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Audubon's Birds of America: Composite Plates

Here you can find information about the Field Museum's copy of The Birds of America as well as selected resources on John James Audubon and his works.

13 Extra Composite Prints

Towards the end of his project, Audubon wanted to correct mistakes made in bird identification and other errors by overprinting images from separate copper plates onto the original print. A total of 13 extra prints were created that were included in only 3 of the complete sets of Audubon's Birds of America. One of these sets was Audubon's personal copy and is now housed at the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas. The second set, which belongs to the Field Museum, belonged to Audubon's friend and family doctor Dr. Benjamin Phillips. The third was said to go to Audubon's friend and expedition companion Edward Harris, however, it is believed that the copy was never actually bound and was broken up and dispersed.  Along with The Birds of America, the Field Museum is also home to an Audubon Ottoman, which protects and provides a surface that can be pulled out to display each volume.

Composite Plate XII: Before and After

Baltimore or Northern Oriole (Icterus galbula) Plate 12 (XII) from John James Audubon's Birds of America

Baltimore or Northern Oriole (Icterus galbula) Plate 12 (XII) from John James Audubon's Birds of America, original double elephant folio (1835-38), hand-coloured aquatint. Engraved, printed and coloured by R. Havell (& Son), London. Rare Book Room. Type of Plate: REGULAR. 

Baltimore or Northern Oriole (Icterus galbula) Plate 12 (XII) from John James Audubon's Birds of America, original double elephant folio (1835-38), hand-coloured aquatint. Engraved, printed and coloured by R. Havell (& Son), London. Rare Book Room. Type of Plate COMPOSITE or REVISED.

Part Number

The part number is located at the upper left of each plate. In this case, our part number is 3.

Plate Number

Plate Numbers are in the upper right corner of the plate and written in Roman numerals. The plate number shown is number 12 out of the 13 composite plates.

The Artist's Credit

The Artist's Credit appears at the lower left corner of the plate. The artist's credit reads as follows: "Drawn from Nature by J.J. Audubon, F,R,S. F,L,S."

 

 

Printer's Credit

The Printer's Credit appears in the lower left. It states that the plate was "Engraved, Printed, & Coloured by R.Havell."

Legend

Finally, the Legend, located at the bottom center of the plate, gives the title of the piece and identifies the species and sex of the birds in the picture. The legend here reads, "Baltimore Oriole. Icterus Baltimore. Daud. Adult Male, 1. Male two years old, 2. Female, 3. Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipfera."

 

 

 

 

Audubon Ottoman

"Audubon Ottoman" Stored in the Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room

The Audubon Ottoman was designed to store, protect, and display the Birds of America. The ottoman itself is constructed of wood with a removable door at the front end. Inside there are four drawers, each holding a volume of the set. Each drawer has two legs that drop down when pulled out creating a table for the volume to be displayed. The ottoman is upholstered in painted damask fabric. In 2007, the Field Museum had the ottoman restored over the course of two months. The original upholstery was replicated and replaced by conservator Tatsumi Brown, who logged a whopping 346 hours working on the ottoman.