Birds of America

blue jay

The Birds of America‘ is the title of a book by naturalist and painter John James Audubon, containing paintings and scientific description of a wide variety of birds of the United States. It was first published as a series of sections between 1827 and 1838 in Edinburgh and London. The work consists of hand-colored, life-size prints made from engraved plates measuring around 39 by 26 inches. In December of 2010 a copy sold at auction for £7.3 million. The original edition is often regarded as the greatest picture book ever produced. 161 subscribers paid $1,000 each for what ended up to be four volumes.

There are only 11 copies held in private collections out of 119 thought to still exist and it is estimated that out of the top ten most expensive books, five of them would be copies of ‘Birds of America.’ In 2007 the book was the subject of an exhibition by the Teylers Museum (the oldest museum in the Netherlands), which owns a copy it ordered from the original subscription, along with the table sold to house and display it. The book’s subsections fit into special drawers around a fly-leaf table; the table formed the centerpiece for gatherings of the Teyler’s gentleman’s society of science. A low-resolution version of ‘Birds of America’ can be viewed on the Audubon website.

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