Dr. James “Jim” Bishop (Science, ’74) has traveled the world as a research scientist, leading projects and contributing to the identification of hundreds of different species. Bishop’s primary interest is in assessing and managing renewable coastal marine resources, particularly shrimp and fish. These research interests are evident in the generous in-kind donation he has made to the LSU Libraries Special Collections’ E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection. His gift includes three distinctly beautiful and rare books representing early and extraordinarily detailed works on marine life.
These three works will be of interest to students and faculty of ichthyology, as well as members of the public with an interest in fishes of the world. They also play a part in the study of the histories of science, publishing, and printing. Each publication contains exemplars of three kinds of illustration in printing—hand-coloring, chromolithography, and copperplate engraving. All three works add immense value to the natural history collections held in LSU Libraries Special Collections.
Louis Renard’s Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes, is a phantasmagorical publication describing for the first time fish, shellfish, alongside crabs found in the former Dutch East Indies. Included in the color illustrations are a number of fictional creatures, including a mermaid, and fanciful representations of quite real fish, crabs, and shellfish.
Renard was born in France around 1678 to a Huguenot family. Because of the religious persecution of the day, the Renard family fled France for the Netherlands, settling in Amsterdam by 1699. Renard married and set up shop as a book dealer and publisher, gaining a reputation for publishing large-format atlases.
Jim Bishop’s gift to LSU is remarkably rare. The first edition of Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes was published in 1719 in two volumes. Only sixteen copies of this edition are known to exist, one of which is part of Bishop’s donation to LSU. Reinier and Ottens published the second edition in Amsterdam in 1754 with a known print run of thirty-four copies. While a little over twice the number of the first edition, this is also an extremely rare edition. The third and last edition, published by Abraham van Paddenburg and Willem Holtrop in Utrecht and Amsterdam, consisted of only six copies and those were never finished.
The illustrations were created by a number of people, none of whom were Renard. Even though some of the species in Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes were known in Europe, Renard made a point of saying the images were accurate reflections of the creatures illustrated. Despite his attempts to assure his readers the illustrations were accurate, it seems that none of them are completely realistic and most, if not all, of the descriptions are fabrications.
Despite these drawbacks, the illustrations are not entirely fantasies of an overactive mind. Theodore W. Pietsch, an ichthyologist working in the late 20th century, studied the Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes’ illustrations and found less than ten percent fell into the “truly fantastical” category. Peitsch wrote “to cast the work off as being without scientific merit is to greatly underestimate its value” as it “gives us an intriguing glimpse of what science was like in the late 17th century and early 18th centuries.”
More articles to come about Jim Bishop’s other gifts to the LSU Libraries.