AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851)
The Birds of America
New York & Amsterdam: printed in Holland for the Johnson Reprint Corporation and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1971-1972. 4 volumes, double-elephant folio. (39 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches). Limitation leaf printed recto in black, 4 general titles, 4 volume titles, 4 printed facsimiles of the original titles. 435 plates, printed in up to eight colours, after John James Audubon.
Original brown half calf over green cloth-covered boards, upper covers with inset brown in calf panel lettered in gilt with author and title, the flat spines lettered in gilt with author, title and volume number
The 'Amsterdam Audubon': limited to only 250 copies A viable alternative to the original Havell edition.
In October 1971, employing the most faithful printing method available, the best materials and the ablest craftsmen, the Amsterdam firm of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Ltd., in conjunction with the Johnson Reprint Corporation of New York, set out to produce the finest possible limited edition facsimile of the greatest bird book ever printed: the Havell edition of John James Audubon's well-loved Birds of America. The Teyler Museum in Haarlem, Holland made their copy of the original work available for use as a model. The Museum had bought their copy through Audubon's son as part of the original subscription in 1839. After long deliberation, the extremely complex but highly accurate process of colour photo-lithography was chosen as the most appropriate printing method. The best exponents of this art were the renowned Dutch printing firm of NV Fotolitho Inrichting Drommel at Zandvoort who were willing to undertake the task of printing each plate in up to eight different colours. The original Havell edition was published on hand-made rag paper and the publishers were determined that the paper of their edition should match the original. Unhappy with the commercially available papers, they turned to the traditional paper manufacturers G. Schut & Zonen (founded in 1625), who, using 100% unbleached cotton rags, were able to produce a wove paper of the highest quality, with each sheet bearing a watermark unique to the edition: G. Schut & Zonen [JR monogram] Audubon [OT monogram]. The publishers and their dedicated team completed their task late in 1972 and the results of these labours were affectionately known as the "Amsterdam Audubon." 250 copies were published and sold by subscription, with the plates available bound or unbound. Given all this careful preparation, it is not surprising that the prints have the look and feel of the original Havell edition. The Havell edition was expensive at the time of publication and this has not changed. A complete copy appeared on the market in 2010 and sold for a staggering $11.4 million in a sale in London in December 2010. Currently, the increasingly rare individual plates from this edition, when they do appear, generally sell for between $2,500 and $350,000 depending on the image. The quality of the Amsterdam Audubon plates is apparent to any discerning collector and it is becoming ever clearer that they offer the most attractive alternative to the Havell edition plates, given the latter's spiraling prices. The idea for his great work came to Audubon after his meeting with the distinguished ornithologist Alexander Wilson at Louisville in 1810, but it was not until 1826 that he felt ready to set sail for England in search of a publisher. In the intervening 16 years he had time both to perfect his style of drawing from specimens as an aid to composition, to assemble a remarkable portfolio of drawings, and, perhaps most importantly, to develop the single-minded determination that was to be so essential in his efforts to realize his ambition. John James Audubon, the illegitimate son of French sea captain Jean Audubon and Mlle Jeannne Rabin, his Creole mistress, was born in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo on April 26 1785. His mother died soon after his birth and in 1791, Audubon was brought back to France to live at Nantes under the care of his father's wife, Anne Moynet. The arrangement was evidently a happy one, and both Audubon and his half-sister were legally adopted in 1794. Audubon later wrote that he quickly came to both love and admire his adopted mother, though her indulgence of his preference for exploring the surrounding countryside to attending to his schoolwork, was perhaps largely responsible for his lack of formal education. Audubon's first arrival in America was in 1803, when, following the loss of the family's fortune in Santo Domingo, his father dispatched him to eastern Pennsylvania. He was to stay with a Quaker lawyer, Miers Fisher, who had been acting as Audubon senior's business agent, and represent the family's interests in the development of the lead deposits which had been found on Mill Grove (a farm near Philadelphia, which had been bought, sight unseen, by Audubon's father). It was here that his early interest in drawing bird specimens grew, and here that he met and married (in 1808) Lucy Bakewell, the daughter of a neighbor. They set up home firstly in Louisville, and later Henderson, Kentucky. The new species of birds to be found in the virgin wilderness of Kentucky supplied Audubon with a large number of subjects to draw, and allowed him to develop the lifelike action-packed ornithological images that were to become the hall-mark of his work. Following his bankruptcy in 1820, Audubon decided to concentrate on his painting, and he set out for Louisiana with the intention of adding to the tally of species captured in his portfolio. During this period he worked as a traveling artist and drawing instructor, drawing birds from Mississippi as well as Louisiana and eventually settling with Lucy near New Orleans at a plantation called Bayou Sara. By 1824 Audubon's plans for The Birds of America were coalescing. The work was to be issued in eighty parts of five plates per part, for a total of 400 plates (this was finally expanded to 435 showing some 1,065 different species in 87 parts) on large format paper: this was dictated by Audubon's determination that all the known species were to be shown, and that they should all be life-size. After unsuccessful attempts to get the work published in both Philadelphia and New York, in became clear that the only hope of publication lay in Europe, and Audubon sailed for England in 1826. In England Audubon arranged a number of successful exhibitions of his drawings, where the "dramatic impact of his ambitious, complex pictures and a romantic image as 'the American woodsman' secured Audubon entry into a scientific community much preoccupied with little-known lands." Amongst the friends he made from this community, were William Swainson, a gifted ornithologist, who taught Audubon the niceties of technical ornithology, William MacGillivray, a brilliant Scottish naturalist-anatomist, who, later, was to contribute to and edit Audubon's Ornithological Biography, and Patrick Neill, printer and zoologist, who recommended William Home Lizars of Edinburgh as an engraver who would do justice to Audubon's work.. Lizars was so impressed with Audubon's work that he agreed to put aside the work he was doing for Prideaux John Selby and Sir William Jardine, Britain's foremost ornithologists of the time, and concentrate on the engraving and printing of Audubon's subjects. Lizars' involvement in the project began in 1827, but turned out to be short-lived: after producing only ten plates, all of which are represented in the present selection, Lizars' colourists went on strike and Audubon was forced to find another engraver. This set-back proved to be only temporary, however, and Audubon quickly established an excellent working and personal relationship with both Robert Havell, senior, and his son, Robert Havell, junior. Havell senior died in 1832, but between 1828 and 1838 Havell junior was involved as engraver (or in the case of the Havell plates as re-toucher) of all 425 of the images that go to make up the highest achievement of ornithological art and the greatest of all bird books.
Cf. Anker 17; cf. Fine Bird Books (1990) p.73; cf. Fries The Double Elephant Folio (Chicago, 1973); cf. Nissen IVB 49; cf. Zimmer pp.18-20.