The antebellum South Carolina College library was specially strong in natural history and the sciences. Among its greatest treasures was a set of Audubon's huge double-elephant folio Birds of America, published in parts between 1828 and 1838, purchased for the College by special vote of the South Carolina legislature. Only 200 sets of this work were printed, and fewer than 130 complete sets, with all 435 plates, now survive. The story of the College's folio Audubons has been told by Davy-Jo Stribling Ridge in A Load of Gratitude: Audubon and South Carolina (Thomas Cooper Library, 1985), which complemented an extensive Audubon exhibit. The purpose of this exhibit, supported by the University's Bicentennial Commission, is to trace the development of bird illustration, to provide a context for viewing Audubon's achievement, and to show some of the important early bird books added to the antebellum holdings during the 1960's and 1970's by gift and purchase (notably from the gifts of Mrs. J. Henry Fair, Miss Claudia Lea Phelps, Mrs. Richard Wingate Lloyd, and through purchases from the John Shaw Billings Endowment).
The exhibit is arranged chronologically, starting with European bird illustrations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and ending with nineteenth-century American bird illustration after Audubon. The exhibit sequence covers the following topics:
Early Bird Illustration, I--Belon, Aldrovandi, Jonstonus
Early Bird Illustration, II--Nieremberg, Willughby
Mark Catesby's Natural History of the Carolinas
Some 18th Century Illustrators--Edwards and Pennant
Illustration Processes--Copperplate and Wood Engraving
Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology
John James Audubon's Birds of America
Audubon and John Bachman
Contemporaries and Rivals--Selby, Swainson, & Gould
American illustration after Audubon: De Kay & Cassin
Display items also include a print from the Alecto Press Catesby purchased in 1997 by the Thomas Cooper Society), a mid-18th century water-color (from the collection donated by Mrs. William Carroll Brown), and John Gould lithographs (donated by Mr. N. Heyward Clarkson, Jr.). One important precursor to Audubon, P.J. Selby's massive Illustrations of British Ornithology (1825), was too large for ordinary display, but has been included in this web exhibit.
In addition to its main archival set of Birds of America, Thomas Cooper Library has a smaller group of Audubons donated to the University by a local collector, Miss Jennie Haddock Feagle (1896-1993). Miss Feagle's stunning series of the three double-elephant folio versions of Audubon's first plate, the American wild turkey (Lizars, 1827; Havell, 1828; Bien, 1859) is on permanent display in the entrance to the rare books reading room, the Jennie Haddock Feagle Hall.