Skip to main content

World's most expensive book about birds

Now THAT'S a book! A Sotheby's auction house employee lends scale to the massive tome that is John James Audubon's Birds of America. An intact edition just sold at auction for a jaw-dropping $10,207,000, making it the world's most costly book.

Everything about Birds of America is epic. Its size, the dramatic and vivid quality of the 435 plates within, and of course the artist himself. Audubon's depictions of birds have always been my my favorites, and ditto for many others. I have a miniature reproduction of Birds of America, with all 435 plates, and look at it every day as it sits open to one plate or another on a shelf on my office. People who visit are often drawn to the plates.

I have also seen one of the 119 copies that are thought to still be in existence. The real deal is magnificent; alluring enough that someone would pay the price of yacht to own one. Only 11 copies are believed to be in private hands, so this opportunity doesn't come along very often. The book's original cost, in the mid-1800's, was about $1000.

Small wonder people tend to be smitten with Audubon's art. This painting of Blue Jays brings out the drama that Audubon was able to inject into his works. The jays are caught in the act of plundering a nest and eating the eggs. A beautiful liana of cross-vine, Bignonia capreolata (probably NOT drawn by Audubon) snakes its way up the snag and lends realism to the work.

Audubon was an ultra-keen observer of animals, and was an absolute master at capturing their personalities. Note the jay on the left. Quite the piggish fellow; so eager for the succulent yolk that he has impaled the egg on his bill. But that's just how these birds behave. It's as if Audubon virtually brought the birds to life on the page.

A pair of Barn Owls grapple with a luckless chipmunk. Some of Audubon's depictions of raptors, such as his Golden Eagle or Red-tailed Hawk, border on the gruesome. But they aren't really - he painted the birds as they are, doing what they do.

The plates within this magnificent book are much more than an assemblage of art pieces. They are a documentary of one of the world's greatest artists, who lived an extraordinary life of frontier adventure, at a time when America was poorly known and few had looked it its birds.

Congratulations to the lucky - and wealthy - new owner.

Comments

Vincent Lucas said…
Call me pessimistic, but somehow, I just knew my bid of $24.95 wasn't going to hold!
Anonymous said…
I got a reproduction of it that is coffee table scale through a bargain books catalog for less than$40 a few years ago. It is still a big heavy book! I had never seen how big the originals were until now. The behavior(and plants) he captures are great.
Brian
OpposableChums said…
I'm gonna wait for the movie.
Jim McCormac said…
That's the volume that I've got too, Brian. An impressive reproduction but a mere shadow of the real thing.

I'm waiting for the movie, too, Jason - and you'll have to make it!
Birding is Fun! said…
You're a great write Jim. Your style has such a pleasant and charming flow, almost like a narration for Planet Earth, but with more personality!
Jim McCormac said…
Very nice compliment - thank you, Robert!

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…