Monday, January 23, 2012

Rare Audubon Books Sell for $7.9 Million

The Duke of Portland set of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America sold at auction at Christie’s in New York on Friday for $7.9 million. The Washington Times describes the books:

The 3 1/2-foot-tall books feature hand-colored prints of all the species known to Audubon in early 19th-century North America. Audubon insisted on the book’s large format -- printed on the largest handmade sheets available at the time -- because of his desire to portray the birds in their actual size and natural habitat.

He found creative ways to paint them to fit the page, including showing large species feeding with their necks bent.
As handsome as that $7.9 million may sound, the heirs of the Duke of Portland, who offered the books for sale, may well have been disappointed. The most recent complete set sold at Sotheby’s in London for £7,321,250 -- about $11.5 million -- in December of 2010.

The books were originally created to be sold by subscription and Christie’s sale catalog reports that, “although the final list of subscribers to The Birds of America totaled 161, a somewhat greater number of sets certainly was produced. Bibliographers of the double-elephant folio have calculated the edition size at approximately 200 completed copies. In her updating of Fries' 1973 census, Susanne Low writes, ‘119 complete copies are known to exist in the world today. 108 are in institutions such as universities, libraries, museums, athenaeums, societies, and the like. 11 are in private hands.’”


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