Set of Gould folios Click to enlarge image
Set of Gould folios, illustration Image: -

John Gould was an immensely successful publisher. Over the course of his lifetime he produced 21 titles, 15 of which were folio sets consisting of 49 volumes, containing 2999 unique plates in total. In 1870, 1062 individuals, institutions and libraries possessed one or more of his titles and, at one point, Gould's subscription list was valued at £143,000.

John Gould

John Gould, 1860s Photographer: Unknown © University of Sydney Library

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© University of Sydney Library

Gould's publishing legacy

Gould had quickly recognised the commercial possibilities offered by the hand-coloured lithographic format in a limited edition. Gould also understood the importance of selling to institutions such as public, university and museum libraries. The complete sets held by these institutions have become increasingly rare, given the breaking up of many of the volumes once owned by private individuals.

The illustrated folio works of John Gould

Set of Gould folios

Gould Custom-Made Cabinet Photographer: Australian Museum Photography © Australia Museum Research Library

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Gould's personal folios

I bequeath to my daughter Eliza Muskett ... the complete set or copy of my ornithological works which I use as my own private Library copy ... but my wish is that they shall all be kept in the family in the nature of heirlooms. John Gould's will, Somerset House, London, 1878

At the height of 'Gould fever' in the late 1980s, Gould's complete personal set was offered for sale in England, but no buyer could be found for the £350,000 price tag. Each title was then auctioned separately, raising little more than the original asking price.

John Gould's copy of The Birds of Australia, one of only 250 sets published, along with his Mammals of Australia, A Monograph of the Macropodidae and Birds of New Guinea were sold to an Australian bidder in 1987. Their owner subsequently broke up the volumes and auctioned 1213 plates individually.