200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 127: “Perry’s Arcana ”

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early 19th century illustration of a condor carrying off a human infant
Plate 7, the Condor Vulture (Andean condor, Vultur gryphus), from Perry’s Arcana. George Perry’s account for this bird related:  “Some writers have confidently affirmed that it has been known to carry away Children” The Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives is one of only four known repositories for the full set of Arcana. Paul Callomon, a collection manager at the Academy, scanned and digitally restored the text and plates for the 2009 facsimile edition.

Perry’s Arcana

In December 2009, the Academy announced the revival of one of the world’s rarest works on natural history, an early 19th-century nature magazine of which only 13 complete sets are known to exist. George Perry’s Arcana or Museum of Nature was published privately in London between 1810 and 1811. It was issued in monthly parts, each with one or two color plates. Perry set out to fascinate his readers with the latest discoveries from the edges of the known world. The Arcana’s 21 parts featured 84 plates and eclectic text about animals, birds, fish, insects, shells, fossils, and a palm tree, as well as travelogues from Africa and China.

The Academy teamed up with Temple University Press to reproduce the lavishly illustrated Arcana as a full-color, hardbound book, using state-of-the-art digital processes. A full collation and systematic review by Richard E. Petit, a leading authority on the history of natural science, brought the content up to date and laid out the new scientific names Perry introduced in its pages, many of which stood the test of time and remain in use today. Most of the plates in Arcana are based on sketches made at private menageries in the heart of London. Among them are several Australian mammals, including the first published picture of a koala. Perry’s gifted artists stayed mostly true to life, but took occasional liberties such as depicting a condor vulture bearing off a baby in its talons and a tiger leaping over a human skeleton. In the often florid text, Perry asserted his belief in the biblical flood, even while praising pioneer systematists such as Lamarck.

Printed on acid-free stock, this high-quality, hardbound book comprises 568 pages with 84 color plates and is available for purchase in the Academy Shop.

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