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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.

36 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.

  9. I am considering selling my elephant folio Stanley Hawk it is an original which came out of
    an antebellum plantation mansion a few miles outside of New orleans in an estate purchase by the New Orleans Antiques Shop called The Treasure Trove or something close to that in 1966 or 67 while my husband and I were in the shop and we reserved the right to purchase at that time. The piece had been in the possession of the family who had resided in the home for generations, and this was the first time out of the home as the last of the family had just passed away.

    Do you have any idea of the current range of value for such a piece?

    Thank you for your time.

  10. I have 2 Audubon framed prints of Birds Of American “Turtle Dove” and Meadowlark”. Can you tell me what the value of these prints are. They are life size. Thank you.

  11. I have a Elephant sized print Wild Turkey, plate 1, print 1 and have no idea of value for insurance purpose. Can you give me an idea?

    Thank you

  12. Hi there, I am in Upstate, NY. I have 4 Audubon prints. The writing is correct on all of them (according to what is suppose to be on original prints), and I have looked in to a 17x loupe, and I do not see dots. I do see where the color has gone outside of the lines in areas though. They are all Art Gallery framed. So, I removed the paper and the cardboard backing to get to the print. The birds are life size. Each is Havell Senior and Havell Junior are on a couple, and one has Lizars name. The print is on a very thick stock card paper, not rollable. It has an indent around it. I see no water mark,… and then I realized that the size is not quite 20.5 long and not quite 13.5 wide. I think it has been trimmed. I am wondering if you believe that there remains monetary value. Thank You.

  13. I have 6 plates of The John James Birds of America limited edition of 5000 plates. i will list 3 here:
    – Grey King Bird # 2766
    – Tree Sparro # 2675
    – Scrub of Florida Jay # 766

    I am interested in possible selling these and the other 3.

  14. I have a Bob Havelli plate ccccxl that was framed by Franklin Picture Company.
    It was purchased at an estate sale in New Orleans. I was wondering where I
    Go from here to decide if I would like to sell or keep it as an investment for my grandchildren.
    Thank you in advance.

  15. I purchased a 1987-88 Introductory Edition 1,000 prints– Complete Folio includes – Deluxe Casing and illustrated text plus 5 original graphics (based on Audubon’s / Havell’s original works and engravings.
    Key West Quail Dove
    Blue Winged Warbler
    Little Blue Heron
    Great Egret
    Sandhill Crane

    Any thoughts? I appreciate any information you could offer.

  16. I have a book signed by J.J. Audubon with 435 plates in it of birds from original drawings. The book and binding is in good condition. Is there any value to this?
    Thank you any information you could give.

  17. I just recently bought the 1946, fifth printing of the book, “Birds of America” at a yard sale. I am wondering as to its true value. Would you be able to tell me?

  18. I have a number of large Audubon prints. Most are more than 20 inches wide by 30 inches tall. For example, I have Carolina Parrots, Blue Jay, Wood Duck, Flamingo and others. I purchased the prints in early 1980s at the Smithsonian or at the National Gallery of Art in DC, when there was a big show of Auudubon prints. The pieces are beautifully framed, making these prints very powerful. What is an appropriate value for these pieces.

  19. Hey Skinner Auctions, can you openly share your thoughts / ballpark figure(s) on the oil paintings he produced as gifts, sales promos, and a means to support himself before the book of plate prints was published? I have been having the privilege to admire up close and personal a 100% authentic oil version of plate #1. Magnificent piece to say the least. Any clue what such a piece would command at hammer? I’m sure you’re reluctant to even entertain that such a rarity would magically pop up – as was I. But please: humor me and openly comment on what you would evaluate such a unicorn at if it was clearly authentic. /

    – fine condition
    – life sized – just like the plates
    – signed by Audubon and someone that I assume did the backdrop

    How much do you think that unicorn in the window would fetch at Auction?

  20. I am collecting items for a tag sale for my local library, and was given a set of 15 prints described on their original envelope as “extra set of illustrations to accompany your copy of Audubon’s America”. (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston) Since these prints have no water mark, I’m assuming they are worth a lot less than the prints themselves would be. I’m raising money for my library, not for personal profit, and would appreciate any guidance you might be able to give me about what to do with these.

  21. Hi, I have an 1870 8-volume edition of ‘Birds of America’, complete with all 500 plates, bound in leather spine and boards. As I am interested in selling it I would appreciate an estimate of how much it would sell for. Can also send photos. Thanks.

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