Audubon's Prospective Patrons
Tomorrow marks what would have been John James Audubon's 232nd birthday. Our copy of the famous naturalist's Birds of America, which once belonged to Daniel Webster, is the only item in our collection that is on permanent and prominent display in the Rooke Reading Room. Still, while the beautiful images of birds that fill this set of books are indisputably his most popular and memorable achievements, we here at Rauner hold another Audubon item that is a rarer bird than his well-known magnum opus. In 1826, Audubon had arrived in England to look for an engraver for his avian images. At that time, he began to give thought to the creation of a prospectus in order to advertise his book and acquiring dedicated subscribers to each successive number of plates. Audubon's plan was to create five numbers of five plates per year, for a total of twenty-five birds annually. Ultimately, he would issue four hundred and thirty-five plates over the span of eleven years.
At present, there are one hundred and twenty known surviving copies of Aubudon's Birds of America. However, the prospectus is itself much scarcer. An old source, Waldemar Fries's The Double Elephant Folio (Chicago: American Library Association, 1973), states that at the time of its printing there were only sixteen known extant copies of the prospectus, which was published in six editions over the course of several years. Rauner's copy is not one that Fries lists so it must have surfaced some time between 1973 and 1993, which is when its online catalog record was created. Our version is the fourth edition, or Edition D, which wasn't dated but most likely printed in early 1829 after ten numbers, or fifty plates, and been printed and distributed. In the back of the prospectus, Audubon lists the current subscribers who include King George IV of the United Kingdom and King Charles X of France, as well as numerous university libraries such as Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Oxford.
To see Rauner's copy of the fourth edition of Audubon's prospectus, come in and ask for Rare Book QL674 .A9 1827a. To see Audubon's Birds of America, walk into the Reading Room and take a look in the glass display case. For a special treat, come by on Friday mornings when we turn the page to reveal the new bird for the week (we call it the Friday Fowl).