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Auctioneers and Appraisers of Objects of Value

Guide to Collecting John James Audubon Prints

Audubon, John James (1785-1851) Stanley Hawks, Plate 36. [from] Birds of America. London: R. Havell, 1826-1838 (Lot 361, Estimate $3,000-$5,000)

Five of the entries on the list of the top ten most expensive books ever sold are copies of The Birds of America by John James Audubon. A double elephant folio of the book sold for $10.3 million in 2010.  This book is a giant in both price and volume – the complete work measures 39.5 inches by 28.5 inches and contains 435 plates.

There’s a good reason that the book commands such high prices. Audubon created a genre of illustration that didn’t exist before. He depicted animals and birds, often at life-size, going about their lives in their natural habitats. His abilities as an artist and high scientific standards are perfectly captured in the hand-colored copper engravings, and people of all ages and backgrounds find themselves drawn to these lifelike images.

Thankfully, for those of us who don’t have an extra $10 million lying around, individual prints from inside the book are often available at auction. I love this plate of Stanley Hawks, which will be offered in the November 17, 2013 Fine Books & Manuscripts auction in Boston (Lot 361, Estimate $3,000-$5,000). I’m fascinated by birds of prey, and this print has the added inclusion of the stunningly colored bluebird, trying to evade capture by the two hawks.

3 Tips for determining the value of Audubon prints

Audubon, John James (1785-1851) Hermit Thrush, Plate LVIII. [from] Birds of America. London: R. Havell, 1826-1838 (Lot 353, Estimate $400-$600)


1. Size matters!

Know what edition you’re dealing with. Prints from the large folio edition, also called the Havell edition, are worth more than smaller prints from the octavo edition, which was published later and is one-eighth the size of the original.

2. Understand condition issues

Prints should never be mounted onto board, as acid can leech into the paper and affect the color. Exposure to direct sunlight fades the colors and can brown the paper. Folds, tears, or worn corners also affect the value of a print. Remember, prints are multiples – most collectors want to find and purchase the copy in the most pristine condition possible.

3. What’s your favorite animal?

The subject matter of an Audubon print also helps determine the value. Larger birds tend to bring higher prices than song birds. Great Blue Heron, American Flamingo, and Wild Turkey, Male are three of the most valuable prints from The Birds of America. Audubon also illustrated animals, and in a recent Skinner auction a depiction of mice with a block of cheese sold for $7,200, while a print of a pair of white-footed mice brought $720.

My favorite Audubon print from the November auction is the Hermit Thrush (Lot 353, Estimate $400-$600). It’s not the most valuable Audubon in the sale, but it’s a bird I love. It’s secretive, shy, and lives in dense underbrush and woods; but its song is distinctive and one many people would recognize, even if they’ve never seen the bird.

We’re also excited to be offering a first edition of the octavo printing of The Birds of America (Lot 362, Estimate $30,000-$35,000). Previews are open to the public the same week as the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. Stop by the Skinner Boston gallery on Friday, November 15th through Sunday, November 17th.

13 thoughts on “Guide to Collecting John James Audubon Prints

  1. Hi, I have an original Havell elephant folio paper…snowy egret.
    Is it still holding its value? It was upwards of $100,000 when I checked a few years ago.

  2. I believe I have a compete 4 volume set of havell Audubon birds of America. I am trying to estimate a value can you help me. there are watermarks with havell on some of the prints.

  3. I have two folios of prints. 18 Best Loved Bird Paintings By
    Adubon and Wild Flowers of America 18 Paintings in Full color from the collection in the Smithsonia Institution. This is what is wriiten on the envelopes they are in. The bird prints have a
    code of P00042 and the flowers have a code of 120119. Other than
    what is given there is no other markings. They are on heavy cream colored stock paper in original envelope.

  4. Hi looking for a little help i picked up two large prints at goodwill. one is no.37 Gordonia Pubesceus on the bottom it says engraved. printed. & coloured. by R. Havell.1833.

    The other one is no.26 Ground Hemlock taxus Canadensis
    Rosebreasted Grosbeck. they both say Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon. any help!!! are they worth anything? Thanks for your time!!

  5. I havea` birds of america reprintedd in 1941 in fair shape.what’s itsapproximat value??:thanks Dee Coonley

  6. Hi, I own a first edition set of the three volumes of Quadrapeds of North America octavo edition. 1849, 1851, 1854. They are fully bound and are in very good + condition with no issues to the plates on torn pages! etc.
    Can you please tell me what the current value of these should be. Thank you, Greg

  7. Hi,

    I have a Havelli, Plate CCCCII No. 81. It is framed and in excellent condition. It was purchased in a collection as an investment and I’m debating on selling it for other investments. I’ve checked the authenticity and values, but I’m not sure where to go now. Could you give some insight? Thanks :)

  8. I have several Audubon prints in my possession.
    Red Headed Duck nr, 65
    Azure Marbler nr. 10
    Buffel Headed Duck
    Ruff necked humming bird nr. 76
    Sharp tailed finch nr. 30
    Blue Jay nr. 21
    Snowy Heron and White Egret nr. 49
    Louisiana Heron nr. 44
    If possible, can you tell me what the value is of these prints.
    Thank you very much.

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