Courtesy of Christies
Courtesy of Christie’s
“Birds of America” Plate 71, Winter Hawk
A rare set of the gigantic “Birds of America” by John J. Audubon is expected to sell for as much as $12 million.
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This is the book that made Audubon Audubon. Spanning four huge volumes, plus the five-volume Ornithological Biography, the American naturalist’s monumental Birds of America is the seminal birder’s guide. The tome’s complicated and protracted publication process, the stuff of book-publishing legend, ran from 1827 to 1838, and a “superlative” complete set is coming to auction in New York City.
Christie’s calls it the world’s most valuable illustrated book, and it’s a tough claim to dispute. It’s one of only 120 sets known to exist and one of just 13 left in private hands, and the auction house has estimated its value at between $8 million and $12 million. (These figures are almost certainly conservative: Way back in 2000, Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar snagged a set of the books—also at a Christie’s auction—for $8.8 million.)cross the block on June 14 was originally owned by William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, Fifth Duke of Portland (1800-1879); he was, as the British say, an eccentric, constantly modifying and expanding his 17,000-acre English estate, often in outlandish ways, and even building a network of subterranean tunnels and underground rooms. But despite his industriousness, he was reclusive in the extreme: The laborers and artisans who did the work—along with his own domestic staff and even his doctor—weren’t allowed to interact with him or even acknowledge his presence. He communicated orders in writing and went outdoors only at night, strolling 40 paces behind a servant holding a lamp. Apparently, though, he liked birds.
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