AUDUBON’S BIRDS OF AMERICA, ROYAL OCTAVO EDITION WITH 500 HAND-COLORED PLATES: “ONE OF THE FINEST ORNITHOLOGICAL WORKS EVER PRINTED”
AUDUBON, John James. The Birds of America from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories. New York: V. G. Audubon, 1856-57. Seven volumes. Royal octavo, publisher's full brown morocco, elaborately decorated in blind, raised bands, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. $58,500.
Second octavo edition, the first edition with fully colored backgrounds, containing 500 superb hand-colored plates.
One of the most spectacular series of ornithological prints ever produced and a landmark attempt to document the birds of North America. Identical to the first octavo edition, printed in 1840-44, except that the prints have tinted lithographic-wash backgrounds. The royal octavo edition, which Audubon referred to as the "petit edition," contained new species of birds and plants not included in the folio edition, with the birds grouped in an orderly scientific manner. "His first objective was to observe birds in their native habitat, to see their behavior, their ways of standing, walking, flying, their feeding and nesting habits, seasonal plumage and all the rest. He traveled up and down the Mississippi and Ohio River areas, and up and down the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Key West. He spent a winter near Charleston, South Carolina… traveled to Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia… and Texas" (Gifts of Genius, 137). "The Birds of America exemplifies man's ability to accomplish an almost impossible task through sacrifice and persistence. Audubon set out to paint and publish an example of every bird on the North American continent… He was the first artist-naturalist to illustrate American birds, life-size, in natural poses; the backgrounds, or habitats, are more natural looking than those of his predecessors" (Handbook of Audubon Prints, 17-18). "The most splendid book ever produced in relation to America, and certainly one of the finest ornithological works ever printed… He insisted on drawing from life, never from stuffed specimens, and was much in advance of his time in portraying the birds (in many cases unrecorded species) in their natural surroundings… The courage and faith of the Audubon family is breathtaking… This immense undertaking, this unparalleled achievement, was not the production of a great and long-established publishing house, nor was it backed by a wealthy institution. It was the work of a man of relentless energy, with no private fortune, who supported himself by hack painting… It is a story without equal in the whole history of publishing" (Great Books and Book Collectors, 210-13). Without half titles in last two volumes. Grolier 45. Nissen IVB 52. Anker 19. Sabin 2364. Bookplates, early gift inscriptions.
Some foxing to text, as often; plates bright and lovely, with only occasional instances of very faint foxing. A few volumes with expert repairs to text blocks and inner hinges. A beautiful set.