In 1876, Genevieve Jones, a young woman from Circleville, Ohio was inspired to contribute to the field of ornithology after seeing John James Audubon’s Birds of America on display in Philadelphia. She would contribute by creating an illustrated collection of the nests and eggs of birds found in Ohio. Genevieve and her father, Dr. Nelson Jones, both amateur naturalists, and her friend Eliza Shulze decided to take on the task, which proved so huge that it would take seven years to complete and nearly $14,000 to complete. Howard Jones, Genevieve’s younger brother collected the nests and eggs and took field notes while Genevieve and Eliza drew them, once on paper and then on stone to make a plate to print the image with, a technique called lithography. The finished stones were taken to Cincinnati to be professionally printed on the finest quality paper. Then the plates were released in 20 sets at a cost of $5 per set for color and $2.50 per set for black and white.
In July 1879, the first set was released to subscribers, many of whom were family friends, but others included ornithology journals and university libraries. Part One of the Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio was instantly praised for its meticulousness and detail in illustrating both the nests and eggs. Many more subscribers were gained due to the praise of their work, including President Rutherford B. Hayes and future president Theodore Roosevelt.
Sadly, Genevieve was struck with typhoid fever at the same time Part One was released and in just three weeks she died. But the Jones family vowed to continue on with the project in memory of her. Mrs. Virginia Jones, Genevieve’s mother, took over her daughter’s role as illustrator, and although she did not have the best skill at first, she eventually was able to draw with the same skill, precision and attention to detail as Genevieve had.
The task of completing the project had become a labor of love for the Jones family. After seven years and $13,181 the family had published around 90 full sets and only made $2,150 in return. Dr. Jones is quoted as saying in a 1901 letter to Boston publisher Bradley Whidden, “You may ask why such an arduous and expensive undertaking was consummated by one with moderate means – I know why, but no one else can ever understand.”
No matter what Dr. Jones’s reasons were, Ohio was left with an extraordinary legacy thanks to the family’s sacrifice and dedication. Of the less than one hundred copies of the Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio that were created, less that half are known to exist in libraries. The Cleveland Public Library is fortunate to own one full set plus addition plates from Part One.
Images from Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio are currently on display in the Special Collections Department of the Cleveland Public Library as part of the Experience Audubon event happening in during the month of April. Click here for more information.