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Prints: About Audubon's Folio Birds

detail - Havell Carolina ParrotAudubon's folio bird prints, especially those from the Havell Edition, include his best-loved and most widely recognized work. The huge "Double Elephant Folio" of The Birds of America made Audubon's reputation as artist and naturalist in the late 1820s, and served as his launching pad for fame in his own time and beyond into our own. Although every bird print began with an original painting (or several original paintings in some cases), Audubon considered his prints, not his paintings (many of which were missing backgrounds or otherwise unfinished) to be the final artwork, the versions that best encapsulated his desire to present the birds in their natural habitats and engaging in their regular activities. The prints were made using a variety of intaglio printing techniques (etching, aquatint, and engraving) on copper plates. The black and white prints were then hand-colored with watercolor paints. As in Audubon's original paintings, the birds were presented at full size -- what Audubon called "the size of life."

Audubon's 435 bird images can be grouped by size. Large images (20 percent of the total) take up most of a double elephant folio sheet while medium images (another 20 percent) include a moderate margin and small images (the final sixty percent) have very large margins.

Havells with different size images - vertical orientation

PL 431 American Flamingo, PL 12 Baltimore Oriole, and PL 5 Bonaparte's Flycatcher.
Examples of large, medium, and small images with vertical orientation.

Havells were made with copper plates that typically leave behind an impression (called the plate mark) on the sheet of paper. Plate marks are most clearly seen on full sheets with small or medium images; on large images these plate marks were often partially or completely trimmed away as part of the binding process. Prints are sometimes trimmed below the typical sizes of 37 to 39 inches x 25 to 26 inches. Such prints (which sell at a discount to full sheets) will usually have the complete plate area intact with varying amounts of margin. In some cases, however, a print may be trimmed so that some of the text -- or even a small part of the image -- is missing. The price should reflect such trimming.

Havells with different size images - horizontal orientation

PL 186 Pinnated Grous, PL 232 Hooded
Merganser, and PL 328 Long-legged Avocet.
Examples of large, medium, and small
images with horizontal orientation

I offer these beautiful large bird prints in many formats, including original prints (the Havell Edition produced under Audubon's supervision or the Bien Edition produced under his son John's supervision), restrikes (later printings made using the original copper printing plates), and modern reproductions. In the reproduction category, I also offer full-size high quality reproductions of Audubon's original bird paintings.

You can see the prints by clicking the links below, or by using the links under FOLIO BIRDS in the navigation bar at the top of the page.

  • Havell Edition prints. These are the oldest and most valuable of the prints. Printed by Robert Havell from 1826 to 1838 in London these are mostly the handcolored prints that were issued to subscribers, although I occasionally have some that were never colored.
  • Bien Edition prints. This incomplete edition was the first American-made issue of Audubon's large birds. Conceived by his son John Woodhouse Audubon in an effort to revive family's finances, this edition involves chomolithographs made from 1858 to 1860 by New York printer Julius Bien.
  • Restrikes. These are prints made from the original copper plates, generally in the 20th century. We have both uncolored restrikes and colored restrikes.
  • Reproductions. I carry a selection of fine reproductions of Audubon's large birds, including both offset lithographs (circa late 20th century) and Giclees (21st century ink jet prints). I highlight prints from several editions that I consider exceptional value or otherwise unique, but I can find almost any Audubon folio bird by extending the search to other editions.