AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851). The Birds of America, from Drawings made in the United States and their Territories. New York: J.J. Audubon, Philadelphia: E.G. Dorsey for J.J. Audubon, New York and J.B. Chevalier, Philadelphia, [1839-]1840-1844.
7 volumes (2 text volumes, numbered I-IV and V-VII; and 5 plate volumes (I-V), royal 8o (266 x 170 mm). Half-titles. 500 hand-colored lithographic plates after Audubon by W.E. Hitchcock, R. Trembly and others, printed and colored by J. T. Bowen, wood-engraved anatomical diagrams in text, subscribers list in all volumes, plates. (Plates 1-278 with small Latin captions in manuscript, occassionally some light staining, but generally very clean throughout.) 19th-century green cloth, spines lettered and decorated in gilt, possibly a German binding, (hinges of first volume cracked).
A FINE COPY OF THE FIRST OCTAVO EDITION of John James Audubon's masterpiece, a fine, tall copy with colors very clean and fresh, bound in an unique way: the text is bound in two volumes, and the plates are bound in the remaining 5 volumes, the supplementary plates 484-500 are bound in the plate volumes in their respective family and genus.
Audubon's fame was firmly established by the lavish double-elephant folio edition of The Birds of America produced between 1827-1838. For that work, Audubon had felt that there was no American printer capable of taking such a demanding project and so travelled to London to employ some of that country's finest craftsmen, William Home Lizars and Robert Havell. For the octavo edition, however, Audubon returned to the United States and employed the Philadelphia firm of J.T. Bowen to produce a more commercially viable edition of the work under the close supervision of his sons. The subscription price for the work was $100, making it an expensive work aimed at the country's wealthy, although its potential to reach a greater public far surpassed that of the double-elephant folio edition. The market success was immense, launching Audubon into financial security and firmly establishing his wide-ranging appeal as the greatest ornithological artist of his (or perhaps any) time.
To the original plate count included in the double-elephant folio edition, the octavo edition adds 65 new images for a total of 500 plates, making it "the most extensive color plate book produced in America up to that time" (Reese). The plates were reduced by camera lucida and lithographed, with some of the backgrounds entirely changed or greatly modified. The original compositions are altered so that only one species is depicted per plate. The text itself is a revision of the Ornithological Biography, rearranged according to Audubon's "A Synopsis of the Birds of North America" (1839). Ayer/Zimmer, p.22; Bennett, p.5; McGill/Wood, p.208; Nissen IVB 51; Reese 34; Sabin 2364. (7)