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For the Birds


Guide to the art prints of John James Audubon - Birds of America artist

Reproductions of Audubon's Birds of America

by Waldemar H. Fries

The first reproductions- of the Audubon prints made in the United States seem to have been those announced by Forest and Stream in the 5 September 1896 issue. I Here it was stated that a series of halftone reproductions of selected Audubon bird plates were to be included in forthcoming issues, the plates having been photographed especially for this purpose from a copy of the original Double Elephant folio of the work (erroneously dated 1827-1835 in the announcement) in possession of a member of the Forest and Stream Publishing Company.

The first one published appeared on page 243 in the 26 September 1896 issue,3 a reproduction of plate 302, depicting the "Black Duck" (Audubon's Dusky Duck). The size of the print was 15% by 11 inches. It was stated then, "The copies of Audubon now in existence are confined to a few libraries and fewer individual possessions; and when the work falls on the market, as it does now and then, it sells at prices'ranging from $2,500 to $3,000." The reproductions were included as pages of the magazine.

In the 24 October 1896 issue of the magazine, Maria R. Audubon, the Naturalist's granddaughter, was quoted as saying, "The reproductions to me are most satisfactory; they lack color, of course, but in every other respect are the best we have ever seen, and I think I may say that those of the Audubon family still remaining are much gratified with the first of the series." Miss Audubon seemed here to intimate that other reproductions had been made. However, none prior to 1896 have been located by the present author.

Reproductions of the following plates (Audubon's nomenclature in parentheses) were published in Forest and Stream. It has not been possible to determine the date of issue in every instance:

Plate Title Reproduced
302 Black Duck (Dusky Duck) 26 Sept. 1896
186 Prairie Chicken (Pinnated Grous) 24 Oct. 1896
301 Canvasback (Canvass-backed Duck) 21 Nov. 1896
191 Willow Ptarmigan (Willow Grous or Large Ptarmigan) 19 Dec. 1896
300 American Golden Plover (Golden Plover) 27 Feb. 1897
322 Redhead (Red-headed Duck) 10 July 1897
327 Shoveller (Shoveller Duck) 9 Oct. 1897
286 White-fronted Goose (same) [?]
284 Purple Sandpiper (same) 25 June 1898

In 1937 the Macmillan Company published in one volume not only the reproductions of the 43 5 prints of the Double Elephant folio edition of the Birds of America but an additional 65 prints from the Octavo edition. The loose prints used for the 435 are at present at the National Gallery in Washington, to which institution they were presented in 1946 by Mrs. Walter B. James.
The work of reproducing the prints was entrusted to the Duenewald Printing Corporation. A regular edition of 50,000 copies which would sell for $12.50 was projected. For this edition a binding of green Bancroft buckram, stamped in gold foil on the front cover and spine, was selected. At the same time trade interest indicated there would be a demand for a limited issue. Accordingly, a special edition of 500 copies, later increased to 2500, to sell at $25, was announced. This latter edition (in a slip case with label) was bound in "Cockerell marble paper of a feather design, with harmonizing buckram spine, gold leaf stamped with gold top." The pages in both editions are 9 by 12 j inches. 4 The volume was reprinted in 1941, 1942, 1944, and at intervals since, but with the number of prints reduced to 43 5.

It appears that the Macmillan Company also has sold the prints separately from the bound volume. There was presented to the author by Howard C. Rice, formerly assistant librarian at Princeton University, an envelope containing the following reproductions (each 12" X 9 ") which are identical to those found in the Macmillan bound volume:

18 Best Loved Bird Paintings by Audubon
Suitable for framing -
Includes all the Audubon favorites

Summer Tanager Mockingbird
Cardinal Purple Finch
Blue Jay Bobolink
Meadowlark Field Sparrow
Wild Turkey Warblers and Bluebirds
American Redstart Ruby Throated Hummingbird
Great Blue Heron Robin
Belted Kingfisher Baltimore Oriole
Goldfinch Mourning Dove

Handsome Full Color Prints

It is possible that Macmillan used the sets as a promotion or premium item and later "remaindered" them.

In 1946, R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company (The Lakeside Press of Chicago began, by a process known as "Deeptone Offset," the reproduction of the prints of the Birds of America for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee. These reproductions, measuring approximately 21 by 16 inches, were used on large wall calendars. In 1960 the large-size calendar was discontinued and replaced by a smaller one, with the prints measuring 11 by 16 inches.
The insurance company estimated that between 1946 (when the calendars were first issued and 1968 over 10,000,000 Audubon prints had been distributed. The larger prints without the calendar were still being offered to the public in 1968, but the supply of many of the individual species had been depleted and would not be restocked. Thus far, 185 of the 435 original prints of the Double Elephant folio have been reproduced by Northwestern Mutual.

In 1950 there was offered the so-called "The History Edition of Audubon Prints," reproduced by special permission of the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, and published by The History Institute of America, Inc., New York City. These reproductions were described as follows: "Each of the twelve Audubon prints, now available, is standard size: Over-all dimensions of paper, 27 7/8 by 22 1/4 inches; this gives pleasing wide margins of 3 to 4 inches." These prints were priced at $15 each. How many sets were published has not been determined.
The twelve plates reproduced were:

1 Wild Turkey Cock 159 Cardinal
26 Carolina Paroquet 206 Wood Duck
41 Ruffed Grous 221 Mallard Duck
43 Cedar Waxwing 231 Long-billed Curlew
62 Passenger Pigeon 431 Snowy Egret
66 Ivory-billed Woodpecker 159 American Flamingo

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