Boston Public Library

The Birds of America: From Original Drawings by John James Audubon

Blue crane or heron
Detail from: Blue crane or heron
The first edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America was issued through a collaboration between Audubon and the London printmakers Robert Havell, Sr. and Robert Havell, Jr., with some plates engraved by William H. Lizars, of Edinburgh. The prints were originally sold by subscription and issued periodically in numbered sets of five. In total, Birds of America consists of 87 numbered sets containing 435 leaves of printed plates, all hand-painted in watercolor. For each set of 100 plates, a separate volume title page was issued so that subscribers who wished to do so could bind their copies of the collection into four individual volumes. Vol. 1 contains the first 100 plates issued between 1827 and 1830, vol. 2 contains the second 100 plates issued between 1831 and 1834, vol. 3 contains the third 100 plates issued between 1834 and 1835, and vol. 4 contains the last 135 plates, all issued between 1835 and 1838.

The Boston Public Library has in its possession two imperfect copies. The near-complete Appleton copy, which contains 433 of the 435 plates and the title pages for all four volumes, was formerly owned by Samuel Appleton, who purchased this copy through Dr. George Parkman of Boston. This set was donated to the Boston Public Library in 1855 by Thomas Gold Appleton. This set is missing plates 61 and 72.

The Little, Brown & Co. copy contains 102 individual plates plus the title page for the first volume. Present in this copy are the 100 plates in sets 1 through 20 (all of volume 1) and duplicates of plate 61 and 72. Several of the plates represent variant states from those in the Appleton copy. This copy was purchased from Little, Brown & Co., in Dec. 1875.

Critical funding to support long-term preservation of and enhanced public access to Boston Public Library collections, including this one, was provided by the Associates of the Boston Public Library.