AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851)
The Birds of America, from Drawings made in the United States and Their Territories
New York: George R. Lockwood, [1870-1871]. 8 volumes, octavo. (10 5/8 x 6 3/4 inches). Half-titles. 500 hand-coloured lithographic plates. Scattered foxing.
Contemporary half brown morocco and marbled paper covered boards
The rare final octavo edition of Audubon's Birds: an important monument of American colour plate books and natural history, and one of the most desirable books produced in 19th-century America.
Ron Tyler, in Audubon's Great National Work , quotes a letter by the publisher's son, Richard B. Lockwood, noting that some time after 1870 the lithographed octavo plates were destroyed when they fell through the floors in a Philadelphia building. The date of the disaster at the Lockwood firm suggests that this final octavo edition was produced in 1871.
The octavo edition of Audubon's The Birds of America is certainly the most famous and accessible of American color plate books. It served many purposes for Audubon. First, it was a moneymaker, successfully marketed throughout the United States on a scale that the great cost of the original . ..Birds... made impossible. Second, it was another step toward proving himself as good a scientific naturalist as the "closet" naturalists who had scorned him, combining a detailed text with careful observations next to his plates. Third, it allowed a more reasonable arrangement, by genus and species, than the headlong production of the original project had allowed. All of these steps were improvements, amply repaid by the book's success.
The octavo . ..Birds.. . was originally issued in 100 parts, each containing five plates executed by the Philadelphia lithographer, J.T. Bowen. Changes in subscribers and increased press runs created numerous states of plates as they were reprinted. 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.
Tyler Audubon's Great National Work , pp. 129, 165 note 10; Bennett, p.5 (this and subsequent references for the first octavo edition); Nissen IVB 51; Sabin 2364; McGrath, p.50; Reese Stamped with a National Character 35 (ref.).