Today a copy of John James Audubon’s 1831 book Birds of America sold at Sotheby’s for $10.3 million.
The sale of the 19th century masterpieces, which contains more 435 hand-colored illustrations, smashed the auction record for a printed book.
The book was bought by London dealer Michael Tollemache, who was bidding in the room and described the work after the sale as “priceless.”
Overall, 119 copies of Birds of America are known to exist. The book contains 1,000 illustrations of about 500 breeds of birds and took Audubon 12 years to complete.
Audubon, who died in 1851, was an influential natural historian. He was quoted three times in Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
“Audubon’s Birds holds a special place in the rare book market for several reasons,” said Heather O’Donnell, a specialist with Bauman Rare Books in New York. “The book is a major original contribution to the study of natural history in the New World.
“It’s also one of the most visually stunning books in the history of print: The scale of the images, the originality of each composition, the brilliance of the hand coloring.”
The Birds of America plates were printed in black and white and hand-colored afterwards. The book measures more than 3 ft by 2 ft (90 cm by 60cm) because he wanted to paint the birds to life size.
Other rumors that circulate suggest that Audubon killed and stuffed each bird before painting them.