About the Book

Piopio on press


A Field Guide to Extinct Birds is a letterpress printed collection of extinct birds from around the world, made by hand by me, Sarah Nicholls. It is a consideration of the history of field guides, and the unique qualities that print brings to the field guide. It is also a celebration of the rich history of the bird book, a lament for many species we have lost, an examination of mistakes we have made, and a warning for the future.

We live in a time of mass extinctions; over the last half a billion years there have been five major extinction events, time periods where the diversity of life suddenly and dramatically has decreased. We are living through the sixth major mass extinction. It is not guaranteed that humans will survive.


We are also living in a time of technological transformation which seemingly affects all areas of life. Including, as it happens, the publishing of field guides. Field guides are a distinct subspecies of bird book, which are currently transitioning from printed language to digital media. I began this project with these two ideas in mind. I was interested in the relationship and the differences between obsolescence and extinction, in how we remember that which we lose, and what that process looks like.


In the course of researching extinction and the history of ornithology, I was led down many different paths: the history of exploration and the voyages of Captain James Cook. The development and the ethics of natural history collections. The publishing practices of Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon. The practice of island biogeography. Feathers and the hat trade, women bird enthusiasts and the professional ornithological community, rarity and scarcity, invasive species and isolated populations, the causes of extinctions: the list grew. In order to keep my publishing project somewhat reasonably scaled, I decided to document the research portion through a website. There I could follow these various threads, and then condense the essential elements into a text to set by hand in metal type, and images to carve into wood. This book is the result.


There are two copies of the deluxe edition still available. Please contact me to inquire about ordering. You can see studio production shots here. 

The book will also be available as a digitally printed trade edition in the fall of 2016.

You can see other things that I have done on my main portfolio site here. 

You can read about my pamphlet series here.

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