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Sotheby's Sets New World Record for a Printed Book at Auction with Audubon's Birds of America
Sotheby's employee Mary Engleheart poses for photographs with a volume of a copy of Audubon's 'Birds of America' showing a pair of snowy owls at the auction house's premises in London, Monday, Dec. 6, 2010. The book, in the 'double elephant folio' size of 97 x 65cm, portrays all the birds life-size and is estimated to fetch 4 to 6 million pounds ($6,271,558 to 9,407,337) in the sale of 'Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings' on Dec. 7. AP Photo/Matt Dunham.
LONDON.- Moments ago, in a crowded saleroom in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries in London, a magnificent, rare, copy of John James Audubon’s Birds of America sold for £7,321,250, establishing a new world record price for any printed book sold at auction. The 4-volume, “double elephant folio” work was estimated at £4,000,000-6,000,000*, but fiery enthusiasm from collectors bidding on the phones and in the room drove the price rapidly beyond pre-sale expectations. The book was bought by London dealer Michael Tollemache, who was bidding in the room and who described the work after the sale as “priceless”. (The previous record for any printed book sold at auction was $8,802,500 / £5,565,110 – for a different copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, sold in New York in March 2000.)

The Audubon was part of the sale of Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings from the Collection of Frederick, 2nd Lord Hesketh. The sale continues, with new benchmark prices being fetched for all manner of manuscripts, drawings and books.

Renowned ornithologist, naturalist and painter, John James Audubon (1785-1851) is one of the key influential figures in natural history. Quoted three times by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, Audubon’s work inspired generations of ornithologists to come, in particular his famed Birds of America. This fine copy, in excellent condition, was bought by notable early paleobotanist Henry Witham, subscriber number eleven as noted in Audubon’s ledger. Audubon’s journal entry for 3rd December, 1826 tells of how the naturalist dined with Witham at Edinburgh, noting that “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…And at half past one, after been [sic] dubbed a great philosopher and an extraordinary man, my health drank, etc., etc., I retired with Dr. Know, but left Mr. B[ridges] and Mr. W[itham] at their whiskey toddy”.

*Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium.

Sotheby's | David Goldthorpe | Magnificent Books |


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