The most expensive book in the world auctioned at Christie’s

New York, 5 January 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA).

On 20 January, in New York, Christie’s will auction the first edition of a much sough-after book, The Birds of America (1827-1838), by James Audubon, estimated between $7-10 million.

Those four volumes, adorned with about 435 engravings coloured by hand (from Audubon’s watercolours), representing more than 400 bird species from North America, are considered as a masterpiece of the ornithological art of the 19th century. Audubon himself insisted that this book be printed on the largest sheets at the time (almost 40 inches), as to immortalize each animal at its life size and in its natural habitat. Those illustrated volumes include the first edition of the Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America (1831-1849), a five-volume book also made by Audubon.

Only 200 complete editions of The Birds of America were printed between 1827 and 1838: 100 are kept in museums, and 13 belong to private individuals. Christie’s copy was bought around 1838 by William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, fourth Duke of Portland, and remained in his heir’s collection until today.

Christie’s hopes to be as successful as Sotheby’s, which had auctioned another first edition of Audubon’s book, for about $11.5 million, keeping the world record for a book.