Among the most significant American books of the 19th Century, Audubon’s The Birds of America is extraordinary in several ways. The enormous 4 volume “Double Elephant Folio” carefully and accurately documents more than 430 species of American birds in life-size prints, making it an important work of natural history and scientific observation. Based on Audubon’s dynamic original paintings, each image was printed from an etched copper plate, and each print was then hand-colored with watercolor paints; the resulting plates are celebrated both for their uncommonly beautiful representations of the natural world and as exceptionally fine examples of 19th century etching and printing technologies. The work is unique, too, in its scope and scale: The Birds of America has been called the most ambitious printing and publishing project ever achieved. Accompanied by a five-volume textual account of Audubon’s observations and adventures, Ornithological Biography, or, An Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America, it took more than 13 years to complete the fewer than 200 full-sets produced. Of the roughly 120 complete copies now known to exist, Yale owns two.
Provenance of Yale’s Copies
Copy 1: Bequest of Henry Walcott Farnam, 1934
Henry Walcott Farnham was a graduate of the Yale class of 1874; he earned a PhD from the Univeristy of Strausberg in 1878; he served as a professor of political economy at Yale from 1880-1918.
Copy 2: From the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of Americana at the Yale University Art Gallery
Donated to Yale by Francis P. Garavan, Yale class of 1897, in honor of his wife and fellow collector of Americana.