The Complete Audubon – HistoryMiami puts the spotlight where it belongs


One case in the exhibition area includes copies of some of Audubon’s other works. Among these is a beautiful copy of Audubon’s first octavo edition, a seven-volume series that includes the text from Audubon’s Ornithological Biography combined with 500 color plates of the birds in miniature, one species depicted per plate. HistoryMiami plans to show all of the octavo plates during the run of the exhibition by turning the pages of the seven volumes frequently. Other works by Audubon shown in this area include his Synopsis of the Birds of North America (the last text work written for The Birds of America, a sort of technical index that Audubon composed with the help of William MacGillivray, who also assisted with the writing of the Ornithological Biography).

A wonderfully rare item in this case is an inscribed Volume 1 from HistoryMiami’s five-volume copy of the Ornithological Biography. The set was given by the Audubons to a doctor, John Argyle Robertson, who treated Lucy Audubon while they were in Scotland. Robertson was a doctor and surgeon whose son would become famous as an eye surgeon. According to Audubon’s biographer, Richard Rhodes (Audubon: The Making of An American, pp. 405-406), “Before [Audubon] finished the work,…needing to come up for air and hoping to promote Lucy’s health, he treated his family to a one-week tour of the Scottish Highlands. …Lucy enjoyed the tour but fell ill again a few days after they returned. Then she had the luck to find an Edinburgh physician, John Robertson, who was able to nurse her back to health. … Robertson provided his services to the now-celebrated family free of charge, a courtesy Audubon acknowledged in the Introduction to the last volume of letterpress [Volume 5 of Ornithological Biography].” And also, apparently, by presenting Robertson with a complete copy of the Ornithological Biography.


Volume 1 from HistoryMiami’s copy of Audubon’s ORNITHOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY. The inscription (in Audubon’s handwriting) reads, “We present these volumes to Doctor John Argyle Robertson, as a tribute of our sincere friendship and deeply felt gratitude for all his kind services to us. [Signed]Lucy Audubon / John J Audubon / 31. Rutland Square, Edinburgh June 21st 1839.


This page from the fifth volume of Audubon’s ORNITHOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY explains the identity of the first owner of HistoryMiami’s set.


It is very rare to see a volume of Ornithological Biography signed by John James Audubon or another family member; it is even more remarkable to see one signed by both John James Audubon and his wife Lucy.

The presentation to Dr. Robertson was dated just a week before completion of the Synopsis; soon after that, Audubon and Lucy left for Liverpool where they would book passage on a packet to New York, arriving home at the beginning of September 1839.

[Click photo at left to read the text.]





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