Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2014 Issue

Tracking the Most Expensive Book – A Copy of Audubon's Birds of America is Sold

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A copy of the most expensive, reasonably obtainable printed book was sold at auction at the beginning of April. The double-elephant folio first edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America was hammered down at Sotheby's in New York on April 1. For years, Audubon's Birds held the record for the highest price ever reached at auction. It was pushed down a notch last fall when a copy of the Bay Psalm Book surpassed its record, but the Bay Psalm is not really obtainable. It had been 66 years since the previous copy was offered at auction, and it's unlikely that any of us will live long enough to see another one come around. A Gutenberg Bible would obtain many, many times as much as a Bay Psalm if it ever reached market, but none of those have been seen since early in the last century. An Audubon first is still obtainable, a copy coming to market every few years.

 

This can be explained by the relative commonness of a first edition Birds of America. There are believed to be at least 120 copies of it still in existence. Only 11 copies of the Bay Psalm Book are known to have survived. Many more copies of the Bay Psalm Book were said to have been printed, but it was not a spectacular production and would have been used until worn ragged. Audubon's Birds was a spectacularly beautiful book. Most copies were lovingly cared for and handed down through the generations.

 

This copy did not achieve anything like the $11.4 million record reached by the Lord Hesketh copy in 2010. It wasn't expected to be close. The Lord Hesketh copy was in pristine condition. This one was not. It wasn't in bad shape; it just wasn't particularly good either. Instead, it sold for $3,525,000. That was above the $3 million estimate of its previous owner, the Indiana Historical Society, and within the $3-$5 million estimate range given by Sotheby's.

 

The Indiana Historical Society purchased its copy in 1933, for a very reasonable price of $4,000. That was during the height of the Depression, so bargains were undoubtedly available, especially since $4,000 would have been a meaningful amount of money in those days. Nonetheless, a gain of 88,000% is more than good, even for 80 years. Whoever made that purchase on behalf of the Indiana Historical Society is owed a big “thank you.”

 

The shortcoming in terms of value with this copy is that it had been purchased by the Indiana Historical Society from a library. Library copies are often actually used, as opposed to being gently placed on a bookshelf. There was some soiling and other evidences of use. Linen backing to the plates did not help. Still, $3.5 million is serious cash. We do not know this for certain, but would not be surprised if this is the highest price ever paid for an ex-library book.

 

This was the fifth copy of this book to come up for sale at auction this century. The most recent previous copy sold in 2012 for $7,922,500. Before that, the then record setting Hesketh copy went in 2010. Another copy sold in 2005 for $5,616,000, and one sold in 2000 for $8,802,500. The 2000 sale also set a record for the most expensive printed book ever sold at auction at that time, not surpassed until the Hesketh copy a decade later. At least four copies of the book sold in the 20th century for over $1 million.

 

Along with Audubon's most famous work, one other book was sold at Sotheby's auction. It was a copy of Audubon's other great color plate book – a first edition of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. It sold for $245,000. The Indiana Historical Society purchased this book in 1951 for $900.

 

The Probability of Reappearance tool that comes with the AE Database estimates that another copy of the first edition of Birds of America will likely come around for auction again in roughly another 3 years. If you are interested in getting the next one, we suggest you start saving your pennies today.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Doyle<br>Fine Literature<br>September 30</b>
    <b>Doyle, Fine Literature:</b> WHITMAN, WALT. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First Edition. $150,000 to $250,000.
    <b>Doyle, Fine Literature:</b> MILNE, A.A. and SHEPARD, E.H. <i>Now We Are Six.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Doyle, Fine Literature:</b> HEMINGWAY, ERNEST. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Doyle, Fine Literature:</b> NABOKOV, VLADIMIR. <i>Lolita.</i> First American Edition. $5,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>Doyle<br>Fine Literature<br>September 30</b>
    <b>Doyle, Fine Literature:</b> RAND, AYN. <i>Atlas Shrugged.</i> $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Fine Literature:</b> STEINBECK, JOHN. <i>To a God Unknown.</i> First Edition. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Doyle, Fine Literature:</b> WELLS, H.G. <i>The Works of H.G. Wells.</i> $4,000 to $6,000.
    <center><b>We Invite You to Consign!<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps</b>
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Chagall (Marc). <i>Cirque,</i> one of 270 copies on Arches signed by the artist, 38 lithographs, 23 colour, Paris, Tériade Éditeur, 1967. £100,000 to £150,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Sangorski (Alberto).- Poe (Edgar Allan). <i>Annabel Lee and Other Poems,</i> illuminated manuscript in gold and colours, bound in turquoise morocco tooled in gilt and inlaid with 35 jewels, [c.1928]. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Darwin (Charles) and Alfred R. Wallace. “On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties...,” contained in <i>Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society,</i> 1859. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Ornament.- Basque metalwork.- Zuloaga (Eusebio) and Workshop. Collection of twenty-three original ornament designs for damascening, [19th century]. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Arms and Armour.- Rugendas.- <i>Der Harnisch Von Seinem Entstehen Bis Zu Seinem Wiedervergehen In Bildern Dargestelt Und Gezeichnet,</i> [1714 and later]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Webster (John). <i>A Monumental Columne, erected to the liuing memory of the euer-glorious Henry, late Prince of Wales,</i> rare first edition, Printed by N[icholas]. O[kes]. for William Welby, 1613. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Donne (John). <i>Poems, by J.D. with elegies on the Authors Death,</i> first edition, Printed by M[iles]. F[lesher]. for Iohn Marriot, 1633. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Brangwyn (Frank). <i>Venice,</i> oil on canvas, [c. 1908]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Sewell (Anna). <i>Black Beauty: his Grooms and Companions. The Autobiography of a Horse,</i> first edition, original cloth, [1877]. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Gray (John Edward). <i>Gleanings from the Knowsley Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall,</i> first edition, one of c.100 copies privately printed for the author, 1850. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> George III (King). Warrant signed "George R" for the payment of £60,634 granted for the North American Provinces to the Province of Massachusetts Bay, D.s., manuscript, [c. 1761-62]. £2,000 to £2,500.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Mecca, Medina & Damascus.- 2 manuscript plans of Mecca and El Medinah and a map of Damascus, 3 detailed pen and ink drawings with 3pp. of manuscript notes, [late 19th century]. £1,000 to £1,500.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Selections from the Library of<br>Gerald and Barbara Weiner<br>Live and Online<br>October 8, 2020 / 10am CT</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> DARWIN, Charles Robert. <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.</i> London: W. Clowes and Sons for John Murray, 1859. [With] autograph note signed. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> [FINE PRESS & LIVRE D'ARTISTE]. -- [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey. <i>The Works ... now newly imprinted.</i> Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> LAWRENCE, Thomas Edward. <i>Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a triumph.</i> [London: Privately Printed], 1926. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Selections from the Library of<br>Gerald and Barbara Weiner<br>Live and Online<br>October 8, 2020 / 10am CT</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Mr. William Shakespear's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies…</i> London, Printed for H. Herringman, E. Brewster, R. Chiswell, and R. Bentley, 1685. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> AUDUBON, John James. <i>The Birds of America…</i> [1839-] 1840-1844. -- AUDUBON, John James and John BACHMAN. <i>The Quadrupeds of North America.</i> 1849-1854. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> OGILBY, John, trans. [MONTANUS, Arnoldus]. <i>America: being the latest, and most Accurate Description of the New World…</i> London: Printed by the Author, 1671. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Selections from the Library of<br>Gerald and Barbara Weiner<br>Live and Online<br>October 8, 2020 / 10am CT</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> HOBBES, Thomas. <i>Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill.</i> London: printed for Andrew Crooke, 1651. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> BLACKWELL, Elizabeth. <i>A Curious Herbal, containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plant which are now used in the Practice of Physick…</i> London: John Nourse, 1739. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> MILTON, John. <i>Paradise Lost.</i> London: Printed by S. Simmons ... to be sold by T. Helder, 1669. $12,000 to $18,000.
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    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> MALCOLM X. Typed letter signed ("Malcolm X"), to Alex Haley. Cairo, Egypt, 18 September 1964. " 1 page, 8vo. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel. Autograph letter signed (“JRRT”). To George Sayer, Oxford, 7 August 1952. 2 pages, 8vo, creased; morocco folding case. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> WRIGHT, Frank Lloyd. Autograph manuscript signed ("Frank Lloyd Wright"), entitled "To the Countryside." N.p. [Taliesin?], [June 1926]. 2 pages, 4to, creased. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Paul George Lawler, <i>San Francisco – Hawaii Overnight,</i> 1939. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Around the World, <i>North German Lloyd,</i> designer unknown, circa 1910. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Michael Rudolf Wening, <i>Siam,</i> circa 1920s. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Sigismunds Vidbergs, <i>Spend Your Holidays at the Wonderful Seaside of Riga,</i> circa 1925. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Jean Dupas, <i>“Where is this Bower Beside the Silver Thames?”</i> 1930. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Charles-Léonce Brossé, <i>Meeting d’Aviation, Nice,</i> 1910. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> John Held Jr., <i>Nantucket,</i> 1925. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Seaverns W. Hilton, <i>Lewis and Clark, Northern Pacific,</i> 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 15:</b> Fred Powis, <i>Jasper, Canadian National Railways.</i> $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>October Sale<br>October 10, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Oct. 10:</b> LA HARPE, Jean-Baptiste Benard de. 'CARTE NOUVELLE DE LA PARTIE DE L'OUEST DE LA LOUISIANNE'. $800,000 to $1,200,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Oct. 10:</b> AUDUBON, John James. Great Blue Heron, Plate 211. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Oct. 10:</b> REDOUTE, Pierre-Joseph. Watercolor for plate 456: Bromella ananas (Cultivated Pineapple). $450,000 to $550,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Oct. 10:</b> COOK, Captain James. <i>A set of the three voyages comprising...</i> London: 1773-1785. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Oct. 10:</b> KEY, Adrien Thomaszoon. Abraham Ortelius. Oil on Panel. $400,000 to $450,000.

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