On This Day: The Birds of America sets record price tag for printed book

On this day 11 years ago, the world’s most expensive printed book ever sold at auction exchanged hands for more than $13 million.

The book, a first-edition print of The Birds of America by ornithologist John James Audubon, was auctioned at Sotheby’s auction house in London, England on December 6, 2010, and sold for a record £7,321,250 ($13.8 million) price tag.

The Birds of America contains 435 hand-coloured pages of life-size watercolours of birds that could be seen in the United States at the time of the artist’s research during the early 1800s.

The book is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed.

It is valued not only for its comprehensiveness but also for the artistry that went into every illustration.

Mallard ducks illustrated by ornithologist John James Audubon. Photo: Getty

Only 11 copies remain of Audubon’s ambitious project.

In 2012, a second edition of The Birds of America was sold by Christie’s auction house in England for $11.3 million.

In 2018, another copy of Audubon’s book went to auction at Christie’s auction house with the aim of surpassing the auction record, but fell just shy of its target, selling for $US9.65 million ($13.78 million).

The Birds of America and its considerable worth found a home on the silver screen in 2018 in the form of crime docudrama American Animals.

The film, starring Evan Peters, follows the true story of four university students’ attempt to steal four double-sized folios of The Birds of America from Transylvania University.

Since Audubon’s drawings were published, six of the species of birds illustrated have become extinct, according to the National Library of Scotland.

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