John James Audubons Birds of America, sold at Sothebys London for £7,321,250/ US$11,542,683, establishing a new world record for any printed book ever sold at auction
LONDON 7 DECEMBER 2010 — This evening, one of the most magnificent printed books ever produced, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, sold at Sotheby’s London for £7,321,250/ US$11,542,683, establishing a new world record for any printed book ever sold at auction. A fiery enthusiasm among four collectors bidding on the phones and in the room drove the price rapidly beyond pre-sale expectations (£4-6 million/ US$6.3-9.5 million). The book was bought by London dealer Michael Tollemache, who was bidding in the room and who described the work after the sale as “priceless”.
The Audubon was part of the sale of Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings from the Collection of Frederick, 2nd Lord Hesketh which totalled £14,971,950 / US$23,604,776 – over a pre-sale estimate of £8-11.8 million/ US$12.7-18.6 million – the highest price ever achieved for a single-session sale of Books and Manuscripts ever held in London. The sale was 99.6% sold-by-value and 90% sold-by-lot.
David Goldthorpe, Sotheby’s Director, Books and Manuscripts Department, said after the sale: “Lord Hesketh’s magnificent copy of Audubon’s Birds of America fully deserved the extraordinary price it achieved today (£7.3 million) which represents a record price for a printed book at auction. It is a remarkable work – both in terms of its scale, and in terms of the dedication that went into producing it. To have handled such rare and splendid volumes has been a privilege and a joy.”
Aside from the record price achieved for the Audubon, a number of other new benchmark prices were set:
> Forty letters relating to the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, including four letters signed by Queen Elizabeth I, sold for £349,250/ US$550,628 (est. £150,000-200,000) – a record for a group of Elizabethan manuscripts at auction.
> A splendid watercolour of “The Four Seasons Rose” by Pierre-Joseph Redouté sold for £265,250/ US$418,193 – a record for a watercolour by the artist at auction. The work was part of a series of 50 watercolour drawings by Redouté (“The Raphael of Flowers”). The group, which was estimated to fetch £1.4-1.9 million, made £3,320,450 /US$5,235,021.
> A textually complete copy of the ‘First Folio’ of William Shakespeare, one of the most important books in English Literature and the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, sold for £1,497,250/ US$2,360,564 (est. £1-1.5 million). The work was purchased by Stephan Loewentheil.
John James Audubon’s Birds of America: This fine copy of Birds of America – a “double elephant folio” measuring 97 x 65 cm was created over an eleven-year period (1827-1838) and contains 435 individual hand-coloured plates, each one a life-size depiction of the birds and often in their natural environment. With its combination of exquisite beauty and enormous scale Birds of America is a perfect example of where art meets science, and remains as impressive today as it would have been to English society in the early-nineteenth century. Renowned ornithologist, naturalist and painter, John James Audubon (1785-1851) is one of the key influential figures in natural history. Quoted three times by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, Audubon’s work has inspired generations of ornithologists to come.