A rare copy of the world’s most expensive book, John James Audubon’s 19th-century masterpiece of ornithological art, one of only 120, Birds of America, is set for auction in New York. Christie’s said the four-volume set has a pre-sale estimate of $7 million to $10 million. The auction is Jan. 20. Considered a masterpiece of ornithology art, the 3½ -foot-tall books feature hand-colored prints of all the species known to Audubon in early 19th century America. Audubon insisted on the book’s large format — printed on the largest hand-made sheets available at the time — because of his desire to portray the birds in their actual size and natural habitat. It will be accompanied by a complete first edition five-volume set of Audubon’s Ornithological Biography.
The pages were organized for artistic effect and contrasting interest, as if the reader were taking a visual tour. It took more than 14 years of field observations and drawings, plus his single-handed management and promotion of the project to make it a success.
Only 120 complete sets of Audubon’s 435 hand-coloured, life-sized engravings of America’s birds are believed to exist today, with the majority (107) owned by institutions. The last full edition of The Birds of America, which went up for auction in 2010, sold for £7.3 milion ($11.5 million) at Sotheby’s, breaking the world record for a single book. The new set was bought by the fourth Duke of Portland at some point after 1838 and is in “excellent” condition, said Christie’s, through whom it is being sold.
Both the illustrations and the biography are on view at Christie’s Rockefeller Center galleries till Jan.19, after which they will be auctioned. [Christies]