Little know facts on John Audubon for National Audubon Day, today; April 26th. His first book The Birds of America is highly collectible and only 120 surviving copies are known to exist.

April 26th is designated as National Audubon Day. This day is set aside to honor the birth of John James Audubon (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851).

Audubon was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter noted for his extensive studies of American birds and his detailed illustrations of the birds in their natural habitats. Audubon’s greatest work was The Birds of America which is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. His work in this book contains more than 700 North American bird species with 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species.

His first book The Birds of America is a book was crafted by him, containing illustrations of a wide variety of birds of the United States. It was first published as a series in sections between 1827 and 1838, in Edinburgh and London.

The work consists of hand-coloured, life-size prints, made from engraved plates, measuring around 39 by 26 inches (99 by 66 cm). It includes images of six now-extinct birds: Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon, Labrador duck, great auk, Eskimo curlew, and pinnated grouse. The plant-life backgrounds of some 50 of the bird studies were painted in partnership by Audubon’s assistant Joseph Mason and reproduced uncredited in the book.

Collectibility of Audubon original books and value…

In March 2000 Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar purchased a copy of The Birds of America at a Christie’s auction for $8.8 million, a record for any book at auction.

In December 2010, The Economist magazine estimated that, adjusted for inflation, five of the ten highest prices ever paid for printed books were paid for copies of Birds of America. Of the 120 copies known to survive, only thirteen are held in private collections. In March 2000 the Fox-Bute copy sold at Christie’s (New York) for $8,802,500. In December 2005 an unbound copy, the Providence Athenaeum Set, sold, again at Christie’s (New York), for $5.6 million.

On 6 December 2010, a complete copy of the first edition was sold in London at Sotheby’s for £7,321,250 (approximately $11.5 million) during the sale of Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings from the Collection of Frederick, Second Lord Hesketh. The winning bid was a record auction price for a printed book and was placed by London-based art dealer Michael Tollemache, who outbid three others during the auction. According to the provenance details reported by the auction house, the copy’s original owner was Henry Witham of Durham, listed as subscriber 11 in Audubon’s Ornithological Biography; the first volume of the set bears a presentation inscription from Witham’s wife, dated 24 June 1831. Lord Hesketh had bought the copy from a descendant of Witham at a Christie’sauction on 3 July 1951, paying £7,000.

On 20 January 2012 a complete copy of the first edition was sold by heirs of the Fourth Duke of Portland at Christie’s auction house in Manhattan for $7.9 million. The buyer was identified only as “an American collector who bid by phone.” The sale brought to 120 the number of copies known to have survived – 107 in institution collections and 13 in private hands.


National Audubon Day is sponsored by the National Audubon Society. For more information visit

Chris Edwards Napa 4-26-18


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