AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851)
The Birds of America, from drawings made in the United States and their territories
New York & Philadelphia: E.G. Dorsey for J.J. Audubon and [vols.I-V] J.B. Chevalier, [1839-]1840-1844. 7 volumes, octavo. (10 1/4 x 6 5/8 inches). Half-titles, 18pp. subscribers' lists. 500 hand-coloured lithographed plates after Audubon by W.E. Hitchcock, R. Trembley and others, printed by J.T. Bowen of Philadelphia (plates 1-135, 151-500) or George Endicott of New York (plates 136-150), numerous wood-engraved anatomical figures in text. Some foxing to the text, the plates generally clean.
Contemporary full black morocco, spine with wide semi-raised bands in five compartments, tooled in gilt on each band, lettered in gilt in the second, third and fourth compartments, yellow endpapers, gilt edges
The first octavo edition of Audubon's Great National Work: a tall set, bound from the original parts, in a contemporary full morocco binding.
The plates, here accompanied by the text for the first time, were reduced and variously modified from the Havell engravings in the double-elephant folio. Seven new species are figured and seventeen others, previously described in the Ornithological Biography but not illustrated, were also shown for the first time. Audubon may have been prompted to publish the reduced version of his double-elephant folio by the appearance in 1839 of John Kirk Townsend's rival Ornithology of the United States , or, as he writes in the introduction to the present work, he may have succumbed to public demand and his wish that a work similar to his large work should be published but "at such a price, as would enable every student or lover of nature to place it in his Library."
The first edition of the octavo work is certainly the most famous and accessible of all the great American colour plate books, and now represents the only realistic opportunity that exists for collectors to own an entire collection of Audubon images in a form that was overseen and approved by the great artist himself. The octavo Birds of America was originally issued in 100 parts, each containing five plates. The whole story of the production of the book, with detailed information about every aspect of the project, is told by Ron Tyler in Audubon's Great National Work (Austin, 1993). The story Tyler tells of the difficulties of production and marketing are revealing of the whole world of colour printing in mid-19th-century America. The enormous success of the work was important to Audubon for two main reasons: first, it was a moneymaker, marketed throughout the United States on a scale that the great cost of the original Birds of America had made impossible. Second, by combining a detailed text with careful observations next to his famous images, he offered further proof that he was as good a scientific naturalist as the members of the scientific establishment who had scorned his earlier work.
This tall set bound from the original parts and complete with subscriber's lists and half titles. Unusually, the set is bound in a contemporary full morocco binding, with sets in half morocco and marbled paper boards more commonly found.
Bennett p.5; Fries, Appendix A; Nissen IVB 51; Reese Stamped With A National Character 34; Ripley 13; Ron Tyler Audubon's Great National Work (1993) Appendix I; Sabin 2364; Wood p.208; Zimmer 22; Townsend.