North American Birds Eggs
It was the only book copyrighted under Chester A. Reed’s name. The copyright for the other books belonged to his father, Charles K. Reed.
In a letter for Mr. F. M. Chapman in November 1903, Chester informed him that he was preparing a book about bird eggs, in the same format as Mr. Chapman’s newly published book, “Color Key to Birds of North America.” Chester asked his permission to take pictures of some eggs from the collection at the American Museum of Natural History.
Chester’s book was very particular, because all eggs were shown to scale.
The vast majority of Chester’s egg pictures were taken from his personal collection, but some eggs came from private or public collections. Chester had to travel, mostly to Philadelphia and New York, to complement his collection of bird egg pictures.
In addition, his book offered a comprehensive and detailed description of the nest in its natural environment, including the specie’s dispersion area. In the book’s margins, ink drawings showed the bird’s general appearance.
Many nest pictures complemented the book’s contents. Over 800 bird species were shown in the book.
A $50,000 Egg
Chester wanted to include the “Great AUK” egg, a species that had been extinct for 50 years at the time, in his book.
IThere were only two eggs of the kind that fulfilled Chester’s needs in the country. One of them was located at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the other one was at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
When Chester went to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the Great AUK egg was kept under a glass dome. He had problems with the Academy’s security to get permission to take the egg out of the glass dome and move it to another room for a photo shoot.
However, after explaining his work to authorities, he was allowed to move the egg. He then became the first photographer to take pictures of an egg valued at $50,000.
A rich collector in New York had recently offered the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia a sum of $50,000 for the egg. The Academy declined the offer, indicating that it was invaluable.
A Well-Thought Book
By publishing the book “North American Bird Eggs” in the same format as Mr. Chapman’s new book, Chester offered a natural complement to the book “Color Key to Birds of North America.”
That way, Chester took advantage of Mr. F. M. Chapman to become better known and improve his own reputation in ornithology.
Interesting fact: In a note dated from 1915 in Charles K. Reed’s copyright register, he mentioned that the sale of the book was over and that most printing boards were destroyed. It was probably an accident. The eggs were used in the book “The Bird Book.”
That is probably what motivated Charles to publish “The Bird Book” instead of producing the printing boards for the book “North American Bird Eggs.”
Between 1904 and 1912, the two books were often presented as complements in Charles K. Reed’s different advertising products.
1. Worcester Sunday Telegram, March 10, 1904, Reed family archives..