“Illustrations of The Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio”. Inspect the real estate market for birds in 1886.

Map detail from “Birds eye view of the city of Circleville, Pickaway County, Ohio 1876”.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C. 

Poor, wide eyed Genevieve Jones of Circleville, Ohio. She was never really a well girl and very unlucky in love.

“Gennie”, as she was called, was home schooled by her mother before high school where one tutor “considered her the most adept scholar he had ever taught.” 

Beset with headaches and eye pains as a result of Civil War anxiety, cursed with frequent outbreaks of an incurable skin condition called acne rosacea, her fiancé was an alcoholic who her parents forbade her to marry. These troubles sent Genevieve Jones into long periods of silence and withdrawal. 

“Gennie”, spent much of her youth wandering in the woods around Circleville, and developed an abiding interest in birds’ nests and eggs. In 1876, she travelled to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exposition and there she set eyes on Audubon’s Birds of America. The book included just a few plates of her obsession, bird’s nests and their eggs. Not enough nests and eggs for Gennie she wanted more and felt the world did too. It was an opportunity that changed her life. Someone had to take up the task to fill the gap. She was immediately possessed with this idea, of making her own book of nests, and of eggs.

Perhaps as a distraction from her broken love affair and bouts of depression, her family suggested that Gennie get serious about her book project. Her father Nelson would see to the business end of things, although he knew nothing about publishing, and Gennie enlisted an artistically-minded childhood friend, Eliza Shulze, to help with creating the plates.

Gennie’s ambition initially was to illustrate the nests and eggs of every single American bird species, all 320 of them. She was sensibly restrained and persuaded to scale the project back to the 130 species of birds in Ohio.

They issued the work by subscription, 3 plates at a time plus text. The first fascicle went out in 1879, it contained a real corker of a nest by Gennie, a wood thrush nest with eggs.

What Gennie Jones & her friend Eliza, two totally unknown and untrained women, had instigated and put together was totally unanticipated by anyone in the ornithological world. Recipients of the first installment were gobsmacked.

“Not only does its unique ensemble render it attractive,” gushed The American Naturalist, “but it presents a combination of the useful and the agreeable of science and of art, to a very rare degree.”

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