. The Academy will be at all times particularly flattered by your cooperation in promoting its views; and any of the natural productions of Pennsylvania, or of the other states in the Union which may come under your notice, will be gratefully acknowledged.

I am sir, with great respect,
your obediant servant.
R Haines
Corresponding Secty

The Academy apparently acquired the letter over 100 years after it was written; presumably it was initially been passed down through the family of Colonel Davis. It was donated to the Academy by William C. Meek, as documented in a 1962 letter from Academy librarian Venia T. Phillips to Mr. Meek, thanking him for the gift:

January 11, 1962

Dear Mr. Zeek,

I was very happy to have an opportunity to look at the letter pertaining to the Academy of Natural Sciences. This Reuben Haines, who signed it, was Corresponding Secretary between February 15, 1814 and October 16, 1831 in which year he died in office, so you see the letter written by him on February 22, 1831 would have been one of his very late letters. I understand from Miss Dicken that we were priveleged to have a copy of this made for our files, which I have done.

Please accept our sincere thanks for the courtesy in regard to the matter.

Sincerely yours,
(Mrs.) Venia T. Phillips
Manuscript Librarian

Audubon and the Academy of Natural Sciences: It’s complicated.


Oil portrait of Audubon by John Syme, 1826. Source: Wikipedia.

In the halls of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University you will occasionally hear it mentioned, in a slightly boastful way, that the Academy was an “original subscriber” to John James Audubon’s masterpiece The Birds of America. This statement is technically true, because the Academy became a subscriber shortly after the work was published, probably around 1831, but it is also disingenuous. In 1824, when Audubon came to the Academy in search of an engraver and/or publisher, he was turned away and later rejected for membership. As the story is told, Audubon drummed up some animosity with George Ord and engraver Alexander Lawson, who had worked with the late Alexander Wilson and were at the time financially invested in publishing a second edition of Wilson’s American Ornithology. It may be that Audubon’s extraordinary talent was perceived as threatening to the success of that venture, or perhaps his paintings were simply too difficult to engrave but Lawson was too proud to admit it—either way, Audubon met significant resistance to his plan.

Reuben Haines III, corresponding secretary of the Academy, took a liking to Audubon and invited him to his country estate called Wyck, which is now engulfed by urban development in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Audubon stayed at Wyck on July 25th, and the next day traveled to his teenage home Mill Grove, in Haines’s carriage. That evening they dined with the famous clockmaker Isaiah Lukens at Mill Grove, which was at that time under the ownership of Mr. Wetherill, who had bought the property from the Audubons many years prior.

At the next meeting of the Academy, on the evening of July 27, Audubon was nominated for corresponding membership by Haines, Lukens, and the French naturalist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur. But his nomination was “black-balled” (rejected) in a vote on August 31. In a recent facebook post, Academy archivist Jennifer Vess described the balloting procedure that was used:

“After the founders’ meeting, it was decreed that every new member must be nominated by two active members, his name read before the group and voted on at the next business meeting. A single black marble in the voting box meant the nominee had been rejected. It was presumed that the prospective member knew nothing of his nomination, so that the insult of being rejected would not be known by him. If black-balled, the nomination blank was destroyed to remove any record of the outcome of the election.”


Original record of nomination of “J. J. Audubon, Natchez Correspondent,” on July 27, 1824, by C. A. Lesueur, R. Haines, and I. Lukens. Notably, Audubon was the only nominee rejected by vote (“X”) on August 31. Courtesy of the Library and Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences, collection 115.

It is curious that Audubon’s rejection was not destroyed as was the custom, and there is no evidence of any reason why—so cue the speculations. Two relevant facts are that Audubon was no longer in Philadelphia when the vote was cast, and that he was stressed about his failure to find support in America. In a recently discovered letter from Audubon to Haines dated December 25, 1825, the desperate ornithologist pleaded for help one last time:


A wooden ballot box like those used in the 1824 vote – perhaps the same one. (Image courtesy of the Library & Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences, coll. 115)

“Now my dear Mr Haines I must change my subject.—I must touch the only thing that ever vibrated sorrow to my heart.—I must leave America.—And you, and a few more friends.—I must go and seek far from my few connections, a […] purse for my long labours with as little hope to obtain this abroad as I am sure never to possess it in this my beloved country.—I assure you I count every day that are to [elapse] between this and the awfull moment when the sails will be spread that will waft off the vessel bearing my hopes, much like he who consigned to unmerited punishment hopes and yet dreads that another world will not be better to him than the one he is about to leave for ever.—With an allmost despairing heart I shall leave America early this ensuing spring, and now bid you my farewell.—Yes it is my farewell indeed for unless a success scarce expected should take place, I never will review this happy continent, will have to abandon my long acquired habits of watching nature at work and will droop moreso amongst the dreg of the world as it is called.” (Halley 2015, ‘The Heart of Audubon‘)

Audubon later published a more subdued synopsis of the events, practically bereft of emotion, in Ornithological Biography (1831: xiv; bracketed names mine):

“America being my country, and the principal pleasures of my life having been obtained there, I prepared to leave it with deep sorrow, after in vain trying to publish my Illustrations in the United States. In Philadelphia, Wilson’s principal engraver [Lawson], amongst others [Ord], gave it as his opinion to my friends [Bonaparte, Haines, Lesueur], that my drawings could never be engraved. In New York, other difficulties presented themselves, which determined me to carry my collections to Europe.”

Years later, after The Birds of America was a sensational hit, on September 27, 1831, Audubon’s name was again moved to nomination for Academy membership, and this time the vote passed despite Ord’s continuing enmity. He became a corresponding member on October 25th, 1831, but sadly, his friend and confidante Reuben Haines missed the vote, having died of a laudanum overdose six days earlier…but that is another story.


Original record of Audubon’s second (and successful) nomination, on Sept 27, 1831, the numerous signatories, and the election on October 25th, 1831. Courtesy of the Library & Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences, collection 115.

Thanks to Jennifer Vess and the staff of the Library & Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences, and Bert Filemyr of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club for insightful comments that improved historical accuracy.

Witmer Stone was born 150 years ago today.


Witmer Stone in his youth. (

If you watch birds in southeast Pennsylvania or New Jersey, chances are you have heard of Witmer Stone (1866–1939), naturalist, historian of science, co-founder of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) and first editor of its journal Cassinia. Among other accomplishments, Stone was also President of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) from 1920–23 and Editor of its journal The Auk from 1912–36. He played a critical role in restoring the bird collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia during the 1890s, after it had been neglected for years following the death of John Cassin (1813–69), and he added to the collection by joining Academy expeditions to Bermuda, Cuba, and Mexico, among other places.

Recently, I was elected to Stone’s old position, Editor of the DVOC and Cassinia, and I have been using data from Stone’s bird collections in my research at the Academy. A few months ago, while rummaging through a box of old items that were going to be discarded, I found and saved a treasure—an autographed reprint of Stone’s 1890 article ‘Birds collected in Yucatan and southern Mexico’, from the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. At the top of the pamphlet reads “Mr Serrill with the compliments of Witmer Stone”. Evidently the reprint was a gift from Stone to William J. Serrill (?–1952), who had joined the DVOC in 1891 and was an active member (and later Fellow) of the club for 61 years.

In early 1890, Stone accompanied malacologist Frank C. Baker (1867–1942) and geologist Angelo Heilprin (1853–1907) on an Academy expedition to the Yucatan, by way of Cuba. Stone was a young man—24 years old—just beginning his scientific career. Incidentally, I was the same age (23-24) when I joined my first field expedition, to study manakins (Manacus spp.) in western Panama with Adam Stein, so I can empathize a bit with Stone at this period of his life. He must have been very excited when this paper came out in the Proceedings. The ornithological community of Philadelphia was in the midst of a Renaissance, largely due to Stone’s prolific energy—the DVOC was founded that same year, and Stone mobilized a crew of birders to monitor the spring and fall migrations at multiple sites around the city. I think that Stone would be proud that today we are continuing his legacy of citizen science, and that the DVOC is still a thriving organization where professional and avocational ornithologists mingle to celebrate and share their mutual passion for birds. Happy birthday Dr. Stone — your legacy continues!

For a lot more about Witmer Stone, check out Scott McConnell’s excellent biography Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature.




Genetic sampling of Townsend’s 1835 type specimens of Catharus

In 1834, pioneer naturalists Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859) and John Kirk Townsend (1809–51) ventured westward with the second expedition of Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth (1802–56), across the Rocky Mountains and eventually to the mouth of the Columbia River. The trip was a huge success, and Townsend discovered numerous bird species that were previously unknown to science. In 1836, Townsend opted to venture farther west to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and so entrusted his bird collection to Nuttall, who returned with it to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. There, the specimens were eagerly awaited by John James Audubon (1785–1851), who was preparing the final plates for The Birds of America:

“Dr Townsend’s collection was at Philadelphia; my anxiety to examine his specimens was extreme…Having obtained access to the collection I turned over and over the new and rare species but he [Townsend] was absent at Fort Vancouver on the shores of the Columbia River, Thomas Nuttall had not yet come from Boston and loud murmurs were uttered by the soidisant friends of science, who objected to my seeing, much less portraying and describing, these valuable relics of birds, many of which had not yet been introduced into our fauna.” Audubon (1838:xi)


Paralectotype of Catharus guttatus nanus, collected by Townsend and described by Audubon (1839)

Among the specimens in the collection were two thrushes new to science, that we now know as Catharus ustulatus Nuttall (i.e., Swainson’s Thrush) and Catharus guttatus nanus Audubon (now considered a subspecies of Hermit Thrush). The prepared specimens are still in the Academy collection. See my previous post about the discovery and description of the C. ustulatus type.

Today, I harvested a tiny sample of skin from the C. ustulatus holotype, and a paralectotype of C. g. nanus—both collected by Townsend during the Wyeth expedition. The samples will be prepared and submitted for DNA sequencing—genetic data that will be included in my dissertation work on the systematics, evolution, and taxonomy of the genus Catharus. These two type specimens, which were examined 180 years ago by Townsend, Nuttall, and Audubon, will now be used again to clarify the ancestry and taxonomy of these species. I hope that, if they were alive today, Townsend and the rest would approve!


Collecting skin tissue for DNA sequencing from the holotype of Catharus ustulatus (ANSP #23644)—collected by Townsend and described by Nuttall (1840). Courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Photo: Steve Miller.



Katharine (Clark) Harding Day (1891–?), a forgotten female pioneer of American Ornithology

For several years now, I have been compiling information about a pioneer American ornithologist named Katharine Harding Day (1891–?), neé Katharine Clark, who everyone seems to have forgotten about. That she is not well known can be attributed, in part, to the systemic repression of women in science and other intellectual pursuits that was so prevalent during her time (e.g., the Matilda effect), a legacy that we are still grappling with today. Many ornithological societies of that era excluded women from membership, or if they included them, did it begrudgingly. Keep this in mind as you read on.

I will call her Katharine hereafter, to make the story easier to comprehend, since she published under two surnames. At this point, I cannot claim to have assembled anything more than a brief sketch of her life, and a bibliography of her scientific contributions, but these will at least serve to bring her name(s) out of the shadows, and perhaps to attract some other knowledgeable person to come forth with more details.

Names—this is one reason that Katharine faded into obscurity, whereas her contemporary Margaret Morse Nice (1883–1974) has become widely known among modern birders and ornithologists. Margaret married Leonard Nice in 1908, and then began her publishing career in 1910, using the same double-surname her entire life. By contrast, Katharine published under two surnames—Harding and Day—both being acquired in marriage, and for most of her life, men referred to her (in print anyway) as “Mrs. <insert husband’s name here>”.

Yep, unless you read her papers closely, or know something of her life, you would probably think that these were two different women. That her friend and colleague Arthur Cleveland Bent (1866–1954), invariably referred to her in his famous Life Histories as “Mrs. Richard B. Harding”, speaks volumes to the sexism that permeated the ornithological community of that era. For context, women achieved the right to vote just five years before Katharine began her seminal studies of songbird behavior.benjaminprestonclark

There is a rare and out of print biography of Katharine’s father that was self-published by her mother after his death (Clark 1947). Thankfully, I was able to track down a copy, that incidentally originally belonged to Ellis W. Brewster, and so was able to piece together more of the story.

Katharine C. Clark was born on February 10, 1891, in Norfolk, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Josephine Frances Allen (1868–?) and Benjamin Preston Clark (1860–1939), an American entomologist with expert knowledge of sphinx moths (Family Sphingidae). In fact, Katharine’s father even named a species of Mexican sphinx moth after her:

“I have given this form the name [Xylophanes] katharinae in honor of my daughter Mrs. Richard B. Harding, because of her keen interest in science and because this form is so close to X. josephinae, named for my wife.” (Clark 1931)

See what I mean?  Even her own father called her by her husband’s name while honoring her with a new species! There is not to my knowledge, any digital image of X. katharinae, although there is a nice writeup on Wikipedia about the species. Incidentally, the holotypes of both X. josephinae and X. katharinae are at the Carnegie Museum, but I have not yet seen them.


Xylophanes josephinae Clark, collected at La Union, Zacapa, Guatemala. Source: Dorsal Side Collection of the Mathematician Laurent Schwartz (

On June 8, 1912, at the age of 21, Katharine married Richard Bruce Harding (1888–1945) at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal church in Cohasset, Massachusetts. In 1913, she gave birth to their first son, Richard Jr., and in 1917, their second, Robert. In 1922, the Hardings set up a bird banding station in Cohasset, and from 1925 to 1932, she published 15 times under the name K. C. Harding. These included reports of recaptured banded birds in the Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association (including its inaugural issue), and occasional notes on the nesting behavior of various species.

In 1924, Katharine spent five weeks at a camp near Holderness, New Hampshire, after which she published a short paper called “Semi-colonization of Veeries” from observations there. In that paper, she reported an unusually high density of nests and apparently no aggression among male Veeries (Harding 1925), foreshadowing my discovery of cooperative parental care and flexible mating systems in that species nearly a century later (Halley et al. 2016).

In 1930, Katharine presented on her studies of Black-throated Blue Warbler nesting behavior at the 48th meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union in Salem, New Hampshire, on October 21–24, 1930.


Group photo from the 1930 meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU), held at The Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachussetts, Oct. 21–24. (Source: Library of Congress)


Closeup of the 10 women included in the 1930 AOU photo. Each individual is numbered in the photo, but the key has apparently not been digitized. Which one is Katharine?

In 1931, she published in the Auk the research she had presented at the AOU meeting, the most comprehensive study of the nesting habits of the Black-throated Blue Warbler at that time, reporting on 15 nests of banded birds that were monitored over four breeding seasons (1928–1931). That paper also included detailed descriptions of nest building and parental care (Harding 1931). Her last note in Bird-Banding published under the surname Harding, came out in 1943, in which she reported an 8 year old Song Sparrow, which at the time was a remarkable record.


Her sons Richard and Robert married, in 1938 and 1942 respectively, and their father Richard B. Harding (Katherine’s spouse) passed away on February 4, 1945. Three years later, Katharine married Freeman Day (June 12, 1948) and apparently moved with him to Eugene, Oregon. This information is gleaned from the address line of a paper she published in 1953 as “Katherine C. Day”, about the same Veery project from Holderness, New Hampshire, that she had written about previously (Harding 1925). This paper—”Home Life of the Veery”—summarized nesting data collected from 1926–32, and remained for years the only substantial paper on Veery nesting behavior (albeit of unbanded birds).

This is where, for the time being, the trail runs cold. Are there any living descendants of Katharine out there, descended from her sons Richard and Robert? The family tree in her father’s biography (Clark 1947) confirms that they had children of their own in the mid-1940s. Were Katharine’s field notebooks passed down in the family? Do they still exist?

If you know something, please share!


Pearse, E. H. D. 1954. List of descendants of John Davis and Hannah Davis Williams. Self-published.

Clark, B. P. 1931. Descriptions of seven new Sphingidae and a note on one other. Proceedings of the New England Zoological Club 12, 77–83.

Clark, J. F. 1947. Benjamin Preston Clark. Thomas Todd Co., Boston, MA.


Katherine (Clark) Harding Day — Bibliography

Harding, K. C. 1925. Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos polyglottos) nesting in Cohasset, Mass. Auk 42(1):141–142.

Harding, K. C. 1925. Semi-colonization of Veeries. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 1:4–7.

Harding, R. B., and K. C. Harding. 1925. Juncos with diseased feet. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(2):39–40.

Harding, K. C. 1926. Tree Sparrow Returns. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(1):16

Harding, R. B., and K. C. Harding. 1926. White-throats in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(2):37

Harding, K. C. 1926. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(1):16.

Harding, K. G. [sic] 1927. A Black-throated Blue Warbler return near Lake Asquam, New Hampshire. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 3(3):74–75.

Harding, K. C. 1927. A partial record of the nesting of the Kingfisher. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 3(3):69–70.

Harding, K. C. 1927. The protection of ground nests while under observation. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 3(3):54–55.

Harding, K. C. 1928. Purple Finch’s nesting ceremony. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 4(3):108.

Harding, K. C. 1929. A White-throated Sparrow Return. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 4(1):29.

Harding, K. C. 1929. Further observations on the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 5(2):77–80.

Harding, K. C. 1929. Outwitting a Saw-whet Owl. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 5(2):36.

Harding, K. C. 1930. A change in the nesting-habits of the Wood Pewee. Bird-Banding 1:144.

Harding, K. C. 1931. Nesting habits of the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Auk 48:512–522.

Harding, K. C. 1931. Cerulean Warbler in Holderness, New Hampshire. Auk 47:90.

Harding, K. C. 1932. Age record of Black-capped Chickadee. Bird-Banding 3:18.

Harding, Katherine G. [sic] 1942. A Purple Finch Recovery. Bird-Banding 13(3):121.

Harding, Katherine G. [sic] 1942. Unusual Chickadee Returns. Bird-Banding 13(3):121.

Harding, Katharine C. 1943. An eight year old Song Sparrow. Bird-Banding 14(3):77.

Harding, K. C. 1943. Banding a Scarlet Tanager. Bird-Banding 14(3):76.

Day, K. C. 1953. Home life of the Veery. Bird-Banding 24:100–106.




Audubon’s Search for the Perfect Paint


Early photograph of Daniel B. Smith (Source: Wikipedia)

Here is a peculiar bit of trivia about the ornithologist and painter John James Audubon (1785–1851): He didn’t like to grind his own watercolor pigments. In his 1826 journal, he confessed, “it makes me hot and fretful, and, I am convinced, has a bad effect on the mind of any artist.” Because of this, he was always on the look out for fine watercolor pigments, which were, as you might imagine, hard to come by in the 1820s.

When he came to Philadelphia in 1824, Audubon was introduced to Daniel B. Smith (1792–1883), an influential pharmacist who owned a popular store in downtown Philadelphia (est. 1819), and who was, in 1821, a founder of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now University of the Sciences). Smith was also a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, where Audubon was eager to make allies (but not always successful; see my paper on the “Heart of Audubon“). As it turns out, Smith was well connected and knew just the guy for Audubon—a manufacturer of watercolors named George C. Osborn, to whom he referred the ornithologist with great success.

There is an unpublished letter from Audubon to Smith, dated July 12, 1824, that can be found among Smith’s papers in the Quaker and Special Collections of the Haverford College Library. And on that day, according to excerpts from his 1824 journal published by Buchanan (1868), Audubon was networking like a champ:


Audubon in 1826, painted by J. Syme (Source: Wikipedia)

“July 12. Visited by Mr. Gilpin, who thirty-three years ago discovered the lead ore on Mill Grove. Called on Dr. Harlan, an amiable physician and naturalist, and a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Gave him some of my drawings, and he promised me letters to the Royal Academy of France, and afterwards nominated me for membership to the Academy in Philadelphia.” [This last part was not actually true.]

Needless to say, the industrious Audubon was very excited about the new paints he acquired from Osborn:

Philadelphia July 12th 1824

Dear Sir,

After close observation and use of the watter colors prepared by George C. Osborn—it gives me great Satisfaction to say that I consider them generally as the best I have met with in the United States, either Manufactured here or Imported from abroad.—They possess the good quality of Mellowing softly into their latest [?] teints and of retaining their Brilliancy even when exposed to the influence of the Sun.

I remain, Dr. [Dear] Sir, Respectfully Yours, Obd St. [Obediant Servant],

John James Audubon


This post was inspired by Katrina Rakowski, bird painter extraordinaire. And, as always, thanks to the wonderful staff in the Quaker and Special Collections at the Haverford College Library, especially Sarah Horowitz, Ann Upton, and Krista Oldham.