Not certain if your Audubon print is authentic? First follow the suggestions below. If you still need help, we will be happy to determine the authenticity of your print(s) by examining them at no cost to you. Simply ship your prints to our office with a pre-paid return shipping label included. Please include a packing list. We will return the prints in the same packaging. Send the package “Signature required” and insure it for a reasonable amount. Call or email us for the mailing address. 908.510.1621, firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can you determine if a print is an authentic Audubon? Since the Audubon prints are in the public domain, and not copyrighted, many modern reproduction editions have properly reprinted the image with the original publisher attributions (i.e. Engraved by...) toward the bottom of the image without any mention of the new modern-day publisher. This leads some to think that they have an original, when very often, it is actually a very good reproduction.
Without physically seeing your print, we cannot make an absolute determination. However, we are pleased to submit to you this helpful checklist. To begin, please get a tape measure.
Please measure your print.
All untrimmed Audubon originals are one of only three sizes.
The first and most valuable is the original "double elephant folio" edition of the Birds of America. This on average measures 26 1/4" x 39 1/4". Sometimes an additional inch or slightly less is trimmed off a longer side, where previous owners may have removed original binding marks. Here is a listing of all double elephants along with their copper plate sizes.
The second is the "Imperial" edition of the mammals or quadrupeds. This measured 22" x 28" and is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as the "elephant folio" sizing, but more often called the "Imperial" size.
The third is the "Royal Octavo" or miniature edition of the Birds, and later of the mammals. This edition measures about 6 1/2" x 10 " or 7" x 10 3/4".
If your print does not closely match any of these sizes, taking into consideration trimming, then you most likely have one of the 100's of reproduction editions.
One caution: Some of the outer edges of double elephant prints with smaller images have been trimmed by various owners, in order to fit the print into smaller frames.
DOUBLE ELEPHANT ORIGINALS
Next, does your double elephant sized print have a rectangular impression, a border within the paper border, surrounding the image? On the original prints, this was caused by the edges of the inked copper engraving plates being pressed into the paper, and in doing so leaving a crease.
Listing of approximate plate impressions.
Not only are these plate impressions generally visible, but you should be able to feel them as you run your fingers gently from the image to the outer edges of the paper. The uncolored paper within the rectangle will feel smoother than the area outside the impression.
These impressions will vary in size, this being determined by the size of the printing plate used for the various sized images. If your print has been drastically trimmed, this impression may no longer exist.
Larger images may have no visible impression since the copperplates extended almost to the end of the paper. However, be cautioned that there have been a number of restrikes produced over the years, or prints produced by the original plates that are still in existence. These are not Audubon originals. These restrikes too will show a plate impression.
Further, some modern reproductions also have a false plate mark. However, these can generally be distinguished from originals and restrikes since they have a consistent "feel" on both sides of the impression border. A copper plate pressing into the dampened sheet of paper would "smooth" the paper surface within the impression rectangle on an original but leave the paper "as is" (not as smooth) outside it.
Appearance under magnification
Now take a jeweler's loupe or magnifying glass and bring into focus several areas on the image itself. Do you see a geometric pattern of dots? If so, you have a photo offset reproduction, and not an original.
Some reproductions are worth thousands of dollars, but a geometric pattern of dots rules out your print being an original.
Audubon double elephant originals under magnification reveal smooth washes of watercolors, not a pattern of dots. One may even see where the colorists went "outside the lines" of the engraved image with their watercolor brushes. Remember, each Audubon original was individually hand colored.
Foxing, general appearance of paper
Now, if you have passed the sizing, plate impressions, and dot tests, please examine the print itself. Does it appear, well, old? Remember, the originals are about 180 years old. Foxing may be evident, there may be soiling, small tears, or other irregularities. A newer reproduction will appear, well, newer.
If unframed, please carefully hold your double elephant print between your eyes and a light source, viewing the back of the print. All untrimmed Audubon double elephant folio Birds of America prints have a visible countermark, but these may be difficult to find on larger images. A countermark is like a watermark, but it is without artistic elements, generally simply consisting only of lettering. It will stretch about 10 inches across the paper, being about 1 inch in height. The name of the countermark is either "J Whatman/Turkey Mill" or just "J Whatman" with a date following, generally anywhere from 1825 to 1838. If you see such a countermark, you have an original Audubon. You may want to have it professionally appraised.
The following is reproduced by permission of Ron Flynn.
ROYAL OCTAVO BIRD ORIGINALS
There were up to eight different octavo editions, each containing 500 different hand colored stone lithographs. There is no plate mark or watermark. The paper is white and somewhat stiff like card stock. Each print should measure about 6-1/2" x 10-1/2" after being removed from its original book volume. Each print should have what is called a binding edge or strip along one edge of the paper, with tiny holes or slits as evidence of the print having been stitched into a book, and a narrow strip where a tissue guard was glued on to protect the image. It is common and routine for dealers and other sellers of original Audubon octavo prints, to sell them with the binding edge intact. If these prints have been trimmed, and the binding edge is missing, the value of these prints is somewhat reduced. All prints have a plate number printed in Arabic numerals in the upper right corner. Larger reproductions of these prints are seldom seen. However, several picture books were published after the 1930s in which some or all 500 of the prints were produced as inexpensive color offset lithographs on inexpensive paper. Individual original octavo prints retail from under $50 each up to around $3,000.00 each. 1st edition prints, of a particular bird, are more valuable than the 2nd or later edition prints of the same bird.
The 1st edition was published between 1840-44. All 1st edition prints were lithographed and colored by J.T. Bowen of Philadelphia and New York, EXCEPT plate #s 136-150, which were lithographed and colored by George Endicott. The vast majority of the 500 prints were of the bird(s) on a branch or bird(s) on the ground. A few of the 500 prints had a solid hand colored background with some sort of setting for the bird. Finally, some of the 500 prints had an elaborately hand colored landscape or habitat scene. 1st edition prints are distinguished and recognized by the ABSENCE of a printed color background.
All 2nd and later octavo edition prints have an aqua or beige printed colored background, either as a solid rectangle, or with white areas in most scenes, supposedly to resemble clouds and sky. However, while it is easy to identify 1st edition prints, it is virtually impossible to determine which of the up to 7 other octavo editions a print with a printed colored background is from, once it has been removed from its original bound volume.
The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845-48)
This publication consisted of 150 different prints of quadruped (four footed) mammals and is referred to as the Imperial Folio Edition. It was published in three volumes of 50 prints each in 1845, 1846 and 1848 respectively. The prints were hand colored stone lithographs printed on unwatermarked heavy supple off-white paper. Paper size, as removed from the original book volume, should measure about 22" x 28" with the binding edge intact, though it is more common to find individual prints with the narrow binding edge trimmed off. There is evidence of a 2nd edition that was published sometime after the Civil War, by Lockwood, in two volumes of 75 prints each. Of the few known 2nd edition volumes, it is said that the paper and hand coloring are inferior to the 1st edition prints.
The plate # is printed in Roman numerals in the upper right corner. All prints were lithographed and colored by J.T.Bowen. In the lower left corner, about half of the 150 different prints are credited to J.J. Audubon, and the remainder are credited to his son, J.W. Audubon. A good number of the 150 different original Audubon Imperial Folio prints sell for between $500.00 and $1,000.00, but a few prints sell for over $30,000.00 each. There are few inexpensive off-sized reproductions of these prints. Princeton-Audubon Ltd. is selling high quality 22" x 28" facsimile reproductions of about 12 of these prints.
The Quadrupeds of North America Octavo Editions (1849-71)
There were four different original Audubon octavo editions published between 1849-1871, each consisting of 155 different hand colored stone lithographs issued in three volumes. There is no plate mark or watermark on the print. The white paper is somewhat stiff, like a card stock. Each print should measure about 7" x 10-1/2" to 11" after removal from its original book volume and should have what is called a binding edge along one side, with tiny holes or slits as evidence of the print having been stitched into a book, and evidence of a narrow glue strip where a tissue guard was glued on to protect the image. If the binding edge has been trimmed off, the value of the print is somewhat reduced. All prints in all editions have an aqua or beige printed color background that is either a solid rectangle, or with white patches to resemble clouds and sky in landscape scenes. All are finished with hand applied watercolor paints of the era.
Plate numbers are printed in Roman numerals in the upper right corner of each print. A credit to the lithographer is printed in the lower right corner. Early prints of plate #s 1-26 and 29-31 will have a credit to Nagel & Weingartner of New York. Later prints of the above plate #s, as well as all other prints will be lithographed and colored by J.T. Bowen. In the lower right hand corner, a credit will be printed for the original artist of the drawing which was made into the print. About half of the 155 different prints will be credited to J.J. Audubon, and the remainder credited to J.W. Audubon, J.J.'s son.
Once separated from their original bound volume, it is virtually impossible to determine which edition a print is from. Dealers sell 1st edition octavo quadruped prints at a premium, but the printed color backgrounds and images are all identical for all editions. There are numerous variants or "states" in the text credits (or the lack thereof) on these prints. Other than implicitly trusting a dealer, the only certainty of a true 1st edition are found in plate #s 1-26 and 29-31 that have a credit to Nagel & Weingartner.
Original Audubon prints from this publication retail from $50.00 to over $1,000.00 each. Most of the inexpensive reproductions of this publication come from picture books published since the 1930s.
Birds of America Bien Edition (1858-60)
The original Audubon Bien Edition consisted of 150 different printed images on 105 different sheets measuring about 26-1/2" x 39-1/2". Many of the original sheets contained 2 images, and they were frequently separated into two smaller sheets. Each print was a stone lithographed ink chromolithograph. That is, each image was printed with ink from 6 to as many as 15 different stones, one for each color. Sometimes the final prints were touched up or finished with some hand applied watercolor paints. It is estimated that only 75 sets of this publication were completed before the Civil War halted production. In terms of numbers, the Bien Edition is the rarest of all original Audubon publications. However, the market value of prints in the Havell Edition far exceed those of the Bien Edition. Full Bien Edition sheets retail from a couple thousand dollars each on up to $40,000.00 or more. There are extremely few reproductions of this very rare edition.