Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > History of Science, Mathematics, Technology > 166. John James Audubon

166.  John James Audubon (1785-1851).  The Birds of America. London: Published by the author, 1827-1838. RBML

America's premier artist-naturalist, Audubon was born in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo, and spent his boyhood in France. At the age of eighteen he came to the United States to enter business but spent an increasing amount of time pursuing his childhood interest in drawing birds. By 1820 he was already devoting his efforts to what would eventually become The Birds of America, which would illustrate all the then-known birds of North America. In 1826 he left America in search of a publisher for the material he had already produced; his genius was immediately recognized in Great Britain, both by artists and scientists, and publication began. Over the next decade work continued, Audubon receiving assistance from his sons Victor and John and from William MacGillivray who collaborated with Audubon on the text which appeared in a five volume work, Ornithological Biography (1831-1839), published in Edinburgh.

Columbia was one of only three United States colleges or universities (along with Harvard and the other Columbia College, now the University of South Carolina) to become original subscribers to the "Double-Elephant" folio edition. It was published in less than two hundred sets with 435 hand-colored aquatints, principally the work of Robert Havell, Jr. The entry for "Columbia College State of N.Y." appears in Audubon's Ledger "B," dated May, 1833. Audubon had visited the college, then located at Park Place, and had shown his drawings to a gathering in the rooms of Columbia's president, the Rev. William Alexander Duer. A subscription of $800 was raised, and Ledger "B" records that the set was "Completed Nov. 10, 1838-(Bound)."

Purchased from John J. Audubon by subscription, 1833

Columbia University Libraries / Butler Library / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-7309 /