Moments ago, in a crowded saleroom in Sothebys
New Bond Street galleries in London, a magnificent, rare, copy of John James Audubons 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 Audubons 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, Audubons 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 Audubons ledger. Audubons 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 buyers premium.