John James Audubon

How can I tell if my Audubon print is of value?

Plates from John James Audubon's Birds of America are among the most widely reproduced images in the history of western art. The value of a given Audubon print depends on the edition to which it originally belonged. Only a handful of editions have achieved consistent secondary market value. They are:

  • The Havell Edition (1827 - 1838)

  • The First Royal Octavo Edition (1840 - 1844)

  • The Bien Edition (1860)

  • The Amsterdam Edition (1972)

In order to determine that a given Audubon print is from one of the above editions it must be examined by someone who has familiarity with the different editions and can identify the printing technique as engraving with aquatint, lithograph, chromolithograph, or photo-offset. Reproductions have been made so as to completely capture the image and all of the information that was on the original engraving. The only foolproof way to ascertain which of the above editions (if any) a given print came from is to identify the printing technique. For instance, a given print can have "Engraved by Robert Havell" printed on it, but it does not necessarily mean that it is from the Havell edition. If one were to take a Havell edition engraving and run it through an oversize color photocopier (we don't recommend this practice), it would look the same as the Havell edition engraving, but it would not really be from the Havell edition.

This being said, there are ways of ruling out prints from belonging to one of the above editions without identifying the printing technique. If the paper is the wrong size or if the printed text is not consistent with a form followed by a given edition, we can generally assume that it is not from a valuable edition. Note that over the years prints do become trimmed down (for reasons that seem like a good idea at the time) and thus there are Havells, Biens, and Octavos that are not consistent with the published paper size as published, but are in fact from their edition. The following are some words that do not appear on any of the above editions: "Copyright," "Ariel Press," "Old Print Shop," "Reproduced," "New York Graphic Society," "A.P.P. Co.," "Northwestern Mutual," "L.B.Fisher & Co.," "Courtesy of Harry S. Newman," or "Printed in U.S.A.,"

The following describes the significant editions of Birds of America listed above in terms of the type of printing process, the approximate number of plates produced, the printed text, and the type of paper:

The Havell Edition (1827 - 1838)


This is earliest edition of Bird of America, and the first time that Audubon's watercolors appeared as prints. The method used to create them was that of aquatint engraving with color applied by hand after printing. Two engravers were engaged by Audubon to reproduce his watercolors for the Havell edition: William H. Lizars and Robert Havell, Jr. Lizars only engraved the first ten plates before labor issues caused a halt in production and the project was taken over by Robert Havell.

NUMBER PRODUCED: The set contained 435 plates. It is estimated that between 161 and 175 complete sets were produced.

TEXT: In addition to the name of the bird depicted (and sometimes its gender, age, and botanical notes as well) Audubon's name and the name of the engraver also appear printed on Havell Edition plates. On the lower left side is printed "Drawn from nature by John James Audubon F.R.S. and F.L.S." (Fellow of the Royal Society of London and Fellow of the Linnaean Society). The only exception to this is Plate 64, Swamp Sparrow, in which Lucy Audubon is credited. On the lower right side is printed "Engraved by" (in a few cases the words "Engraved and colored by" or "Retouched by" appear) followed by the name W.H. Lizars or Robert Havell, Jr. (Sometime after his father's death in 1832 Robert Havell, Jr. dropped the Jr.)

PAPER: This edition was printed on double elephant folio paper that measured approximately 26 x 39 inches. The paper was manufactured by J. Whatman and in most instances bears either the watermark "J. Whatman" or "J. Whatman / Turkey Mill" and the date of manufacture.

 

The First Royal Octavo Edition (1840 - 1844)


Having completed the Havell edition of Birds of America, in the late 1830's, Audubon turned his attention to producing a smaller version of his work. The resulting Octavo Edition contains 500 hand-colored lithographs. 435 of these lithographs were based on camera lucida reductions of the Havell Edition engravings. The additional 65 lithographs were based on new watercolors. The prints were primarily lithographed, printed, and colored by John T. Bowen, however at one point in the production Bowen was overwhelmed and had to send some of the work to Endicott in New York.

NUMBER PRODUCED: It is estimated that 1,200 sets of the first octavo edition were produced.

TEXT: In addition to the name of the bird depicted (and sometimes its gender, age, and botanical notes as well) Audubon's name and the name of the lithographer are also printed on First Octavo Edition plates. On the lower left is printed: "Drawn from Nature by J.J. Audubon F.R.S.F.L.S." On the lower right is printed: "Lith., Printed & Colored by J.T. Bowen Philad." or "Lith. & Printed by Endicott New York"

PAPER: The dimensions of the paper used for the First Octavo Edition were approximately 6 ½ x 10 ¾ inches. The paper was not watermarked.

The Bien Edition (1860)


The Bien Edition was a chromolithographic reissue of Birds of America on paper of similar size to the original elephant folio paper. It was a collaboration between John James Audubon's son, John Woodhouse, and Julius Bien, the lithographer. Bien and J.W. Audubon attempted to renumber the plates to correspond with those in the Octavo Edition. In addition to renumbering the plates, some of the plates were changed in that single birds were grouped together and in some instances backgrounds were changed. Small birds, which appeared one to a page in the Havell Edition, were placed two to a page in the Bien Edition, either juxtaposed side by side or with one above the other. The project was never completed on account of the Civil War, which created financial problems and caused the work to cease.

NUMBER PRODUCED: Only one volume was produced containing 106 plates. The number of volumes produced is estimated at between 50 and 100.

TEXT: In addition to the name of the bird depicted (and sometimes its gender, age, and botanical notes as well) Audubon's name and often the name of the Chromolithographer is also printed on Bien Edition plates. On the lower left is printed "Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon F.R.S.F.L.S." In most, but not all, cases on the lower right is written "Chromolith by J. Bien, New York" followed by the date 1858, 1859, or 1860. Note that in some cases two different species of birds appear on the same plate in the Bien Edition. As a result of this, often times the paper was cut in half in order to frame just one of the two birds. If a bird had been one of a pair placed horizontally on the paper and it was divided, only the bird on the left would have "Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon F.R.S.F.L.S." printed under the image. The bird on the right, in most cases, would have "Chromolith by J. Bien, New York" followed by the date printed under the image. When the paper on which two birds were placed vertically was divided, the bird from the upper half of the page would retain neither of the names. The bird on the bottom would have "Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon F.R.S.F.L.S." on the left under the image and most often would also have "Chromolith by J. Bien, New York" followed by the date printed on the right under the image.

PAPER: The dimensions of the paper used were 27 x 40. It was not watermarked.

The Amsterdam Edition (1972)


The Amsterdam Edition is a facsimile of a set of Havell edition Birds of America in the collection of Teyler's Museum in Haarlem produced using the technique of offset lithography. With the exception of the 1985 Abbeville Press edition, it is the first edition since the Havell to include all 435 plates printed on double elephant folio paper.

NUMBER PRODUCED: The Amsterdam edition was sold as a complete set and sold by subscription only. 250 sets were produced.

TEXT: Same as Havell edition.

PAPER: The dimensions of the paper used for the Amsterdam Edition were 39 x 25 inches. It was manufactured by G. Schut & Zonen and bears the following watermark:

 

If you would like further information on Audubon prints, contact us by phone at 617 536-6339 or email us at info@haleysteele.com

Haley & Steele 

162 Newbury Street, 2nd Floor    Boston, MA. 02116

info@haleyandsteele.com  Tel: (617) 536-6339