AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851).  The Birds of America; from Original Drawings.  London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.
AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851). The Birds of America; from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.

AUDUBON, John James (1785-1851). The Birds of America; from Original Drawings. London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838.

4 volumes, "double-elephant" broadsheets (985/987 x 660/664 mm). Engraved title-page in each volume and 435 hand-colored, etched and aquatinted plates, by William H. Lizars (Edinburgh), Robert Havell, Sr and Robert Havell, Jr (London), after Audubon's original life-size watercolor drawings, on J. Whatman and J. Whatman Turkey Mill paper with watermarks dated 1827-1838 (see Appendix B).

First state of the title in volume I, containing 13 lines (before the addition of two extra lines listing Audubon's memberships to learned societies and without volume number). The plates in this set are arranged in order of publication (not by families) and numbered I-X, 11-14, XV, 16-71, LXXII, 73-74, LXXV-LXXVI, 77, LXXVIII-LXXX, 81, LXXXII, 83, LXXXIV-LXXXV, 86-100, CI-CCCCXXXV. Thus, most of the first 100 plates (Vol. I) are early states with Arabic numbering. All but three of the first ten plates are engraved by William Home Lizars alone, before retouching by R. Havell, Jr. For a comparison of the states of the legends on the first ten plates in this copy with Waldemar Fries' listing of the variants, in his landmark monograph on the double elephant folio, see Appendix A.

Two paper stocks were used throughout the production, both bearing the name of the English paper-maker James Whatman. William Balston, the apprentice and successor of the younger James Whatman, shared the rights to the old Whatman company and used the watermark "J Whatman"; the Hollingsworth family had the rights to the watermark "J Whatman Turkey Mill." The sheet size of the paper is known as "double elephant," measuring 39½ x 29½ inches, approximately the same size of the drawing paper that bears the same name. For watermarks in the individual sheets of this set, see Appendix B.



The Fox-Bute set is in very fine condition, retaining its freshness of color and displaying a vibrant yet at times subtle palette. The volumes show a minimal evidence of handling and (as one might expect) this is mostly limited to the first volume. The plates show occasional minor ink residue or toning along platemarks (sometimes accompanied by minor ink spotting or speckling) from the time of printing. Other evidence of the human element in this endeavor is occasionally apparent from a watercolorist's smear or error, or a pressman's inky fingerprint. Condition description by volume follows below; for individual plate condition, see Appendix B.

Vol. 1: Flyleaves mounted on free endpapers, title-page creased and soiled, several shallow nicks affecting approximately 20 fore-margins; Vol. 2: Flyleaves mounted on free endpapers, title-page slightly soiled and with several vertical creases, a few tears patched on verso of title-page; Vol. 3: Both flyleaves unmounted (watermark J Whatman 1837), title-page slightly frayed along fore-margin, rear free endpaper detached with some chipping along gutter margin; Vol. 4: Both flyleaves unmounted (watermark J Whatman 1837), front flyleaf with 4-inch tear (early repair), title-page with vertical crease. All volumes contain occasional handling creases (predominantly marginal, most evident in Vol. I), occasional pale offsetting on versos, Volumes III and IV with occasional faint mildew-spotting on some upper margins.


According to Audubon's Ledger "B", the George Lane Fox set was purchased "loose" (in sheets), and the simple binding was no doubt commissioned by Fox shortly after the subscription was completed in 1838. It was probably executed in the capital, but a provincial shop cannot be entirely excluded.

Contemporary three-quarter maroon morocco, blind- and gilt-rolled foliate borders along leather edges on sides, marbled boards, spine in ten compartments with nine raised bands, gilt-lettered in three, a repeated gilt floral panel in the others, top edges gilt, deckle edges frequently preserved (spine and jointes of Vol. I skilfully restored, Vols. 2 & 4 with repairs to spine ends, some scrapes retouched, some wear, marbled boards rubbed); brown buckram over wooden fall-down-back boxes, gilt morocco lettering pieces on covers and spines.

John James Audubon was born on April 26, 1785 in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (now Haiti). He was the illegitimate son of Jean Audubon, a French sea captain and agent for a Nantes mercantile firm in Santo Domingo, and Mlle. Jeanne Rabin(e?), his Creole mistress. The mother died within a year of her son's birth, and young Audubon and his half sister (Jean's illegitimate daughter by another mistress) were sent to Nantes in 1791, where they joined their father and his wife Anne Moynet. The two were legally adopted in 1794, and Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon (his full legal adopted name) spent his early youth at Nantes and Couëron, where he received a minimal elementary education. Here, Audubon's lifelong preoccupation with birds found its earliest expression, as he spent endless hours collecting specimens from his countryside rambles, later to be stuffed and drawn.

In 1803, following the loss of the family's fortune, when French political control of Santo Domingo had ended, John James was sent to eastern Pennsylvania, initially under the care of an associate of his father's, Miers Fisher. Difficulties in this arrangement led to Audubon's move to Mill Grove, his father's farm near Philadelphia, where his boyhood interest in drawing bird specimens grew. Here he met his future wife Lucy Bakewell, the daughter of a prosperous neighbor. They married in 1808 and moved first to the new settlement of Louisville, and later to Henderson, Kentucky, where John James failed as merchant and miller. In 1812, Audubon became a naturalized American citizen.

The largely unspoiled wilderness of Kentucky allowed Audubon an increasing range of birds to hunt and draw, and lacking formal artistic training, he worked hard at developing a new method of mounting dead birds on wires as an aid to delineation. In 1810, Audubon briefly met the distinguished ornithologist Alexander Wilson at Louisville, where he saw the first two volumes of the artist-author's pioneering American Ornithology. He later implied, perhaps correctly, that his own drawings were, even at that time, better than Wilson's. Although the idea of publication first entered his mind on this occasion, it was not until 1820, following bankruptcy, that Audubon set out by flatboat for Louisiana, with the single goal of adding to his portfolio of bird pictures. He worked precariously as an itinerant artist and tutor, leaving much of the burden to Lucy of supporting herself and their two sons. They settled on a plantation near New Orleans called Bayou Sara. Finally, Audubon came into his full powers as a brilliant painter of birds and master of design, chiefly working in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In the spring of 1824, he sought publication of his work in Philadelphia and New York. Failing this, he travelled to England in 1826. Originally, The Birds of America was planned to be issued serially in eighty parts of five plates each, for a total of 400 plates. The final count, however, would increase to 435 in 87 parts, owing to discoveries of new species made by Thomas Nuttall and John Kirk Townsend on the Wyeth expedition to the Columbia River in 1834. The monumental format of this work was dictated by Audubon's insistence that each species be shown life-size and his determination to depict all the known species found in North America. It soon became evident to Audubon that to publish the work he had envisioned, he must travel to Britain, where through exhibitions of his drawings he came in contact with the scientific community. One of his early acquaintances here was the historian and botanist, William Roscoe, who helped arrange these exhibitions. At one such exhibition in Manchester, he met the American consul, F.S. Brookes from Boston, who advised him to publish his "Great Work" by subscription, a traditional method of raising funds in advance of the great expenses involved in such a publication--which Audubon anticipated would take 14 years to complete.

"The dramatic impact of his ambitious, complex pictures and a romantic image as 'the American woodsman' secured Audubon entry into a scientific community much preoccupied with little-known lands. He met the leaders of society and science and was elected to the leading organizations, including the Royal Society of London. Among his friends were the gifted ornithologist William Swainson, from whom he learned some niceties of technical ornithology, and the orderly, brilliant Scottish naturalist-anatomist William MacGillivray. The text for Audubon's pictures, separately produced at Edinburgh, emerged as the five-volume Ornithological Biography [a set of the text volumes is included with the lot]. MacGillivray edited this for grammatical form, and he also contributed extensive anatomical descriptions to the later volumes" (DSB).

In Edinburgh, the printer and zoologist, Patrick Neill, a fellow member of the Wernerian Society, directed Audubon to William Home Lizars (1788-1859), "the best engraver in the city" who was currently engraving for Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867) and Sir William Jardine (1800-1874), Britain's foremost ornithologists. Lizars was so impressed with Audubon's drawings, that he put aside the work he was currently doing for Selby and agreed to take on the Herculean task of printing the plates. For the time being, Audubon had found his engraver, and could now concentrate on seeking patronage for the work, which took him to the noblest homes of Britain and Europe, and to the new markets of the young American Republic--as may be seen from the original list of subscribers.

The relationship with the engraver Lizars was not long-lasting. During the engraving of the first two parts (each containing five plates), Lizar's colorists went on strike, causing Audubon to search for another engraver for his "Great Work." Audubon went to London, where he met Robert Havell, senior member of the well-known family of artists and aquatinters. At fifty-eight Havell, Sr felt he was too old for such an undertaking leading him to find a younger engraver for the project, which ultimately led to his own estranged son Robert Jr, an accomplished engraver working at the time for Colnaghi. The two were reconciled and entered upon a successful business partnership, known as Robert Havell and Son. A life-long friendship was established between Audubon and Robert junior, and together they created the greatest of all bird books, arguably the highest achievement of ornithological art.
As a subscription publication, The Birds of America was issued over a decade according to demand, and the plates bear a range of imprints, which varies from set to set. We know that Robert senior died in 1832 and that Robert junior then styled himself R. Havell. Fries cites the variants in the names on the first ten plates, which are likely to cause the most confusion as they were the ones engraved by Lizars. They were handed over to the Havells as soon as they had been engaged for the project, and the imprint was amended to reflect this. The earliest states of plate I have "Engraved by W.H. Lizars Edinr.", while later states have "Retouched by R. Havell Junr." Although Havell junior engraved all the plates after number 10, there is no evidence to support a conclusion from the final variants of plates III, IV, V and X, that Havell completely re-engraved the plates, despite the removal of Lizars name from the imprint. Some plates bear no distinction between the senior and junior Havells. Others mention Lizars engraving, but Havell senior printing and coloring (e.g. plate VII), or Robert junior retouching and Robert senior printing and coloring (see Appendix B for imprints on the plates in the present set).


Although the final list of subscribers to The Birds of America totaled 161, a somewhat greater number of sets certainly was produced. Bibliographers of the double-elephant folio have calculated the edition size at approximately 200 completed copies. In her updating of Fries' 1973 census, Susanne Low writes, "119 complete copies are known to exist in the world today. 108 are in institutions such as universities, libraries, museums, athenaeums, societies, and the like. 11 are in private hands." Since 1973, 19 copies of the book have been sold. Of these, twelve have been sold on a sheet-by-sheet basis and are dispersed, and another set was incomplete, lacking volume IV. The present set is not counted among Low's figure of 119 copies known to exist, but is included among the copies of original owners-subscribers that have vanished in the 19th or 20th century. She referred to it as "the Fox family copy, Original Owner-Subscriber: Geo. Lamb [sic] Fox." In Audubon's final list of subscribers, published in the final volume of the Ornithological Biography (pp. 647-51), he lists both a "George Lamb Fox, Esq., Yorkshire," as well as a "George Lane Fox, Esq. Yorkshire." Fries concludes that "Audubon must have duplicated names in making up the list, for there is no George Lamb Fox, Yorkshire listed in Ledger 'B'." (Fries, p. 169). The "lost" George Lane Fox set is among the finest complete copies offered in the last several decades.


George Lane Fox, M.P. (c.1791-1848), of Bramham Park, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, original subscriber ("fox" inscribed on lower margin of plate 201, on upper margin of plate 301, and on verso of final plate in pencil in a different hand). Audubon wrote to Havell from Edinburgh, 31 October 1831: "I am glad that Mr Calvert procured the subscription of George Lane Fox (Yorkshire) - do you know where that Gentn resides in Yorkshire?" (Letters, v.I, pp. 119-20). Apart from ornithology, Fox also had an interest in botany, but his greatest passion was for racing and gambling. He was a friend of the Prince Regent. His and his wife's portraits by Sir George Haytor remain at Bramham Park today. The house was seriously damaged by fire in 1828, and was only restored by Detmar Blow in 1909. -- By descent to the subscriber's great-grandson George Richard Lane-Fox (Sotheby's sale, 27 July 1909, lot 269, #380 to London booksellers Bernard Quaritch) -- John, 4th marquess of Bute (1881-1947); an archive memo at Mount Stuart, dated 25 October 1911, records the purchase from Quaritch at #585.


AUDUBON, John James. Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America; accompanied by descriptions of the objects represented in the work entitled The Birds of America. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1831-1849 [i.e. 1839]. 5 volumes, 8o (253 x 160 mm). Later half marroon morocco gilt, marbled boards, t.e.g., by Arthur S. Colley. Provenance: Mount Stuart, Bute Collection. FIRST EDITION. "As early as November of 1826, shortly after Lizars had begun the engraving of the Birds of America, Audubon had written in his journal: 'I shall publish the letterpress in a separate book, at the same time with the illustrations, and shall accompany the descriptions of the birds with many anecdotes and accounts of localities connected with the birds themselves, and with my travels in search of them.' Had Audubon included the letterpress with the engravings, he would have been required, under the British Copyright Act of 1709, to deposit a copy of the work in nine libraries in the United Kingdom. Hence his letterpress appeared separately in the five volumes of the Ornithological Biography" (Fries, p. 47).


Ayer/Zimmer, pp. 18-20, 20-21 (Ornithological Biography); Copenhagen/Anker 17, 18 (Ornithological Biography); Ellis/Mengel 96 (Ornithological Biography); Fine Bird Books, p. 57; Waldemar H. Fries, The Double Elephant Folio (Chicago 1973); Susanne M. Low, An Index and Guide to Audubon's Birds of America (New York 1988); Low, Catalogue of the New Birds of America Section of the Audubon Archives (New York 1993); McGill/Wood, p. 207 (Ornithological Biography), 209; Nissen IVB 49. (9)

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