AUDUBON, John James and Rev. John BACHMAN. The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. New York: J.J. Audubon (--V.G. Audubon), 1845-54.
3 volumes, "elephant" broadsheets (689 x 543 mm). 3 lithographic title-pages and 3 pages of letterpress contents (volume I title spotted, slight discoloration to sheet edges, volumes II and III titles lightly offset, volume II contents leaf with soft vertical crease, volume III contents leaf with long vertical crease/tear repaired verso). 150 hand-colored lithographic plates after John James and John Woodhouse Audubon, the backgrounds after Victor Audubon, by J.T. Bowen (plate CXXIX misnumbered CXXIV, plate II with soft horizontal crease, plate XXV with soft vertical crease, plate XXVI with two soft diagonal creases extending from lower sheet edge, plate XXXI with heavier pale spotting, plate XXXIX with large marginal foxmark, plate XLVIII with one inch marginal tear, skillfully repaired on verso, plate LI with hard horizontal crease and unobtrusive paper-tape repair on verso, plate LIII with soft horizontal crease, plate LVII with soft diagonal crease to lower corner, plate LXVII with scattered foxmarks, plate XCV with irregular spotting overall, plate C with soft handling creases, 26 plates with offsetting on verso, mostly pale and not affecting images on recto, 14 plates with overall pale browning, irregular to plates XXXIV, XLI, XLVI, and LXXVIII, some pale spotting). Contemporary (publisher's?) black morocco gilt, turn-ins gilt, edges gilt (retouching to scuff marks on volumes I and II, spine ends of volume II repaired, volume III very skillfully rebacked to match, some other minor restoration).
Provenance: S.H. Green (stamp on titles).
FIRST EDITION. A FINE SET WITH BRILLIANT COLORING, EARLY ISSUE, bound in three volumes. The later issues were often bound in two volumes, and without the title-page for volume three. These two-volume sets have inferior coloring to the three volume sets.
At the same time Audubon was producing the commercially-successful octavo edition of his masterpiece, The Birds of America, he and his sons began production of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, an elephant folio of 150 lithographs meant to match the lavishness of the Birds. Unlike the double-elephant folio Birds, the Quadrupeds was produced entirely in the United States, making it the "largest single color plate book to be carried to a successful conclusion during the century [in this country]" (Reese). According to Reese, "By 1843 the Audubon family business was a well oiled machine, involving John James, his two sons, Victor and John Woodhouse, and various in-laws and friends. The octavo Birds was still in production when J.T. Bowen began to produce the plates for the elephant folio edition of the Quadrupeds, the largest successful color plate book project of 19th-century America. It took the family five years to publish 150 plates in thirty parts. The massive project was a commercial success, thanks to the close management of Victor. There were about three hundred subscribers."
The book was the product of Audubon's collaboration with John Bachman, a pastor who had studied quadrupeds since he was a young man and who was recognized as an authority on the subject in the United States. Audubon knew Bachman's contribution was critical, and endeavored to convince his friend to push aside his apprehensions about the project. Audubon, ever the energetic and ferocious creator, even when, as he wrote Bachman, "My Hair are grey and I am growing old," felt that the Quadrupeds could be his last outstanding achievement in natural history. The cautious Bachman felt Audubon was hurrying a project about whose subject he felt "we have much to learn." Bachman finally relented, however, assured that the project would not be hastily produced. Bachman's one condition was that all of the expenses, and the profits, were to be the Audubons, "I am anxious to do something for the benefit of Victor and John [Woodhouse]." Thus engaged, he urged Audubon: "Employ yourself now in drawing every quadruped you can lay your hands upon."
During the course of their collaboration, tragedy struck the two men with the deaths of Bachman's daughters Maria and Eliza, who were also the wives of Audubon's sons John Woodhouse and Victor. The loss put a great strain on the relationship, but Audubon tried to heal the wound by dedicating himself with vigor to his Quadrupeds. Audubon had promised Bachman "the very best figures of all our quadrupeds that have ever been thought of or expected," and indeed Bachman was impressed with the results. While the result was not on the scale of the Birds, the Quadrupeds contains the most sumptuous depiction of the mammals of North America produced, and firmly established Audubon as the age's great natural history artist.
The work originally appeared in thirty numbers with five plates each, with each number costing ten dollars. The success of the octavo edition of the Birds allowed Audubon enough funds to underwrite the printing of the Quadrupeds and to move to the country. The work was to be Audubon's last, and the bickering between Audubon and Bachman, mainly over points of accuracy and detail, continued to the end. With Audubon's eyesight failing, he was not able to see well enough to draw by 1846. He had completed half of the illustrations to the Quadrupeds but by this time was not in a condition to carry on. The completion of the project passed to his two sons, and with Audubon's mental condition weakening, they tried to keep his state out of public notice, in some part to prevent bad publicity from hurting the sales of the Quadrupeds. Audubon remained in a mostly incoherent state until he died on 27 January 1851. (See Shirley Streshinsky, Audubon: Life and Art in the American Wilderness, 1993.)
Bennett, p.5; McGill/Wood, p.208; Nissen ZBI 162; Reese 36; Sabin 2367. (3)