Thursday, January 26, 2012

For the Birds! John James Audubon

Image from

Birds, books and auctions, three of my favorite things. Although I was not in New York last Friday for the auction at Christie's of John James Audubon's " The Birds of America"; I was excited to see that the four-volume set sold for the third highest price for a printed book...$7.9 million dollars! The set includes 435 hand colored engravings which are over 31/2  feet high of 497 known birds in North America in the 19th Century.

Part of the estate of the Duke of Portland, the book is one of what experts believe was a first edition run of 200 books produced over an 11 year period (1827-1838). Of 120 complete sets that are known of, 113 are in institutions and 7 are in private hands.

John James Audubon was born in Haiti and spent his youth in France. In 1803 he returned to America where he began a series of failed ventures, as a farmer, merchant and a portrait painter. Eventually following his true passion to paint and record as many birds as he could find, Audubon took a rifle, an assistant and a sketch pad and set off down the mighty Mississippi. 

 Often time he shot the animals and then stuffed and wired them to look as natural as possible. In addition, Audubon wanted the birds to be shown in their natural habitat, so he painted the flora and fauna also; so not only is this book the greatest ornithological  book ever produced it is also considered the most important natural history book ever produced.

The original water colors were then made into copper plates from which the copies were made. But, because Audubon could not find an American printer willing to work with the oversize illustrations  he sailed to England and there he found printers in both London and Edinburgh, Scotland. The printing of such a large scale project was expensive, 115,000 pounds sterling at the time PER SET, the equivalent of 2 million dollars; so Audubon  pre-sold subscriptions of the book to wealthy families in Europe, England and North America to fund the production. Which is why many of the copies ended up in the wealthy English houses.

What do you think? Are you a fan of birds? John Audoban? I think the illustrations are spectacular and I would love to be able to page through this magnificent book.

Have a great day! Tomorrow is Friday!


  1. THIS IS FANTASTIC. You know how I feel about birds, and if I could get my hands on a GIANT book like that...I could spend hours studying the beauty of this incredible art. HOW ARE YOU, my dear Elizabeth? OFF TO WORK I DASH, but thank you for this PICK-ME-UP! Anita

  2. Wouldn't it be marvellous to look at one of these books, sadly out of my price range though!

  3. We have seven bird feeders hanging outside I'm a fan of them! But 8 million smackers for books...yikes that person really loves birds. It would be great to see the pictures in person.



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