New York & Philadelphia: Audubon, J. J. & Chevalier, J.B., 1840-44. The First Royal Octavo. Matted in Ivory Rag Board. A fine original hand-colored lithograph on paper. Sheet size: 6.5 x 10.25 inches. Drawn from nature by John James Audubon, Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Linnaean Society. Lithographed, printed and colored by JT Bowen, Philadelphia for the First Royal Octavo Edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America. Includes the text from Audubon's Ornithological Biography.
The Royal Octavo Edition represents John James Audubon's (1785-1851) desire to create an affordable work based on his magnum opus; the Double Elephant Folio Edition of The Birds of America. London: Published by the Author, 1827-38, with engravings produced by William H. Lizars and Robert Havell, Jr. after Audubon's dramatic life-sized portraits of North American birds set amidst their native foliage and surroundings.
During the mid-nineteenth century, there were no photomechanical means of reproduction. To create a smaller format work, each and every composition was redrawn by hand; with the aid of the Camera Lucida. For the Royal Octavo Edition, Audubon and his assistants translated the 435 engravings of the Double Elephant Folio Edition into 500 unique drawings. Audubon's compositions of heretofore unrelated birds were now rendered according to species; with each bird portrayed on a new botanical perch or within a renewed landscape. With this new envisioning Audubon created a perfected composition: a charming vignette of the bird, or family of birds, in its natural setting- here sized to scale in the smaller (Royal Octavo) format. For the lithographs of the Royal Octavo Edition of The Birds of America, Audubon enlisted the talents of America's premier lithographers and printers: the JT Bowen and Company in Philadelphia and Endicott in New York. Each composition was drawn on a limestone tablet, then inked and printed. Once dried, the print of the bird and setting was faithfully hand-watercolored in splendid array of lifelike tones. In this format Audubon presented the unique compositions of ten birds newly discovered during his explorations of the American West and not previously portrayed in the Double Elephant Folio Edition.
As with the Folio Edition, the Royal Octavo Edition was sold by subscription format -issued twice monthly between 1840 and 44- containing one hundred individual packets of five hand-painted lithographs of birds and their accompanying text. Audubon's Ornithological Biography included his characteristic and scientific descriptions of the birds along with his colloquial nature writings describing the robust beauty of the early American landscape as well as reflections on the travels of this unique Ornithologist, Naturalist and Frontiersman.
The popularity and success of the Royal Octavo Edition of Audubon's Birds of America is evidenced by its subsequent production of seven editions- albeit of diminishing quality-with the final edition issued in 1870 by George Lockwood, New York.
(Nissen 51, Sabin: H.2364, Tyler, Ron. Audubon's Great National Work. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993. Wood, C.. An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Literature. London: Oxford University Press, 1931.). Fine condition with bright original hand-coloring. Item #6190