Heilmann, Gerhard | The Origin of Birds


    First English language edition of this influential and attractively illustrated work on the evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs, originally published in Danish as Vor nuværende Viden om Fuglenes Afstamning between 1913 and 1916. Presentation copy inscribed from the author to biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson on the front blank, “To professor D’Arcy W. Thompson, a token of the author’s high esteem, Gerhard Heilmann”.

    Gerhard Heilmann (1859-1946) “wrote The Origin of Birds to offer evidence against Huxley’s thesis that dinosaurs evolved from birds. Heilmann’s primary argument was that the birdlike dinosaurs lacked any evidence of a wishbone or of collar bones, and collar bones are the presumed antecedents of avian wishbones. The book proved very persuasive, and the dinosaur-bird connection was abandoned for many years until it was revived in the 1970s. But his thesis didn’t keep Heilmann, a talented artist, from representing dinosaurs in very active, birdlike poses. His drawings of Compsognathus, running flat-out with its head down; of Struthiomimus, looking alertly about like an ostrich; and of a pair of sprinting Iguandon... have become classics, since they seem to embody so well the concept of the active dinosaur. Most of the illustrations are pen and ink drawings, but the book also includes a double-page wash drawing of the Berlin Archaeopteryx that is absolutely stunning and is too rarely reproduced” (Ashworth, Paper Dinosaurs 44).

    A shared interest in morphology brought Heilmann into friendship with D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948), a prominent zoologist and classical scholar at the University of St. Andrews. In his major work, On Growth and Form (1917), Thompson “first developed the notion that biological structures must conform to the laws of physics, expressible in mathematical form; physics must come before function in determining shape. He showed, for example, that, as strengths of bones and muscles depend on their cross-sectional areas, while weight depends on volume, larger animals, to support themselves, must have proportionately thicker legs. The idea that the laws of physics profoundly influence biological structures came to permeate all of biology. However, D'Arcy Thompson realized that physics was not alone responsible for determining biological structure, and in the second edition he wrote, 'the twofold problem of accumulated inheritance, and of perfect structural adaptation, confronts us once again and passes all our understanding'” (ODNB).

  • ...With Two Plates in Colour and One Hundred and Forty Photographs and Text Figures from Drawings by the Author. London: H. F. & G. Witherby, 1926.

    Tall octavo (250 x 165mm). Presentation binding of dark blue half morocco, titles and Art Nouveau-style decoration to spine gilt, blue cloth sides, marbled endpapers, all edges dyed blue. Colour frontispiece and plate, illustrations from photographs and drawings by the author throughout. Edges of boards rubbed, corners worn and slightly bumped. An excellent copy.