Auction  June 16, 2018  Megan D Robinson

Christie’s Auctions First Edition of Audubon’s “The Birds of America”

Courtesy Christie's

John James Audubon (1785-1851), "The Birds of America;" from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838. Featured above: The Winter Hawk (plate 71).

One of the most valuable illustrated books ever produced, a first edition of John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America,” went up for auction at Christie’s in New York, June 14th, and sold for USD $9,650,000. This is nearly $2 million more than when this particular copy had sold to American collector Carl Knobloch in 2012 for $7.9 million.

Considered Audubon’s greatest triumph, and one of the world’s most important natural history books, this full-size, complete edition has 435 hand-colored prints featuring 1,037 life-sized birds. It is considered the finest example of aquatint colored engraving in existence. The result of Audubon’s ambition to document all the bird species of North America, “Bird’s of America” is an artistic masterpiece. Audubon recruited the best colorists and printers he could find to translate his work into print.

The Great Blue Heron, from John James Audubon's "The Birds of America"
Courtesy Christie's

The Great Blue Heron, from John James Audubon's "The Birds of America;" from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.

The Hooping Crane, from John James Audubon's "The Birds of America"
Courtesy Christie's

The Hooping Crane, from John James Audubon's "The Birds of America;" from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.

The American Flamingo, from John James Audubon's "The Birds of America"
Courtesy Christie's

The American Flamingo, from John James Audubon's "The Birds of America;" from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.

The Black-Bellied Darter, from John James Audubon's (1785-1851), "The Birds of America"
Courtesy Christie's

The Black-Bellied Darter, from John James Audubon's (1785-1851), "The Birds of America;" from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.

An impassioned lifelong naturalist, ornithologist and painter, Audubon insisted each print be life-sized, to give a true impression of each bird. A bound copy of the book is monumental. Each sheet is 39 x 26 inches, known as “double elephant,” the largest size paper then available. This increases the impact of each gorgeously rendered bird. The vibrant color, meticulous detail and masterful composition make the birds real in a visceral way.

It took eleven years, from 1827-1838, to print just 200 copies of the first edition. Only 120 complete sets are known to exist, with 107 in libraries and institutions and 13 with private collectors.

Courtesy Christie's

The Willow Grous or Large Ptarmignan, from John James Audubon's (1785-1851) "The Birds of America;" from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.

The visually stunning prints were exhibited at New York’s Rockefeller Plaza prior to the sale. The sale of this rare book benefited the Knobloch Family Foundation, which is dedicated to the protection and preservation of plant and animal habitats.

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.