Returning readers of The New Leaf Journal may be aware that I am fond of finding content in nineteenth century magazines and periodicals to use as inspiration or graphics for New Leaf Journal articles. While looking for ideas to start 2021, I came across the first edition of Birds: A Monthly Serial, published in January 1897. The publication features beautiful pictures of ten birds accompanied by commentary about each. This post will function as a quasi-review of volume 1, issue 1 of Birds: A Monthly Serial. Over the coming weeks in January, I will work through the 10 birds featured in the issue in a series of articles.

Basic Information About Birds: A Monthly Serial

Cover of the 1897 Birds: A Monthly Serial, Illustrated by Color Photography.

Title: Birds: A Monthly Serial, Illustrated by Color Photography
Publisher: Nature Study Publishing Company
Year of Publication: 1897
Available at: Project Gutenberg; The Internet Archive (pages 4-45 of the book)
Notes: First edition of Birds: A Monthly Serial. Magazine ran monthly through mid-1898.

Birds: A Monthly Serial was published by the Nature Study Publishing Company, based in Chicago. The first edition of the magazine that we are covering in this article was published in January 1897. Project Gutenberg has issues running through May 1898.

Understanding the Magazine’s Project Through Its Preface

Nature Study Publishing Company began the first edition of Birds: A Monthly Serial with a preface. The preface gives an overview of the magazine and what they were hoping to accomplish.

Cover of the January 1897 Birds: A Monthly Serial, Illustrated by Color Photography. Depicted is a nonpareil standing on a tree branch.
Full cover of Birds: A Monthly Serial, Illustrated by Color Photography.

Taking Advantage of Pictures to Depict Nature

The preface begins: “It has become a universal custom to obtain and preserve the likenesses of one’s friends. Photographs are the most popular form of these likenesses, as they give the true exterior outlines and appearance (except coloring) of the subjects.”

Nature Study Publishing Company had a different idea for photography, however: “[H]ow much more popular and useful does photography become, when it can be used as a means of securing plates from which to print photographs in a regular printing press, and, what is more astonishing and delightful, to produce the REAL COLORS of nature as shown in the subject, no matter how brilliant or varied.”

Objective: Teach Children About Birds

The preface quotes from the December 1896 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal, which discussed in some detail a suggestion by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a national “Bird Day.” According to Ladies’ Home Journal, the idea was for “Bird Day [to] take the form of bird exhibitions, bird exercises, of bird studies—any form of entertainment, in fact, which will bring children closer to their little brethren of the air, and in more intelligent sympathy with their life and ways.” Ladies’ Home Journal added that “[t]he cultivation of an intimate acquaintanceship with our feathered friends is a source of genuine pleasure.”

The Nature Study Publishing Company opines in the preface that “[o]f all animated nature, birds are the most beautiful in coloring, most graceful in form and action, swiftest in motion and most perfect emblems of freedom.” Regarding publishing avian content, the preface suggests that the monthly magazine will do “a useful work for the young, and one that will be appreciated by progressive parents, in placing within the easy possession of children in the homes these beautiful photographs of birds.”

The preface concludes with the mission statement of the entire publication:

The text is prepared with the view of giving the children as clear an idea as possible, of haunts, habits, characteristics and such other information as will lead them to love the birds and delight in their study and acquaintance.

From the preface of vol. 1, no. 1 of Birds: A Monthly Serial

Structure of Birds: A Monthly Serial

The January 1897 edition of Birds: A Monthly Serial includes ten birds. Each bird has a beautiful colorized photograph. For eight of the ten birds, the magazine has a section written from the perspective of the bird aimed at children. The magazine also has a separate section with more detailed information about the bird, aimed at older readers and adults. Two of the ten birds lack the first-avian perspective. There are five poems among the bird content.

My Assessment of the January 1897 Birds: A Monthly Serial

The first edition of Birds: A Monthly Serial is quite charming. The bird pictures are beautiful and it was a clever idea to write pieces for children from the perspective of the bird. I, and other older readers, may appreciate the additional information written about the birds from a more adult perspective. I suppose the fact that I am serializing the serial here in The New Leaf Journal is a testament to my positive review. Were I around when the serial was being published, I may well have joined the New Your State Superintendent of Education, who thanked the Nature Study Publishing Company for his courtesy copy and asked them to “enter my name as a regular subscriber.”

An endorsement of Birds: A Monthly Serial, from the then-NY State Superintendent of Education.  This featured in the January 1897 issue of the magazine.

Looking Forward to My January Series

After I decided to start this series, I found when researching the magazine that I was not the first to think of re-serializing Birds. In 2012, a different blog – Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus – embarked on its own version of the project. The pictures are pretty, so it is unsurprising that someone thought to post about it first. I will be doing my series a bit differently, but I thought it was worth noting that a different blog took on the task years ago.

Throughout January, I will post brief articles on the birds covered in the January 1897 Birds: A Monthly Serial. You will find the updated list of articles in the series below.