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    a pair of birds of paradise

    A Pair of Birds of Paradise
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    Antique A Pair of Birds of Paradise

    In September of 1522, what was left of Ferdinard Magellen's epic round-the-world voyage limped back into Seville harbour. Magellan himself had been hacked to death in the Philippines and his one remaining ship (out of an original five) was holed, its masts splintered and its sails in tatters. The crew were half-starved and sickly. But in the hold there were many great treasures - and among them were the skins and plumes (dried and preserved by Papuans as decorations and special objects of trade) of what is now known as the Lesser Bird of Paradise. These, the first specimens brought to Europe, caused a sensation. Nearly 500 hundred years later, native Papuans are still preserving plumes in the traditional manner, and trading them for objects they need or want. This specimen with its characteristic yellowish white plumes comes from a nineteenth century collection and has been kept in darkened quarters so that its wonderful colours remain unfaded. The red-plumed bird is known as Count Raggi's Bird of Paradise, and was named after an Italian count. So formidable was the interior of New Guinea that it was not discovered until 1871.

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