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
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.