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Books: Recommended
Audubon Reference

AUDUBON, John James. CORNING, Howard (editor). The Letters of John James Audubon, 1826-1840. Two volumes. Club of Odd Volumes, 1930. Valuable collection of Audubon's letters during publication of The Birds of America. Documents Audubon's relationships with collaborators and peers, plus the complex dynamics in his family relationships. Much of interest, a valuable reference.

BOEHME, Sarah E., John James Audubon in the West - The Last Expedition - Mammals of North America.  With Essays by Annette Blaugrund, Robert McCracken Peck, and Ron Tyler.  New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers in association with the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, 2000.  The most comprehensive book available on the quadrupeds, this fine and well-illustrated book was published in association with the exhibit of the same name.  The four essays focus on Audubon's painting techniques, his 1843 journey up the Missouri River to paint and collect western mammals, his collaboration and friendship with co-author the Reverend John Bachman, and the publication of the Imperial Folio edition. The illustrations are beautiful and very well chosen. Highly recommended.

BRAUN, Nancy and Robert: An Audubon Concordance - Migration Through the Plate Numbers; Fairfield, Connecticut: American Historical Print Collectors Society, 1999.  This reference is a collection of tables that "attempt to provide a handy reference for the birds, plants, and other images appearing in the prints of the three original Audubon editions [Havell, octavo, and Bien]; and to correlate them with each other's plate numbers, present common and scientific names, titles, sizes, orientations, and possible composite states."  (Quoted from the preface.)  This is a great reference for people who have trouble keeping track of plate numbers and bird names that keep changing from edition to edition. You can order it from the American Historical Print Collectors Society website, www.ahpcs.org.

BRAUN, Robert:  Identifying Audubon Bird Prints - Originals, States, Editions, Restrikes, and Facsimiles and Reproductions.  American Historical Print Collectors Society, 2001.  This 16-page color-illustrated guide includes information on how to identify whether an Audubon print is an original or a reproduction, and which edition it is from.  It includes magnified illustrations that demonstrate the differences in appearance resulting from different printing and coloring techniques (e.g., how engraved lines differ from lithographic lines and how printed color differs from watercolor).  Available through the American Historical Print Collectors Society, www.ahpcs.org.

DELATTE, Carolyn. Lucy Audubon: A Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008. With forward by Christoph Irmsher. Reissue of an interesting biography of Audubon's wife, Lucy Bakewell Audubon. This book delves into the Audubon marriage and documents its many ups and downs through the difficult years when Audubon was building up his portfolio and beginning publication of the Double Elephant Folio. Unfortunately, this biography of Lucy essentially ends with Audubon's death in 1851 even though Lucy lived on until 1874.

DURANT, Mary and HARWOOD, Michael: On the Road with John James Audubon; New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1980.  A lively and interesting book that chronicles the authors' travels in the areas where Audubon lived and worked.  Intersperses the writings of the authors (each writing separately) with Audubon's writings.  Full of interesting facts,  speculations, and reflections, this is a truly enjoyable book by two very engaging and astute writers.

DURANT, Mary and HARWOOD, Michael: Audubon Magazine; "In Search of the Real Mr. Audubon." Vol. 87 (May 1985), pp. 58-119.  An excellent short biography of Audubon that includes many surprising facts.  Beautifully illustrated.

FRIES, Waldemar H.: The Double Elephant Folio - The Story of Audubon's Birds of America; Chicago: Zenaida Publishing, 2005.  An extraordinary book packed with interesting facts and historical details about the Havell Edition and Audubon. The first printing of this book included the first modern census of surviving copies of the Double Elephant Folio. The text of the 2005 edition, although identical to the original printing, includes an additional appendix that updates the provenance of all sets, both complete and incomplete, now known to exist. The new appendix was researched and written by Susanne M. Low, author of A Guide to Audubon's Birds of America and an associate in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History.There is nothing else quite like this book, which has been called "the Bible of Audubon scholars." To order contact Christopher Small, Zenaida Publishing at 413-687-2752. 

GODDU, Joseph.  JOHN JAMES AUDUBON & ROBERT HAVELL, JR.: Artist's Proofs for The Birds of America.  New York: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 2002. Award-winning catalogue for an important exhibition of proof or "pattern" prints used in the creation of the Havell Edition of The Birds of America.  Very well illustrated, contains new information on the methods used by Audubon and Havell in creating the prints.

HERRICK, Francis Hobart: Audubon the Naturalist - A History of His Life and Time; in Two Volumes. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1968. An "unabridged and unrevised republication of the second edition" of this classic biography, as published by the D. Appleton-Century Company in 1938.  (The second edition is considered preferable to the first edition published in 1917.) Herrick was the first to lay out the true facts of Audubon's birth and to describe Audubon's efforts to conceal his illegitimacy. This sympathetic but honest biography includes much material from original documents (quoted verbatim) and photographs of the three houses on Minnie's Land (the original house and the two built by Audubon's sons) before they were razed in the 1930s.

HEITMAN, Danny. A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008. A brief and interesting book about John James Audubon's experiences living at Oakley in the employment of the Pirrie family for several months in 1821. The sojourn at Oakley was an unusually fruitful period for Audubon and the Pirrie family for whom he worked were interesting in their own right.

HOLT, Jeff and FILEMYR, Albert. The Composite Plates of Audubon's Birds of America. Philadelphia: Holt and Filemyr in conjunction with the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, 2008. A highly specialized book, of interest mostly to people deeply enough into Audubon to know without explanation what is meant by the term "composite plate." Unfortunately the color photos are rather dark, but the text and illustrations are extremely helpful in explaining how the composite prints were made and provide a valuable visual record of all thirteen composite prints. This book will reward anyone with an interest in both Audubon and printmaking. A labor of love and scholarship.

LOW, Susanne M.: A Guide to Audubon's Birds of America; New Haven and New York: William Reese Company and Donald A. Heald, 2002.  An invaluable reference work.   Detailed information for each of the 435 plates of the Havell Edition including states and plate dimensions.  Also includes an extensive discussion on the prints of the Bien edition.

MORGAN, Ann Lee: Print Quarterly; "The American Audubons: Julius Bien's Lithographed Edition." Vol. IV (December 1987). pp. 362-379  An interesting history of the  Bien edition that highlights some of the differences between chromolithography and copper-plate engraving. .

RHODES, Richard. John James Audubon: The Making of An American. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Fine biography by a prize-winning author. This book is the most notable of the recent biographies; my quibble would be that Rhodes (as is typical of Audubon's biographers) does not write much about Audubon's later years or the fate of his family following his death.

SHULER, Jay:  Had I the Wings: The Friendship of Bachman & Audubon; Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1995. Shuler briefly describes both Bachman and Audubon's early lives, but his primary  focus is the myriad relationships between the Bachman and Audubon families from the time of Bachman and Audubon's meeting in 1831. Charts the ups and downs of the principals' friendship in the face of shared tragedy, shared triumph, and the difficulties experienced in the creation of Audubon's second great work, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.  Shuler covers interesting material on the marriages of Audubon's sons to two of Bachman daughters, and Audubon's relationship with Bachman's sister-in-law (and second wife), Maria Martin.  A lively, quick-reading book.

STEINER, Bill: Audubon Art Prints: A Collector's Guide to Every Edition. Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 2003.  This book is a must-have for anyone who collects or would like to collect original Audubon prints.  Steiner provides an excellent overview of the original print editions (bird and animal, folio and octavo) plus all the expensive facsimile editions (Alecto, Amsterdam, and Abbeville among them).  The book includes a fairly comprehensive discussion of reproduction prints, authentication guidelines, sample prices, lists of dealers and resources, and includes lots of fun details about the prints.  Steiner is opinionated and some of the appendices reflect his occasionally esoteric interests, but the book is well written and by far the most comprehensive on the subject.  There is something of interest in here for anyone interested in Audubon's work.  Read an excerpt.

STRESHINSKY, Shirley. Audubon: Life and Art in the American Wilderness. New York: Villard Books, 1993. A readable biography that seems to rely heavily on secondary sources, but presents the material with wit and in a lively style.

TYLER, Ron: Audubon's Great National Work: The Royal Octavo Edition of The Birds of America; Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.  Dr. Tyler's book puts the focus on the successful popular edition of the Birds of America, with detailed information on subscriptions, sales, finances and production issues.  Tyler traces the evolution of the series through subsequent printings, and also provides accounts of the publication of the Imperial Folio quads and the Bien Edition, and places Audubon in the context of American Romanticism.  A compelling and valuable work.

WILLIAMS, Gordon R. Fantasy in a Wood-Block. Chicago: Caxton Club, 1972. The subtitle of this very brief book is helpful in explaining its topic: "Or What Occurred When John James Audubon, the Naturalist, Visited with Thomas Bewick, the Wood-Engraver, in the year 1827." A charming and quirky book that includes a restrike (that is, a recent printing by R. Hunter Middleton made with Bewick's original block) of the wood engraving Bewick was working on during Audubon's call. This extremely brief book is a delight and makes a great gift to anyone interested in prints, Audubon, or Bewick.