Smithsonian Institution Libraries On Display
The Nelson E. Jones Family's Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio
Introduction by Leslie K. Overstreet
Essay by Joy M. Kiser
Explore the illustrations
Learn more about the family
Further reading/bibliography
Visit the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History
Visit the SIL Digital Library


by Leslie K. Overstreet
Curator of Natural-History Rare Books
Special Collections Department
Smithsonian Institution Libraries

I first became aware of the Jones family and its extraordinary book Illustrations of the nest and eggs of birds of Ohio in 1997 when Joy Kiser, then the librarian at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, posted an inquiry on the rare-book listserv ExLibris asking about other libraries' copies of the work. It sounded like the sort of thing we might have in the Smithsonian's natural-history rare-book collections, so I checked and discovered that, yes, in fact, we have two copies. Since one of them still has the paper covers in which its separate parts were originally issued, each one stamped with its date and price, I was intrigued by the bibliographic details of the work and began a correspondence and subsequent acquaintance with Joy that has resulted in the wonderful "SIL on Display" you are about to enjoy.

Illustrations of the nests and eggs of birds of Ohio was published in the small town of Circleville, Ohio, over a period of eight years (from 1879 to 1886) through the dedicated efforts of the family and friends of a young woman named Genevieve Jones. Despite being produced not just by amateurs but largely by women, far from the publishing houses and intellectual centers of 19th-century America, the book was hailed as an extraordinary achievement from the moment its first few plates were published. Elliott Coues, one of the foremost American ornithologists of the period, praised the book as its parts came off the press and were distributed. In the pages of The auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists' Union, and its predecessor The bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, he described it as a "magnificent work" (1885: 289) of "great artistic excellence and fidelity to nature" (1879: 52). The plates, he wrote, "compare favorably with the best that have ever appeared" (1880: 39), and he placed it "among the most original and most notable treatises on ornithology which have appeared in this country" (1887: 150-151).

Published by subscription, a common means of financing large expensive books in those days, no more than 100 copies were made. Fewer than that survive today, so it's very scarce, and few people have ever seen it.

Joy Kiser's discoveries about the Jones family and its book have grown ever more interesting through the years of her research. Scouring archives and libraries from Circleville, Ohio, to Yale University, sending inquiries out over the Internet, and traveling in person to the small towns in Ohio that held the memories and evidence she was seeking, she found old letters and photographs of the family and their home, their art supplies and original drawings for the book, some of the actual lithographic stones from which the illustrations were printed, and a host of other materials that brought Genevieve Jones and her family to life. The Jones family's descendants, especially the Nelson Jonnes family of Stillwater, Minnesota, and the Lloyd Jonnes family of Washington, D.C. (who use a variant spelling of the family name), hold a trove of memorabilia about the book and have been immensely helpful. The latter has also been generous to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, donating two copies of the book's prospectus to supplement our holdings of the books themselves, and we are extremely grateful for their willingness to share their family history and treasures.

The fascinating story of Genevieve Jones and the book her family carried to completion to honor her memory is told briefly here in Joy Kiser's essay and in articles she has written for various magazines and journals (see the bibliography). Joy, now the librarian at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., hopes to publish a full-length book and so continues her research. We look forward to reading it and learning more about the Jones family and the beautiful book they created. In the meantime, we thank her for volunteering her time and expertise to prepare this lovely selection of the plates from Illustrations of the nests and eggs of birds of Ohio.