At Rauner, Celebrating the Work of John James Audubon

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The library marks the 232nd anniversary of the famous naturalist’s birth.

an antique illustration of two bluebirds
An illustration from Audubon’s Birds of America (Image courtesy of Rauner Special Collections Library)

Read the full blog post by Morgan Swan, published by Rauner Special Collections Library.

Today marks the 232nd anniversary of the birth of John James Audubon. Rauner Special Collections Library’s copy of the famous naturalist’s Birds of America, which once belonged to Daniel Webster, is on permanent and prominent display in the Rooke Reading Room.

 While the beautiful images of birds that fill this set of books are indisputably Audubon’s most popular and memorable achievements, Rauner holds another Audubon item that is a rarer bird than his famous 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 25 birds annually. Ultimately, he would issue 435 plates over the span of 11 years.

At present, there are 120 known surviving copies of Aubudon’s Birds of America. However, the prospectus is itself much scarcer. An old source, Waldemar Fries’ The Double Elephant Folio (Chicago: American Library Association, 1973), states that at the time of its printing there were only 16 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.

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