This exhibition will present prints from several editions of John James Audubon’s Royal Octavo editions of The Birds of America as well as from The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Also included will be examples of boundvolumes and comparisons to prints from earlier, larger format editions.
As soon as John James Audubon saw the completion of the double elephant folio of The Birds of America in 1838, he returned to America from England and began working on an octavo edition of the Birds. This smaller edition would allow Audubon to produce single plates of birds he had represented on composite plates at the end of the double elephant folio. He could also make corrections and include western birds he had identified since finalizing the content of his monumental work. Furthermore, the octavo edition was more affordable for his audience, and he could easily market them based partly on the considerable celebrity he had gained since the publication of the double elephant folio.
Audubon and his son, John Woodhouse Audubon, reduced the original Havell prints with a camera lucida and then turned them over to J.T. Bowen, a Philadelphia lithographer. Bowen printed the black and white images on 6 ½ x 10 ¾ inch paper, and like the engravings for the double elephant folio, each print was hand colored. The first edition of the octavo was completed in seven volumes between 1840 and 1844. Second and third editions, published by J.J. Audubon’s sons, followed in 1856 and 1859. Four more were published after the Audubon sons’ deaths, the last of which often included three volumes of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.