Selling a Print
If you approach an dealer saying you "want to sell an Audubon print" you may be disappointed in the response. The reason a dealer won't leap at the chance you are offering is because there are MILLIONS of Audubon prints in circulation. Only a tiny percentage have any value to anyone but the owner. For every query that involves an item of interest, there will be hundreds that do not. So if you find the response to your telephone call to be brusque, unenthused or unhelpful, try seeing it from the dealer's point of view. Help yourself -- figure out what you have before you try to sell it. It is always better to know what you are selling so that you do not have to rely on information from the person to whom you are trying to sell it.
This page can help you authenticate an original Audubon print. I hope one day to replace this page with videos that will walk people through the authentication process. Unfortunately this is all I have right now. PLEASE do not thank me for providing this information by telephoning me to ask questions. If you need to follow up, email will get a more positive reception, but not necessarily a response -- especially if it seems to me that you have not reviewed the information already provided here.
Most of the prints about which I get inquiries are NOT valuable -- the vast majority are Havell Edition reproductions (reduced down from the original size). These prints are not rare nor collectible. Any value they have is sentimental or decorative. Sentimental value arises from personal associations and is not transferable to others -- it cannot be translated into money. Decorative value is what people would typically pay to own an item because they like it. It is usually based on how the item looks and individual tastes. Original Audubons have collectible value as well. People are willing to pay more for them because they are antiques, they are rare and they have historical significance.
In order for you to evaluate a print, you will almost always have to remove the print from any framing so you can examine and describe it completely. If you are scared to remove it from the frame, review the authentication tips below, then if you still think it worthwhile, go to a frame shop and pay them to help you. When removing a print from a frame by yourself, do it slowly and use common sense! NEVER FORCE ANYTHING WHEN REMOVING PRINTS FROM EXISTING FRAMES OR MATS -- in some cases, prints will be glued down or taped to backboards. Do not remove tape from prints (although in some cases you may be able to cut the tape to free the print) and do not try to remove a glued-down print. If the print is glued to a mat (or vice versa), do not remove the mat. You can almost always gain information by examining other aspects of the print, and you may be able to rule it out (or in) as an original print based on other characteristics.
Because natural history prints were generally issued as part of a larger work, they tend to follow certain "standard recipes" that will allow a person who knows the complete recipe to distinguish between an original print and any reproduction. I have yet to run into any type of reproduction that does not vary in at least one aspect from the original it reproduces, but the ease with which these variations can be detected depends both on the specific works in question, and the knowledge and skill of the person making the determination. In my area of expertise, original Audubon prints, I know of a few instances where professionals in the print business disagreed on the authenticity of specific prints. This sort of disagreement is rare. MOST AUDUBON REPRODUCTIONS DO NOT REQUIRE A HIGH LEVEL OF EXPERTISE TO DISTINGUISH THEM FROM ORIGINALS.
I offer information in this area that will help you with authentication for both non-Audubon and Audubon prints (originals and reproductions), and with ballpark values if yours turns out to be a facsimile or reproduction (Audubon only). If you have an original natural history print and are interested in discussing a sale, read the information in this area to make sure your print fits the criteria for the prints I buy.
I spent many hours trying to put together easy-to-use information to help you authenticate your prints. It turned out to be a complex task, not because authentication is difficult but because the great number and variety of reproductions and facsimiles make impossible definitive declarations (e.g., all prints with a plate mark are authentic -- not true since a small number of reproductions have a fake plate mark). I finally settled on a quick guide that I hope hits the highlights of what you need to know. If you don't understand some of the terms, please visit my help area for more guidance. In the help area, if you need even more detailed information on a specific topic, click the key image to get it.
QUICK GUIDE TO AUDUBON ORIGINALS
- Large bird prints from the Havell Edition
- Large bird prints from the Bien Edition
- Small bird prints (octavos)
- Large animal prints (Imperial Folio Edition)
- Small animal prints (octavos)
- Called Havell Edition after the printer or Double Elephant Folio after the paper size, individual prints are commonly called "Havells." These are the most expensive and rare of Audubon originals, and also the most widely reproduced by far.
- Printer credit (bottom right) is to Robert Havell or W. H. Lizars.
- Many (but not all) of the prints include a year (1827 to1838) in the printer credit.
- Most reproductions and facsimiles (meaning a reproduction where the image and sheet size are the same size as an original) include all the writing that you would normally see on the originals. Some reproductions include extra writing you would NOT see on originals. For more information on what writing belongs and what doesn't, visit the help area.
- The sheet size (paper size) of an untrimmed original Havell measures around 38 x 25 inches, give or take an inch. Many original Havells are trimmed severely, but assuming no slicing through the actual image area, the smallest size sheet of paper for a Havell you would encounter would be in the area of 18 x 11 inches. Although still rare, such a small print would be of greatly diminished value because of the extreme trimming. If your sheet size is smaller than this, it is a virtual certainty that yours is an undersized reproduction. Another way to check for size is to remember that Audubon depicted his folio birds in "the size of life," so if the bird looks overly small (e.g., it's a swan or heron and measures 8 inches), you have a reduced-size reproduction.
- Images (including the writing) come in three sizes -- small, medium and large. Plate numbers provide a key to the size of the image. All "large" images have plate numbers ending in 1 or 6, while mediums end in 2 or 7. Everything else is a small image.
- A plate mark (a rectangular ridge in the paper that completely surrounds the picture and all writing) should be visible on most prints with small and medium images. Some facsimile editions include "fake" plate marks, but they can be distinguished as facsimiles based on other criteria. Plate marks are extremely helpful in deciding what type of print a person has. For more information on plate marks, visit the help area.
- All coloring on Havells was done by hand-applying watercolor paint. For information on distinguishing handcoloring from printed color, visit the help area.
- Havells were done on two different types of paper, each of which has a large countermark (commonly called a watermark) involving the name J WHATMAN. On a full or mostly full sheet, the watermark, or at least a part of it, should be present. The watermark can normally be seen by holding the print up to a source of light. If the print is laid down (glued to a board), it may be difficult or impossible to detect a watermark even if present. The watermark is generally considered the single most important identifier of a Havell Edition print. Although seeing the watermark is not essential to authenticating a print, the lack of a watermark in an UNTRIMMED print is considered definitive in disproving authenticity. For more information on the size of the watermark, what it says and looks like, and where it is located, visit the help area.
- Havell's printing process (primarily etching with some engraved lines plus the use of aquatint) means that the lines found on Havells are very fine even when viewed under 8-10x magnification. Lack of fine lines in a handcolored print may indicate it was made using a lithographic or collotype process. The following images (and perhaps others) are among those that can be found in full-sized hand-colored facsimiles by a company called A. P. P. (Artistic Picture Publishing) that date to the 1930s and 1940s -- Canvas-Back Duck, Mallard, Long-Billed Curlew, Blue Jay, Passenger Pigeon, Pinnated Grouse. These prints are almost always found glued to boards (which of course makes it difficult to check for a watermark) and with the original publication and copyright information trimmed away. When removed from boards, they turn out not to have the watermark. Those prints with medium-sized images (Blue Jay and Passenger Pigeon), if not laid down, may be be mistaken for Havells with watermarks trimmed away and plate marks not visible. At least some of the prints seem to have been made with a collotype process (which does an excellent imitation of aquatint even under magnification). These prints can and do fool people with expertise in Audubon originals. If there is something odd about the quality of the color and the printing (to the extent you can judge or someone else can judge for you), if the print does not have a plate mark but you would expect a plate mark because of the sheet (paper) size, and if the lines under magnification are not fine and sharp, it pays to be very cautious. THESE PRINTS ARE VERY COMMON -- MUCH MORE COMMON THAN THE CORRESPONDING HAVELLS. Sometimes they are offered at fair prices (that reflect their inherent decorativeness), sometimes not. THESE PRINTS HAVE NO COLLECTIBLE VALUE. DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION FOR THESE PRINTS FOR OTHER THAN SENTIMENTAL REASONS! Please note that in the wholesale market, prices for these prints may be driven by mistakes and wishful thinking, that is, by people willing to pay a premium over decorative value because they think the print is a Havell.
- Retail prices vary greatly from dealer to dealer, so keep that in mind when you read the numbers below. The majority of untrimmed Havells in good condition (about 60 percent of them) fall in the low range of RETAIL VALUE for Havells, that is, from about $2500 to $6000. Another 20 percent of original Havells retail in the range of $6000 to $12000. The next 10 percent fall in the $12000 to $20000 range, and the last 5 percent might retail for more than $20000. Wholesale prices are always LESS and most prints are not "ready to sell" -- that is, they will require further investment in conservation and restoration, thus reducing the purchase price before conservation. So even with a real Havell, in the great majority of cases, a sale might net from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
- Bien prints are large chromolithographs (that is, prints with printed color) that were only very rarely reproduced until the 21st century. Under magnification, the color on Biens shows various colored blobs which may be layered together or not (depending on the color produced). While most of these prints have a credit on the print to J. Bien, a significant subset of the prints may not. If you know what Biens are supposed to look like, you can authenticate any Bien.
- Bien paper has no watermark, is smooth to the touch (NOT textured) and may be slightly slick in appearance. Because of its high acid content, this paper is prone to stains, tears and chips, and can become very brittle with age. You should be careful when handling Bien prints or you may damage them.
- Large and medium images were printed one to a sheet of paper, while the small images were printed two to a sheet of paper. Unlike Havells, there is no way to relate the plate number to image size. Plate numbers used in the Bien Edition are identical to those that were used in the octavo edition. They are different from the plate numbers used in the Havell Edition.
- Biens include a part number on the left side of the image that is HYPHENATED, e.g., "No. 11-1" for the Barn Owl. The first number refers to the eleventh part and the 1 refers to the first print of the part.
- The paper used to print Biens originally measured around 40 x 26 inches, and a full sheet print will be around 38 x 25 inches, give or take an inch or more. Some Biens involve the placement of two small bird images on a single sheet. In the past, many people split these sheets in half in order to frame the bird images separately. Therefore some Bien prints may be approximately half of the full size (in the vicinity of 19 x 25 inches).
- Bien printed the print and artist credit only once per sheet, even on sheets that had two images. This resulted in some loss of attribution if two images on a single sheet were separated. If the separated images were vertically oriented (taller than they were wide), the one originally on the left would end up with the Audubon credit, while the other would get the Bien credit. With landscape oriented plates (wider than they are tall), the plates were stacked one on top of the other, with artist and printer attributions going beneath the lower plate. If separated, the top plate would have neither credit while the bottom plate would have both credits.
- Some references incorrectly state that Bien Edition plates were never reproduced. A few years ago, a gallery began selling digital facsimiles of Bien Edition plates (Giclee prints). These are marked clearly and you cannot mistake these for an original Bien. However, there are at least two older reproductions that (in bad condition) may be mistaken for original prints. The New York Graphics Society put out two offset reproductions of Bien Edition plates -- the Common Crossbill and the Yellow-Breasted Chat. I believe the two images to be similar, but have only seen the Common Crossbill (which I own). The paper measures 20 inches x 26-1/4 inches (the original paper, a full-sheet print, would have been twice that size if untrimmed). The original image area is 23-1/2 x 19 inches; the reproduction image area is 20 x 15 inches, or about 70 percent of the original size. The print is CLEARLY marked, "Copyright New York Graphic Society, Fine Art Publishers" directly under the J. J. Audubon credit and "Printed in the USA" under the Bien credit. There is also a small four-digit number (6367 for the Crossbill) located above the plate number on the upper right side. The reproduction is printed on thick, textured paper while the paper used in the Bien edition is thin and slightly slick in its finish.This print was part of a series of Audubon prints put out by the New York Graphic Society in the 1950s, most of the prints reproducing Havells. These prints have no collectible value, but represent attractive and somewhat unusual reproductions of Audubon's work. Any value they have is based on decorativeness. Finally, the print is an offset lithograph -- under magnification the colors will show up as tiny dots. Some collectors, believing that the Bien Edition was never reproduced, and knowing that some plates were produced two to a sheet, could mistake these reduced-size reproductions for half-sheet originals. These reproduction prints do not have great value, but they are nevertheless interesting. If you own one, I hope you enjoy it.
- Retail prices vary greatly from dealer to dealer, so keep that in mind when you read the numbers below. The majority of Bien in good condition ( about 60 percent of them) fall in the low range of RETAIL VALUE, that is, from about $500 to $2500. Another 20 percent might retail in the range of $2500 to $8000. The next 10 percent fall in the $8000 to $12000 range, and the last 5 percent might retail for more than $12000. Wholesale prices are always LESS and most prints are not "ready to sell" -- that is, they will require further investment in conservation and restoration, thus reducing the purchase price before conservation. So even with a real Bien, in the vast majority of cases, a sale might net from one hundred to a thousand dollars.
- Usually called octavo birds after the paper size and title of the series.
- Printer credit is to J. T. Bowen and Endicott; no year in the printer credit.
- No watermark or plate mark on the paper.
- Handcoloring (without any printed color) in the first edition; handcoloring with tinted (that is, printed) background in later editions. Tinted backgrounds on images with landscapes tend to look like cloudy skies, and range in color from beige to aqua with white areas representing clouds. On prints lacking a landscape, the printed background is usually a solid rectangle of color behind the image. Some later edition prints do not include a printed background, but these are unusual and restricted to a small group of images that included dark landscape backgrounds (e.g., PL 368 Great White Heron). In the later years of issue, the watercolored backgrounds on these plates were changed, and tints (similar to the other plates) become the norm. Variations in fonts for credits can also be used to determine edition.
- Prints can be identified as originals by ascertaining that the color on the birds is hand-applied, that is, the color derives from watercolor paint. For information on distinguishing handcoloring from printed color, visit the help area.
- Sheet size usually in the vicinity of 6 to 6-3/4 inches x 10 to 11 inches. Binding holes may or may not be trimmed away.
- Almost never excessively trimmed unless previously framed.
- Value depends on edition (first or later), condition and popularity of the images. Retail prices range from as little as $50 up to $3500. Generally, I prefer to buy groups of octavos as long as the birds are "desirable." Favorites include songbirds, warblers, wading birds, woodpeckers, hummingbirds.
- Usually called Imperial Folio Edition after the paper size.
- Printer credit is to J. T. Bowen.
- Many prints include a year (1842 to 1848) in the printer credit
- No watermark or plate mark on the paper.
- Handcoloring used exclusively -- no printed color. For information on distinguishing handcoloring from printed color, visit the help area.
- Sheet size usually in the vicinity of 19 to 22 inches x 25 to 28 inches. Full sheet is 21 x 27 inches or larger. Binding holes may or may not be present.
- Images usually take up a larger percentage of the paper than in some other editions. Therefore these are rarely trimmed excessively (although it is of course possible).
- Value depends on condition and desirability of the image. The range of prices on these is huge with retail prices on some small mammals starting as little as $200 and extending up to $35,000.
- Usually called octavo quadrupeds (or quads) after the paper size and title of the series.
- Printer credit is to J. T. Bowen or Nagel & Weingaertner; no year in the printer credit
- No watermark or plate mark on the paper.
- Handcoloring with tinted (printed) background in all editions. Backgrounds on images with landscapes tend to look like cloudy skies, and range in color from beige to aqua with white streaks for the clouds.
- Sheet size usually in the vicinity of 6 to 7 inches x 10 to11 inches. Binding holes may or may not be trimmed away.
- Almost never excessively trimmed unless previously framed.
- Value depends on condition and desirability of the images. Edition is impossible to verify unless you have information from the original volume from which the print came. Retail prices on these vary greatly from $50 to $1500.
If, after reading the material above, you have decided you have a reproduction or facsimile print, please read this section. There are few reproductions in circulation of Audubon Biens or octavo prints, so the discussion applies primarily to the large Havell folio prints. Reproduction, the way we use it, refers to any print of any size that reproduces the image from an original print. Most Audubon reproduction prints are smaller than the corresponding original print in terms of the image and the paper (sheet) dimensions. Facsimile refers to a subset of reproductions prints, a print that is the same size (both in terms of image and paper size) as the original print it reproduces.
We admire many of the collectible Audubon reproductions we have seen, but we make the choice to focus our attention on originals, because we find them more exciting and appreciate their direct link to the past. We have some reproductions for sale from time to time, and we hope you'll take a look at them if you are in the market for these. We can and have done consulting work involving detailed description and appraisal of large reproduction collections, and can do the same for you if that's what you need. We have outstanding research and writing skills, a good command of the market, and will do a great job at a competitive price.
That said, only a tiny percentage of the reproduction and facsimile prints in circulation today have collectible value (that is, are perceived by collectors to be worth a premium price). The typical reproduction print has only decorative value (value based on how attractive it is). If you have a reproduction or facsimile print, we cannot help you with valuations, prices or approaches to selling it beyond the information you find here.
Most reproductions are smaller in size than the corresponding Audubon original, and are unlikely to command more than nominal prices if described honestly and completely. Fair price (in my opinion) for prints with reduced-size images range from $1 to roughly $50 depending on size, quality and condition. There are a couple of series of reduced-size reproduction prints issued in the 1930s or 1940s that were hand-colored, and some of these prints may be worth somewhat more than this range, BUT not a lot more. These prints, published by A.P.P (Artistic Picture Publishing) and the History Institute of America, are usually so-marked unless the credits have been trimmed. While not particularly rare, they can be attractive depending on condition and might command higher prices.
If you are buying or selling non-limited edition reproductions that are NOT hand-colored, I would say that anything in the $25 to $100 range should be in excellent to "as new" condition, and should be a full-sized facsimile of an image with some dramatic punch. In the end, this is just my opinion based on observations of the market, and my own feelings about reproductions. You -- and others -- may not share my point-of-view.
The prints that you see for sale for more than $50/print are usually from one of the handful of collectible limited edition facsimiles of the Havell Edition and the Imperial Folio Edition (that is, full-sized versions of Audubon's folio birds and folio animals). Some of the full-size limited edition reproductions of possible interest to collectors include Princeton Limited (birds and animals), Southart/Parkway (animals), Oppenheimer (birds and animals), Loates (birds), Abbeville (birds), Amsterdam (birds), and Arial/Leipzig (birds) to name a subset. These prints range widely in price and in edition limitation. I have seen some of these prints sell for less than $10 a print in large sets at auction while others command as much as $6000 apiece (retail). Prices do not strictly correlate with quality. Some excellent limited edition facsimile prints can be had at low to moderate prices, while some of the older prints (which may be of lesser quality -- that is a matter of opinion) may command high prices due to reputation. If it is a current series, and still being published, prices are capped by the publisher's list prices. If the series is out of print, price depends primarily on demand from collectors. A few of the more expensive of the limited edition prints are Amsterdams, Abbevilles, and Oppenheimer Editions. Other high quality, but usually less expensive facsimiles are Princeton Edition, Rare-Prints, Loates, and Arial/Leipzig. Of course, information in the market is not perfect and prices vary widely, occasionally by more than a factor of 10. Remember, even though collectors have embraced some limited edition series, they remain indifferent to others, and what they value today, they may not value tomorrow.
BIRD PRINTS BY ARTISTS OTHER THAN AUDUBON
I do not buy artwork by anyone other than Audubon or members of his family. I am not an expert in the markets for artists other than Audubon and his sons, and cannot help with valuations or authentication.
TO OFFER AN AUDUBON PRINT FOR SALE OR CONSIGNMENT
If you wish to offer an Audubon print for sale to us, you must first AUTHENTICATE it. Please be sure you have read all information on this page before contacting me.
If you are having trouble determining whether or not your print is "hand-colored," please realize that the term refers to hand-painted watercolor. Under magnification, the color LOOKS like watercolor paint. Buy yourself a cheap 10x loupe (costs about $10 or less) from a photo supply store and examine your print with the loupe right on top of it. It is generally not helpful to use a loupe on a framed print because you cannot get close enough to the print to bring the image into focus. Most of us know from first hand experience what watercolor looks like. USE KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE. Hand colored prints will have spots where the paint goes over or under the black ink lines, places where the colors smudge or overlap, etc. Printed color often -- BUT NOT ALWAYS -- shows a dot or some other type of regular pattern. If it doesn't have dots, but it doesn't look like watercolor, it is probably a different type of PRINTED COLOR.
If you would like to contact me with regard to an original Audubon print you would like to sell, please do so by email. I will need to know
- the edition (Havell, Bien, Imperial Folio, octavo birds (including edition), octavo quads)
- the dimensions (in inches) of the entire sheet of paper;
- whether the print is glued down or taped to anything;
- the title. Usually this is the bird or animal name that appears on the print -- please provide the common name (NOT scientific name);
- plate number appearing on the print (top right);
- the dimensions of the plate mark (if present);
- the presence or lack of handcoloring;
- additional information on condition including a description of the quality of color, any tears, holes, creases, stains, spots, or folds.
- Any other information you have (e.g., print is accompanied by Certificate of Authenticity that states it is from the first edition octavo Quadruped, or my great-grandfather bought this in 1902).
Please gather this information before you email. And please include photos if possible. Otherwise, I will be unable to help you.