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The Original Edition

Acknowledged as one of the most important and beautiful color plate books ever published, John James Audubon's The Birds of America is also one of the rarest and most collectable. It was published from 1827 to 1839 in sets of four volumes. More than 160 subscribers paid US$1,000 each (US$20,200 in today's dollars). There is a consensus that not more than 200 sets were printed and not less than 170. Line engravings and aquatint by William H. Lizars of Edinburgh and more importantly by Robert Havell Jr. of London, transformed Audubon's original life-size watercolors into a work of rare beauty.

To accommodate these large illustrations, The Birds of America was published as a double elephant folio some 40 inches tall and 28 inches wide, equivalent to 100 by 68 centimeters. The Birds of America depicts more than one thousand birds which come vividly alive in its 435 pages. Its value to science and especially to ornithology cannot be overstated.

Publication of The Birds of America

Red-shouldered Hawk
In 1824, Audubon sought to publish his paintings and was advised to have them engraved in Europe. He arrived in England in 1826 with at least 250 of them, creating enough interest to raise money for their publication.

In London, Audubon met Robert Havell Jr., a meeting which would change his life and create publishing history. Havell was a celebrated engraver who over the next decade would transform Audubon's watercolor drawings into the brilliance that became the double elephant folio edition of The Birds of America.

Each four volume set of The Birds of America comprised 435 hand colored life-size prints of 489 bird species. They were engraved on copper plates and printed on 40 by 28 inch paper equivalent to 100 by 68 centimeters.

More than 50 colorists were hired for the original edition, engraved in aquatint by Robert Havell Jr. They colored the printed sheets with Audubon's original watercolor drawings as their guide.

More than 160 years since his death, John James Audubon's The Birds of America remains the rarest, the most collectable and the most celebrated picture book ever published. The iGroup Press and Yushodo are pleased to publish this unique edition of The Birds of America for the 21st century enabled by digital technology.

Number of Original Copies

Mallard Duck
It is known that The Birds of America, published from 1827 to 1839, attracted at least 160 subscribers each paying US$1,000. How many copies were eventually printed is unknown, but it is thought to be no less than 170 and no more than 200.

Of the 200 copies of The Birds of America, only a handful is owned by individuals. The balance that survives is found in museums, libraries and institutions. Of the 119 complete sets accounted for, 13 are owned by individuals and 106 are in institutions.

Only two sets are known to be in the Asia Pacific region, one at The State Library of Victoria in Australia, the other at Meisei University, Japan, the latter being the source of this 21st Century Edition.

Auction Prices

Spruce Grouse
At the time of its publication, subscribers to The Birds of America paid US$1,000 each (US$20,200 at today's prices) for the four volumes of color plates and accompanying volumes describing the birds.

Because of its rarity and because it represents a landmark in art, ornithology and publishing, the few copies of The Birds of America known to have been sold have commanded huge prices.

On 1 April 2014 at Sotheby's in New York, Lot 101, the Indiana Historical Society's copy of The Birds of America, fetched US$3,525,000 at auction. Eighty-one years earlier in 1933, the Society acquired it for US$3,000, or US$53,000 at today's prices. The pre-sale estimate was US$3,000,000 to US$5,000,000.

On 7 December 2010, Birds of America became the most expensive book of all time when it was sold at auction in London to an anonymous buyer for GB£7,300,000 the equivalent of US$11,500,000. It beat the previous record of US$10,200,000 also fetched by another copy of The Birds of America in 2000.

In 2005, the unbound copy owned by the Providence Athenaeum sold at Christie's New York for US$5,600,000. The differing prices reflect the condition and provenance of each volume. The more pristine and prestigious the copy, the higher the cost at auction.

The Economist (2010) in its ranking of the most expensive books of all time has five places in the top ten occupied by The Birds of America.

Enquiries about John James Audubon's The Birds of America, 21st Century Edition, and the availability of individual prints can be directed to

iGroup Press Co., Ltd
8 Soi Krungthep Kreetha 8 Yaek 8
Huamark, Bangkapi, Bangkok 10240
Tel : +66 2769 3888 / Fax : +66 2379 5183
Email :

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