The SHNH site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our privacy policy.


Society for the History of Natural History

Latest news

A complete set of John James Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’ is coming up for sale

A complete set of John James Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’ is coming up for sale

A complete four-volume set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America is estimated to sell for between $6.2 million and $9.3 million at Sotheby’s in London next month, making it one of the most expensive books ever sold at auction. The book’s value is a function of its scarcity, its beauty and its significance to the field of natural history.

Audubon painted the illustrations of "Birds of America" between 1827 and 1838. An avid hunter and taxidermist, he shot the birds and stuffed them, stringing them through with wires and positioning them in lifelike poses for his watercolors. The images were then printed on copperplate and colored by hand in London under the supervision of Robert Havell Jr., who engraved many of the book’s plates. The engravings were originally sold unbound, a collection of five plates shipped to subscribers every month over more than a decade. At the time, a complete set cost roughly $800—or about $19,000 today.

Currently, only 11 of the roughly 200 original "Birds of America" sets are in private hands. About 100 belong to institutions. The rest have been destroyed, lost, or broken up and sold as individual prints.

The set for sale next month, which art dealers have called beautifully preserved, comes from the estate of the late Lord Hesketh, who died 55 years ago after helping compile an collection of rare books and prints.

For full story click here