Witmer Stone is remembered today primarily as the author of the monumental Bird Studies at Old Cape May, published in 1937 – the book that put Cape May birding on the map. Its combination of detailed observations and meticulously compiled data provide us with a good idea of the Cape May avifauna circa the early 1900s. One contemporary reviewer wrote, “Dr. Stone writes in simple, dignified English which at times in its beauty and vividness rises to literary distinction.” That elegant prose is still enjoyed by readers today.
The Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) published the original 1,400 two-volume sets, and each has a page at the back of Volume 2 where the set number is printed (between 1 and 1,400).
Stone gave set #1 to his wife Lillie, and it was signed by many of the men engaged in the production of the work, including the illustrators.
The set has been in private hands since Lillie passed away in 1940, and it’s great news that it has recently found a new home in the Henry Janssen Library at the Berks History Center in Reading, PA, along with the original Earl Poole Osprey painting used as the frontispiece in Volume 1.
A photograph is affixed opposite the title page of Stone holding a BSOCM set in front of the Chestnut Hill home of Herbert Brown, who was a lifelong friend of Stone’s and one of the book’s illustrators.
This a recent photo of the same house, and it doesn’t look like it’s changed a bit.
The DVOC keeps track of the whereabouts of the original sets here. Many of Witmer’s effects went AWOL after Lillie died, including this set, so it’s a small and blessed wonder that it’s now housed at an institution that will give it a lot of TLC. Hopefully it will remain in its new home for good.