A complete set of extremely rare and exquisitely illustrated bird books is to be sold with a guide price of £1.5 million by a London dealer in antiquarian tomes.

Described as ‘exceptional and pristine’, the 12 folio works in 44 volumes, containing 3,000-plus lithographs, represent more than 50 years of painstaking work by the revered 19th-century ornithologist and artist John Gould. He dominated the field of ornithological discovery (he identified Darwin’s finches) and natural-history publishing (he employed Edward Lear as an artist).

‘No other ornithologist has ever exceeded (or will ever exceed) the number of Gould’s bird discoveries and the magnitude and splendour of his folio publications,’ wrote Gordon Sauer in John Gould The Bird Man.

The set, which is currently in a private collection and has not been offered privately for sale for many years, will be on display at Shapero Rare Books in Mayfair (020-7493 0876; www.shapero.com) and exhibited at Masterpiece London (June 26-July 2, 020-7499 7470; www.masterpiecefair.com).

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