The early 19th century saw the dawn of a great era of discovery in the natural sciences. Darwin, Lyell, and others advanced radically new theories that laid the foundations for modern biology, geology, and other fields. In France, one of the most prominent figures in this arena was Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832). Born Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric but known as "Georges" Cuvier, he is recognized today as one of the founders of modern paleontology. He was so prominent, in fact, that he is one of only 72 people whose name is inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.
In 1817, he undertook perhaps his most ambitious project, which was a four volume work entitled "The Animal Kingdom". In this work, he endeavored to catalog as many living species as possible and had meticulous engravings prepared for each described animal. The work was later reprinted several times but the best known of these reprintings is the 1834 edition published in London by G. Henderson. Since color printing had not yet been introduced, the engravings were often hand-colored and may still be acquired at very nominal sums today.
Speaking both as an appraiser and former fine art dealer, my own opinion is that these hand-colored engravings are still bargains if you are looking for decorative pieces with good history behind them. Look for examples from the 1834 reprinting with crisp color and minimal age-toning of the paper. Also, consider being selective in your subject matter. My own favorites are the exotic fish and birds... not so much the snakes and insects ;-) Nicely framed, these engravings are wonderful for powder rooms and small in-fill spaces where a painting might not be a good fit.
Bryan H. Roberts is a professional appraiser in Sarasota, FL. He is a member of the Florida State Guardianship Association, the Sarasota County Aging Network (president), and is certified in the latest Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice (USPAP) Equivalent