Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sotheby's to Auction "Birds of America"

Looking for the perfect birding book?

From The Guardian:

Sotheby's will today announce it is to sell items from the collection of the late Lord Hesketh, including a stunning copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America, a book that grabbed the world-record auction price of $8.8m 10 years ago.

Frederick Fermor-Hesketh, 2nd Baron Hesketh, belonged to a family that had collected books from the 19th century onwards and was an obsessive. He was an example of what is known as "high spot collecting" in that he did not specialise but needed to have the very best of the best and, with a big splurge of collecting in the early 1950s, he achieved it. Now, 55 years after his death, trustees of his will are selling books, manuscripts and letters with an estimated total worth of £8m to £10m.

One of the highlights is a copy of Birds of America valued at £4m to £6m. The book is bound on a huge scale – a "double elephant" folio – because Haiti-born Audubon wanted to paint the birds life size. He would travel across America, shooting the birds before carefully hanging them on bits of wire to paint them.

Not only was Audubon a skilled artist, he was also a persuasive seller, travelling to Britain to print the volumes and then offering Birds of America to the very rich as a prestige product. The copy being sold was first bought by an early paleobotanist, Henry Witham, "subscriber number 11", after an apparently very boozy dinner. Audubon writes in his ledger: "I determined in an instant that this gentleman was a gentleman indeed … We all talked much, for I believe the good wine of Mr Witham had a most direct effect."

Only 119 complete copies of Birds of America are known to exist today and 108 of those are owned by museums, libraries and universities.

Thanks to HuffPost Books

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