Bien Chromolithograph Edition
1858 or 1859 John Woodhouse Audubon entered upon an ambitious
project, that of reproducing the Birds of America at one-half
the original price, from the copper plates transferred to
stone. Every plate was to be colored from the original drawings.
The work was to be issued in forty-five numbers, forty-four
of plates and one of text. Printed on seven double-elephant
sheets, of the best quality for the purpose, 2'7 by 40 inches,
each number was to contain two large plates, each occupying
a whole sheet; two of medium size, each also occupying an
entire sheet; and six of the smaller size, two on a sheet.
The text was to be properly and scientifically classified
so that, when the work was completed, the plates could be
placed and bound corresponding with the order of text, in
either three or four volumes. However the work was never completed,
and only one volume containing 15 numbers of 1o5 double-elephant
plates with 150 species was issued. The outbreak of the Civil
War, aided, it is believed, by unscrupulous dealings of business
partners, resulted in disaster. The publication had been attempted
in association with Messrs Roe Lockwood & Son, New York,
and the lithographers J. Bien & Company also of New York.2
The lithographer, Julius Bien (1826-1909), was born at Naumberg
(near Cassell), Germany. He took part in the Revolution of
1848, one of the group of notable men brought to the United
States by that cataclysm. He will be remembered also as the
first great scientific cartographer in the United States.
During the presidency of Pierce he produced maps of the new
surveys of the West. His engravings and lithographs were of
the highest quality.
copy of a prospectus prepared for American subscribers has
been located. The one issued for English subscribers stated
that the price of each number was to be £2 8s., or roughly
$11. The forty-five numbers were to be issued for approximately
$5oo, a price which was, as stated in the prospectus, half
of $1,000, the price of the original work. The paper used
for the publication does not have a watermark.
The personal fortunes of Mrs. Audubon were seriously affected
by the failure of her son's attempt to reproduce the Birds
of America. Her older son died in 1859 and the younger died
in 1862, within two years after the failure of the publication.
It became necessary for the mother to raise funds in the only
way left open to her, namely to try to dispose of the original
drawings and the copper plates of the Birds of America. The
original drawings she was able to sell to the New-York Historical
Society in 1863 for $4,000.
On 19 October 1864, when she was in her 76th year, she wrote
to Professor Joseph Henry, the first director of the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington, in the hope that he might be able
to help her sell the copper plates. In the letter the sale
of the drawings is touched upon:
sale was a sacrifice both of the Drawings and my feelings,
and cruelly to state nearly the whole of the proceeds past
from me soon, for the claims on notes I had indorsed for my
unfortunate sons. Now I have the Copper Plates entire of the
"Birds of America" which I chiefly depend on for
the support of myself and orphan grand daughter.
She was not able to sell the copper plates and most of them
There is no way of knowing how many copies of the one-volume
Bien Chromolithograph edition were published. During the Audubon
research 49 copies were located. (See list on next page.)
In 1963 a Massachusetts public library sold a copy for $2,100
and this writer knows of a copy sold to a collector about
the same time for $3,000. Individual prints when offered,
which is rare, are priced from $30 to $500, the latter price
being that asked for the "Wild Turkey."
Page 1 |2