The Project, Quality, Errors and Market Value
by Ron Flynn
In 1858 John James Audubon’s youngest son,
John Woodhouse Audubon, undertook a new and ambitious business venture.
The project was to be the first American full sized reissue of his
father’s original (1826-38) Birds of America. The publication
was to cost about half the price of the original Birds of America,
and was also sold by subscription. The publication was to be issued in
44 separate parts. Each part would consist of seven sheets or pages,
containing 10 images. Four of the sheets in each part contained one
large or medium sized image, and three sheets in each part contained two
With the advances in color printing, at the
time, it was decided that the plates would be produced using the very
latest techniques in chromolithography. The firm of Roe Lockwood and Son
of New York was hired as publisher. Julius Bien of New York, a pioneer
in chromolithography, was contracted as the lithographer. The name Bien
Edition, of course, is a credit to Julius Bien. J.W. Audubon’s mother,
Lucy Bakewell Audubon, co-signed some of the business agreements.
J.W.’s older brother, Victor Gifford Audubon, was unable to offer much
assistance to the project, as he was an invalid at the time and died in
1860. The undertaking had problems from the beginning. The Audubons were
still trying to collect monies owed them from the octavo editions,
payment receipts from new subscribers to the Bien Edition were slow in
coming, and unscrupulous dealings of certain business partners resulted
in the tenuous financial condition of the project. Finally, the Audubons
were cutoff from their Southern subscribers at the onset of the Civil
War, and this ended production of the Bien Edition. This huge financial
catastrophe brought near financial ruin to the Audubon family, and
certainly contributed to the death of J.W. Audubon in 1862. In 1863,
Lucy Audubon had to sell family assets, including JJA’s original
paintings for Birds of America, to keep the family solvent.
When production was stopped on the Bien Edition,
only 15 parts had been issued. The 15 parts produced 105 sheets or
pages, with a total of 150 images (under the format described above).
The Bien Edition consists of only one bound volume. It is not known
exactly how many sets of the original 15 parts were printed. The
consensus seems to be that between 75-100 sets were printed, and either
bound into single volumes or left unbound. Early researchers put the
number of surviving bound volumes at 15-23. However, in 1976 Waldemar
Fries had located and catalogued 49 original bound volumes of the Bien
Edition. While individual plates and original bound volumes of the Bien
Edition are rarer, in terms of numbers, than the Havell Edition of Birds
of America, they do not bring near the prices that the Havells do.
A HYBRID EDITION –
The 1971-72 Audubon Amsterdam Edition, in which
an original Havell Edition of Birds of America was actually
photographed and precisely reproduced using color photo-lithography, is
the first true full size facsimile reproduction of the Havell Edition of
Birds of America. The Bien Edition, however, is not a true
replica of the Havell Edition, and could be called a HYBRID EDITION of
both the Havell and Royal Octavo Editions of Birds of America.
There are a number of differences between the Bien and Havell Editions.
The major noticeable difference, from the Havell
Edition, is the page layout system for the Bien Edition. Of the 105
total pages completed and issued in the Bien Edition, 60 of those pages
contain a single species of large or medium sized bird. The remaining 45
issued pages have 2 images per sheet or page (these pages will be
illustrated and discussed below). The part numbers of the Bien Edition
are unique and reflect the issuance of 15 parts, with 7 sheets per part,
and 10 images per part. The bird images and nomenclature on each Bien
sheet came from the Havell Edition prints, while the plate #s used in
the Bien Edition follow, and are from, the Royal Octavo Editions.
However, some birds’ names were changed between the Havell and Royal
Octavo Editions. Therefore, the bird’s name and plate #, on a few Bien
prints, will not exactly match the Royal Octavo Editions plate # list or
image. Other errors in part # and plate # labeling occurred in the
printing of the Bien Edition, and will be noted in the Index Table
below. Probably the most confusing error in the Bien Edition is Plate
#88, the Children’s Warbler (named not for little boys and girls, but
for Audubon’s friend John George Children). The image, and bird’s
name and nomenclature, are from Havell plate #35. However, J.J. Audubon
later realized that his Havell Children’s Warblers were actually the
female and young of the Yellow Poll Wood Warbler. If you then refer to
the Royal Octavo Edition plate #88, you will find it labeled Yellow Poll
Wood Warbler, and the image does not match the image in Bien plate #88.
In fact, the image is unique to the Royal Octavo Editions, and is not
found in the Havell Edition. The vast majority of images and plate #s in
the Bien Edition will generally match the images (with many minor
changes) and plate #s in the Royal Octavo Editions.
Julius Bien transferred the images from the
actual copper plates, used in the Havell Edition, to lithographic stones
for the Bien Edition. However, changes were made to a number of the
lithographic stones prior to printing. A number of Bien plates were
printed with a colored background tint, similar to that on 2nd and later
editions of the Royal Octavo birds. Many Bien plates had backgrounds
added or changed in various ways from that of the original Havell
Edition. Most of these background changes were minor in nature, but some
were striking and changed the overall appearance of the print.
Several of the small single bird figures in the Havell Edition
were grouped in the Bien Edition.
FULL SHEETS AND HALF PAGES –
The Bien Edition was printed on sheets of
unwatermarked paper measuring about 26-1/2” x 39” (slightly smaller
when bound into a volume). Up to six different stones, each for a
different color, were used for the printing of each sheet. After
printing, some sheets were finished, or touched up, with a little hand
coloring using watercolor paints. Each sheet was dated either 1858 or
1859 or 1860. A part number
was printed in the upper left above each image, and a plate number was
printed in the upper right above each image. The bird’s name and
nomenclature was generally printed centrally below each image. There is
a single Audubon credit on each sheet, whether it is a single or
two-image sheet. The Audubon credit is at the lower left corner of each
sheet, and reads “Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon F.R.S.F.L.S.”
There is a single Bien credit on each sheet, whether it is a single or
two-image sheet. The Bien credit is at the lower right corner of each
sheet and reads “Chromolith by J. Bien, New York (followed by the
45 of the 105 sheets of the Bien edition have 2
images per page. Some
sheets have 2 horizontal images, and some have 2 vertical images, and
sheet #26 has one of each (see the Index Table below). On the
illustrations below, I have superimposed where the part #, plate #,
Audubon Credit, and Bien Credit are located on each sheet. Unbound
sheets, with 2 images, were often cut in half to use smaller frames, or
to frame just one favorite image.
A shows Bien Edition sheet
6. On the left is Part 1-8, Plate #88, Children’s Warbler. On the
right is Part 1-7, Plate #74, Kentucky Warbler. Notice at the top of the
sheet, there is a part # and plate # for each image. At the bottom of
the sheet, each image has its own nomenclature, and the Audubon credit
is on the left, and the Bien credit on the right. If this sheet were cut
in half, each image would still have its part # and plate #, plus
nomenclature, but only one of the credits for either Audubon or Bien.
B shows Bien Edition sheet 34. On the top is part 5-7, Plate #308, Least
Water Hen. On the bottom is part 5-8, Plate #308 (error, should be plate
#307), Yellow Breasted Rail. As in Fig. A, each image has its own
nomenclature, part # and plate #. The Audubon and Bien credits are at
the bottom of the sheet. If this sheet were cut in half, the top image
would only have nomenclature plus Part # and Plate #. The top half would
have no credit or authentication for either Audubon or Bien. However,
the bottom half would appear like a small complete Audubon print, with
all identifying information and credits.
terms of market value, a full sheet should never be cut in half. The
value of the two half sheets would not equal the value of a full sheet.
If Fig. A were cut into half sheets, the value of each half would be
about the same, all else being equal. However, if Fig. B were cut into
two half sheets, the value of the top half sheet (without Audubon or
Bien credits) would be significantly less than the value of the bottom
by Tom Eckert, courtesy of the Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas
FACTORS AFFECTING MARKET VALUE –
In this Edition, Julius Bien produced some of
the finest examples of large-scale chromolithographic art of the mid
19th century. Still, the science and technology of chromolithography
were certainly not completely refined at the time of the printing of the
Bien Edition. For this reason, the quality and appearance of the
finished prints varied, and that affects the market value of individual
prints today. While the numerous errors in the printing of part and
plate numbers could easily have been caught and corrected by J.W.
Audubon, from proofs supplied by Bien, they do not affect market value.
However, the printing errors, plus other factors, allow one to conclude
that there was a general lack of quality and quality control for the
entire project. Despite the hiring of the renowned Mr. Bien, I don’t
believe that the finished prints that were issued would have received
J.J. Audubon’s wholehearted approval.
If any fault has to be found with the Bien Edition, as we find it
today, it would rest with a perhaps overburdened and under financed John
Woodhouse Audubon. The factors that affect the market value of the Bien
prints today are: supply and demand, print condition, quality and
uniformity of coloring, and the paper used for the prints.
Supply and Demand, and Print Condition -
Supply and demand determines the general market
value of prints of specific bird species. As with all original Audubon
Editions, the most popular and sought after prints will have a higher
market value. The overall condition of the print is the single most
important factor in determining market value of a single print. It is
quite common to find Bien Edition prints with small marginal chips and
tears or some foxing, but because of the rarity of Bien Edition prints,
these flaws will still have an impact on market value. However, prints
with numerous or more serious flaws and damage will have a much lower
market value. If you go to
my Internet website at www.audubonprices.com
, and click on the banner near the bottom, you can read more about print
condition, and flaws and damage, in some of my published Audubon related
Print Coloring –
Pre Civil War chromolithographic prints were
basically still experimental. Two processes, which greatly affected
quality, had not been completely perfected.
Up to six different stones, each with different colored ink, were
used to print one Bien sheet. The colored inks were successively printed
(layered) over each other to produce the correct final colors for each
print. Highly skilled chromists, or perhaps Bien himself, had to hand
mix the various ink colors just right, so that when printed one upon
another, the final result was perfect. It appears that the chromists
experimented or varied ink colors as they went along, and though prints
of the same sheet had color variances, they were all approved and
issued. Therefore, you will find some Bien prints with wonderful
accurate spectacular coloring, while some of the colors in other like
prints might be loud and almost gaudy. You will find some colors in
prints to be dull or thin, and not appear natural or life like. Finally,
some colors, especially in the blues and greens, will not be correct and
will not look right compared to a hand colored Havell or Octavo.
The other area of chromolithography that was not
completely perfected was that of color registration. Bien’s people
were pulling the same sheet from as many as six different stones, each
with a different color, to produce the final print. All it took was the
slightest movement or shift of one of the stones, or the slightest
misalignment of the paper on one of the stones, and the result was that
one color in the print did not register (line up exactly) with the other
colors. The result was that the “lines” separating the colors would
appear fuzzy or blurry, and were not sharp.
In the fall of 2003, I had the opportunity on
several occasions to examine an original bound volume of the Bien
Edition at a local college library. During the same period, I discussed
the Bien Edition in detail with 5 owners of this Edition (3
institutional and 2 private). We all agreed that the color registration,
and quality of the coloring of the chromolithographic prints, within
given volumes, varied noticeably. However, the differences in coloring
quality and registration were not uniformly unique to specific prints in
the sets. Rather, it is more likely that the coloring of specific prints
varied among different volumes.
Prints with bright fresh natural coloring, that
has not faded, will have the highest market value. Some minor
misalignment of color registration should be considered normal, and not
affect market value. Prints with coloring that is faded or off
(unnatural, gaudy, dull, or wrong) will have a reduced market value.
However, print coloring must be considered along with overall print
condition, and condition of the paper, in determining market value.
The Bien Edition Paper –
A number of writers have commented negatively
about the quality of the paper used in the Bien Edition. J.W. Audubon or
Roe Lockwood, as publisher, could have imported and used J. Whatman
paper. An American made 100% cotton rag paper, such as used for the 1st
Royal Octavo Edition (1840-44), could have been used for the project.
However, a less expensive unwatermarked paper containing wood pulp was
chosen. While the ramifications of using a paper containing wood pulp
was not known at the time, the effect of using this paper has a profound
impact on market value of individual Bien prints today.
I persuaded a fellow Audubon collector, who has
a number of Bien half sheets, to make a sacrifice for science. One of
his half sheets had a ¼” chip along one margin. I persuaded him to
trim the print to eliminate the ¼” chip, which would not sacrifice
the integrity of a full size half sheet. The resulting ¼” wide strip
of paper, from an original Bien print, was sent to a local retired
forensic chemist. The chemist performed two inexpensive tests. The Ph of
the sample was tested and found to be 5.4. A Ph reading of 5.4, for
paper, indicates that it is quite acidic. Using a reagent, the paper
sample was tested for lignin. The test was positive, proving that the
Bien Edition paper contained wood pulp, though the percentage of wood
pulp in the paper was undetermined. Lignin is a complex polymer found in
wood pulp, but not in 100% cotton rag. As the lignin breaks down over
time: substances leech out which turn the paper more acidic, darken the
color of the paper, and weaken the fibers of the paper. Because of the
wood pulp in Bien Edition prints: the paper will tear and chip more
easily, become fragile and brittle, and eventually deteriorate and
crumble without restorative measures. A competent paper conservator can
easily save these prints by washing and then deacidifying them, using an
aqueous solution of calcium carbonate or the like.
In the Bien volume I examined, I found that the
quality of the paper sheets varied somewhat. Most sheets were uniform,
but did not have the feel or thickness of a Havell or Amsterdam print.
Some sheets were heavier and denser, while other sheets were noticeably
thinner than the majority. I believe that Bien prints that have remained
bound in a volume, or are recently dis-bound, are in generally better
condition than single prints that have been in circulation for some
time. Very few Bien prints, with paper in very good condition are
available today, and those would have a higher market value today. Some
prints on the market may have already been restored. When purchasing a
Bien Edition print, consider the condition of the paper, and the
prospect of having to pay a conservator to restore the sheet before it
Edition Index Table (in
order by Plate #)
Sheet # - numbers from 1-105 are used as a
reference, and are not found on the Bien prints.
Part # - is printed at upper left of each image
on a print.
Plate # - is printed at upper right of each
image on a print. The plate # is referenced to the octavo editions, but
there are numerous errors of printing incorrect plate #s on the Bien
Name – Name of bird as printed. Alternate
octavo edition names are found under notations.
Sheet 96, part 14-6, has 3 different birds in
Sheet 49, corrected part #7-10, has 2 different
birds in one image.
2008 by Ron Flynn, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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