John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America” book has long been one of the most treasured books of natural history. The National Audubon Society explains, “Printed between 1827 and 1838, it contains 435 life-sized watercolours of North American birds (Havell edition), all reproduced from hand-engraved plates, and is considered to be the archetype of wildlife illustration.”
There are thought to only be 13 complete sets remaining of the original first editions of the book, so when one recently went up for auction, it was sure to garner quite a bit of attention.
“The Birds of America” is actually a collection of four books containing 435 double-elephant folio pages, measuring 39.5 inches by 26.5 inches. That’s just over 3 feet by 2 feet. The book features 1037 birds from 500 species that inhabit North America.
Previously, when a first edition of the books went to auction at Sotheby’s in London in 2010, it sold for $11.5 million. On June 14, 2018, another first edition of the collection was put up for auction by Sotheby’s and sold for $9.65 million.
Art and bird enthusiasts alike are not surprised by the hefty price tag because the book represents more than just a careful study of birds. Sven Becker, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s New York, explains to the Los Angeles Times, “When you look into Audubon’s own life story and the history of the publication of this book, you come to realize it’s about the American experience.”
The LA Times elaborates by explaining, “A self-taught artist and immigrant defies the odds to create what is now one of the most prized illustrated books in the world, worth an estimated $8 million to $12 million.”
The previous owner of the most recently auctioned off collection was US businessman and naturist, Carl W. Knobloch Jr., who passed away in 2016. Reuters reports, “Proceeds from the sale will benefit conservation of plants, animals and natural habitats through the work of the Knobloch Family Foundation.”
“The Birds of America” has proven to truly be an enduring American symbol of our natural wildlife and resilient national spirit.
Image via kenny1 / Shutterstock.com
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