Birds of America Synopisis
"Having studied drawing for a short while in my youth under good masters, I felt a great desire to make choice of a style more particularly adapted to the imitation of feathers than the drawings in water colours that I had been in the habit of seeing, and moreover, to complete a collection not only valuable to the scientific class, but pleasing to every person, by adopting a different course of representation from the mere profile-like cut figures, given usually in works of that kind." John James Audubon
Between 1827 and 1838, John James Audubon, brilliant artist and naturalist who dedicated much of his life to painting the birds and quadrupeds of North America, published in London, England, in 'his own style', a series of 435 large-sized, hand-colored etchings with aquatints in a folio entitled The Birds of America. These were reproduced primarily by Robert Havell and Sons from Audubon’s watercolor paintings and often under the direct supervision of Audubon himself. Since he portrayed each bird life size, the larger birds often had to be drawn in unusual positions to fit on the largest copper engraving plates then available, approximately 27 x 39 inches. The largest bird was the wild turkey cock, and the smallest was one of the minute hummingbirds. With the final publication of these prints, Audubon established his Birds of America as the definitive portrayal of American birds in realistic settings. These antique original prints, now more than 170 years old, are known in the print trade as the Audubon-Havell double elephant folio edition because each was printed on giant "double elephant" folio sheets of 100% cotton rag watermarked Whatman paper.
Somewhat more than 200 complete sets were sold. The exact number was not accurately recorded, but most were bound in four large volumes for the subscribers. It is estimated that there are about 130 of the complete bound sets of these original prints still in existence. There are also known to be at least three unbound, flat sheet sets, one of which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In recent years a number of complete volumes have been cut apart and auctioned off as individual prints at ever-increasing prices. The American White Pelican, the Snowy Owl, and the Wild Turkey Cock can sell for upwards of $100,000 each if in good condition. A Snowy Owl is currently offered by a New York dealer for $125,000. Recently, a complete set brought over $11,000,000 at auction.