Modern Audubon Birds of America D.E.F. Editions
A Complete Review and Comparison
by Ron Flynn
The prints of John James Audubon's original (1826-1838) Birds of America double elephant folio (DEF) Havell Edition are perhaps the most popular and certainly most copied bird images ever. It is estimated that between 20-25 million copies or reproductions of the original Audubon images have been produced since the 1930s. All but about 400,000 of these reproductions are virtually worthless, with little if any market value. The approximately 400,000 prints I speak of are high quality DEF facsimiles or reproductions, printed on high quality fine art paper. If you do not know what edition your prints are from, it may be beneficial to read my article, Is Your Audubon Print An Original?, on this website.
Beginning in the early 1970s, companies began producing high quality limited edition DEF sized reproductions of Audubon's original Havell edition. The nearly 400,000 already published prints in these limited editions have market values ranging from $25 to several thousand dollars each, depending on which edition it is from, and the popularity of the individual image. This article covers the popular editions that are readily available in the marketplace. There are other obscure limited editions, of varying quality, that have been published in extremely small numbers. Though some of these prints have market value, they are not included herein because there is simply no active market for them, and dealers rarely ever have any of them to sell. Specific information and identifying characteristics, for each of the popular editions available today, will be discussed and illustrated. I will also give my personal comparative opinion of each edition. However, I must first define and explain the differences between reproductions, facsimiles and restrikes, as they pertain to the original Audubon Havell prints.
** PLEASE NOTE - Companies and individuals increasingly send me sample or proof prints of their new Audubon editions. They show up unannounced on my doorstep, and I am asked to review them, and give them publicity on my websites. Sometimes, I will contact a publisher that I hear about, and ask to see a sample of their edition for review. Most of what I receive are cheap reproductions or posters (they call them art prints or decorator prints), and are printed by the thousands. These are NOT fine art prints, and I'll never write about or publicize them. I will write about the good ones. Yes, the publisher gets a little free publicity, but more importantly, you the reader learn about these editions, their specifications, quality, and where to buy them. So, wouldn't you think that if a publisher was sending me a print to review, they would send me an absolutely perfect and professionally packaged print? This is not always the case, and I don't understand why. Consequently, I review what I receive, and I refuse to accept excuses or complaints from publishers who send me inferior prints to review.
FACSIMILE - A facsimile is an exact copy of any original Audubon print. Sometimes the term facsimile reproduction is used. We speak of the matrix of a print. The matrix or image matrix of a print is the original printed and colored area, and consists of the image and all printed text including: part number, plate number, Audubon credit, lithographer's credit, and the animal's name and associated information. To be called a facsimile, the print's matrix must be identical to the original, both in size and content. All colors must be reproduced as closely as possible to the original. A facsimile will reproduce all printed text exactly as it appears on the original, no more or no less. Finally, a facsimile will be printed on a sheet of paper that is approximately the same size as the original. Most of the facsimile editions below are produced using offset photo lithography techniques. Facsimiles are also commonly produced by scanning an original Havell print, putting the image file into a computer, and printing it using giclée printing techniques. Facsimiles will likely have some added identifying feature to distinguish them from the original. Added chop marks, embossed seals, hand numbering and the like, placed toward the bottom margin, do not disqualify a print from being classified as a facsimile. These identifying features will be mentioned and illustrated below.
REPRODUCTION - A reproduction is a copy of an original, but not an exact copy. It resembles the form and elements of the original. A reproduction can be identical to the original except for size. A print is a reproduction if the image or the text varies or is altered only slightly from that of the original. If additional text is printed within the image matrix, the print is a reproduction. In the Loates Edition below, you will learn that the images are not exactly identical to the original Audubons, and the printed text is different, but they look very similar to the original Audubon Havell prints. Numerous editions of Birds of America and other books were printed in large quantities during the 20th Century, with smaller reproduction pictures. People now take these books apart to sell the pictures as individual prints. Beginning in the 1940s, insurance companies and banks printed millions of cheap reproductions and gave them away to customers. Even today, you will find ads in women's and home & garden magazines selling framed decorator Audubon reproductions at outrageous prices.
RESTRIKES - A restrike is a print made from the original copper plate that was used to make the original Havell Edition prints. The original Havell prints were copper plate aquatint engravings. John Audubon moved all 435 original copper plates to the U.S. and stored them near his New York City home. Sometime after J.J. Audubon's death, the Audubon family found itself in financial trouble and bankruptcy. In 1863 Audubon's widow, Lucy Bakewell Audubon, was forced to sell all 435 original copper plates for scrap. These plates were stored in a warehouse for many years until someone decided to melt them down and re-use the copper. The story is told that a 14 year old boy and his mother recognized the copper plates as having some value, and rescued a quantity of them from the fires. Today, about 80 of Audubon's original copper plates survive in various conditions, and are owned by museums, institutions and private collectors. Some of these plates were in pretty good condition or could be cleaned and retooled a bit. The first restrikes that I have found a reference to date from the 1950s, but information is sketchy and cannot be confirmed. There are very few restrike editions and they were printed in very small numbers.
Before getting to the reviews, there are four other things that should be discussed: PRINTING METHODS, INKS, PAPER, and PAPER/INK INTERACTION.
PRINTING METHODS - Three different printing methods have been used to produce high quality Audubon reproductions and facsimiles: collotype, offset color lithography, and giclée. The collotype printing method is discussed in detail in my article, The Leipzig Edition, on this website. Offset color lithography is a complex multi-step printing method that has been used for many many years. The technology is well developed and quality is very good. An Audubon original print is basically an image with some text on it. In color offset lithography, the image is photographed onto film. The larger the image on film, the more detail of the original image can be reproduced. To produce a DEF sized print of the original, the film image usually must be blown up, resulting in a loss of some detail, and transferred to a photographic printing plate. Unless the film image is DEF sized (direct camera), the loss of detail will transfer to the final print. In color offset lithography, the image is separated into colors, screened to turn it into tiny dots, and transferred to a printing plate. Four color separation and printing is still the standard for commercial work today. However, high quality Audubon prints are being printed in 6-13 colors. Using more colors in printing will result in more color tones or shades, and a better looking transition of those tones and shades.
Images are screened to turn them into a composition of tiny dots. With the naked eye, you can easily see similar dots in a newspaper black and white photograph. The finest screen for color images produces 300 dots per inch (DPI). With a 300 DPI screen, you will have to use magnification to see the tiny color dots in the final print. I believe all lithographic prints listed below are produced using 100 - 300 DPI screens. Generally, the larger the original film image, the more color separations used in printing, and the finer the screen (higher DPI), the better the final print will be. However, the different editions described below have used different combinations of the above three variables. A direct visual comparison is the best way to comment on quality and appearance of the various editions, and the differences between them.
Giclée (pronounced GEE-CLAY) is a French word meaning flowing ink or sprayed ink. The Giclée printing method uses an inkjet printer and a computer. Giclée printing techniques have emerged from their infancy, not too many years ago, into today's 3rd generation computer scanners and printers, along with more sophisticated imaging software. Today, a DEF sized original Audubon Havell print can be scanned directly into a computer, creating a digital image. The size of the file for each image would probably range from around 250 Megabytes (MB) up to 1 Gigabyte (GB) or more. It was only a few years ago when large DEF sized direct scanners became available. The 2nd generation technology was to scan a photograph of the original into a computer, or to scan a slide or transparency of the original onto a CD, and then transferring it to a computer. This method would create a file size of perhaps 50-100 MB. Obviously, today's larger image file sizes capture more of the detail of the original Audubon print, compared to earlier smaller image files. This translates to better looking finished prints, with more detail and depth.
With sophisticated computer software, the digital image can be color corrected and printed out. Proofs can be compared to the Audubon original, and corrected until an exact match is achieved. Once a final image is approved, it can be stored on the computer or on CD, and prints can be made in any quantity at any time. This print on demand method can be more cost effective than offset color lithography, which is usually printed in a single run. With sophisticated imaging software, defects in either the original copper plate or the paper of the original Havell print can be removed or corrected.
Early computer inkjet printers used 4 colors of ink, later 6 colors, and now we have 7 and 9 color inkjet printers. These printers could print at 300, 360, 720 or 1440 dots per inch (DPI). Various printers, eye doctors, and other visual experts have written that the human eye cannot distinguish differences beyond 300-400 DPI. I have been printing giclée color prints of my wife's original watercolor paintings for nearly 5 years. I can tell you that prints made at 720 DPI look better than prints made at 300 or 360 DPI. Prints made with 6 color printers look better than prints made with 4 color printers. With the higher DPI prints, color lines are sharper, color dots are less prevalent, and colors have more depth. Prints that are printed at 1440 DPI do not look appreciably better than those printed at 720 DPI. Prints made with larger file sizes have more detail, better color depth, and smoother color transition (color dot/pixel to color dot/pixel) than smaller sized image files.
With the use of full DEF sized direct scanners, sophisticated software, and 6 or 7 color printers, today's giclée printing methods are capable of producing DEF facsimile reproductions of Audubon's original Havell prints that are overall superior to what has been produced using offset color lithography.
PAPER - The paper used for printing the original Audubon Havell prints was a 100% cotton rag paper manufactured by J. Whatman of England. J. Whatman produced paper from two different mills. The 100% cotton natural fiber paper produced from Whatman's main mill was off-white in color. The 100% cotton rag paper produced at Whatman's Turkey Mills plant was a couple shades darker in color. Paper made from 100% cotton rag fibers is naturally acid free and lignin free, and should last for several hundred years or more. This paper has a slight texture or feel to it (artists call it tooth). It is not smooth to the touch. 100% cotton rag paper is still made today by a number of papermakers around the world. If you are a purist or simply want an Audubon facsimile reproduction that is made from the same type paper as the original Havells, and has that authentic feel to it, you should buy one of the editions below that is made with 100% cotton rag paper.
Cotton rag paper was being made for several hundred years before J. Whatman made his paper for Audubon's Havell Edition. It was the only type of quality paper that was produced in Europe and the U.S. Sometime prior to the Civil War, papermakers in the U.S. began putting wood pulp in the paper they made. This is documented in my article The Bien Edition on this website. By around 1870-1890, virtually all commercial paper made in the U.S. was made from wood pulp. It was easier to make and much cheaper to produce. The wood pulp paper was acidic and contained lignin. We all know how long newspapers last and what happens to them when you put them away and save them.
The papers used in the editions below, that are not made from 100% cotton rag, can still be acid free and quite stable for many many years. ALL of these non cotton rag papers will be smooth to the touch, and not have the feel and texture of 100% cotton rag paper. Papers made from wood pulp can be chemically altered to remove lignin and raise their pH (a measurement for acidity and/or alkalinity) to non acidic levels. Pure cellulose, which is an acid free plant fiber, can be used in paper making. While the exact composition of the non cotton rag papers in the editions below is unknown, they are generally reliable and stable. These papers will be coated with a material that will enable an even absorption and adherence of the inks used in printing.
The weight of fine art watercolor paper is referred to in terms of grams per square meter (gsm). This would be the weight, in grams, of a single sheet of a particular paper measuring one meter square. There are 453.6 grams in one US pound (#). Everyone is probably familiar with the US 20# 8-1/2" x 11" copy/printer paper. Unfortunately, the gsm paper weights do not readily convert to the familiar US paper weights in #s. It is sufficient to remember that fine art papers with a weight of 250-350 gsm are a nice medium to medium-heavy paper that feels right and substantial in the hand.
INKS - The inks used for offset color lithography have been around as long as the printing method itself. These inks adhere well to paper and are long lasting. In recent years more stable and longer lasting "archival" inks have been developed. Inks for computer inkjet printers had to be developed from scratch. The inks in inkjet printers are in cartridges or refillable ink vials. These inks are thick, like the consistency of gear oil, and yet they are fluid and can be sprayed by nozzles in an inkjet printer. There are two types of inkjet printer inks, dye based and pigment based. The dye based inks are a pure thick liquid, with the color coming from organic or chemical dyes. Dye based computer printer inks are less stable, more prone to fading, and might run or blur if the print is exposed to high moisture levels or gets wet. Pigment based inks contain microscopic bits of actual color pigments (similar to pigments in house paint). Either dye or pigment based inks, used on 100% cotton rag paper, will penetrate and stain the paper and adhere to the paper fibers. Pigment based inks are much more durable and longer lasting than dye based inks. Many advancements have been made in recent years in producing a longer lasting "archival" pigmented ink. Many of these inks have been stress tested so that a 50+ year guarantee can be offered.
PAPER/INK INTERACTION - During the printing process, when EACH of the millions of tiny color dots that make up an image, hit the paper, there are several things that can happen. First, the intensity and/or actual color of each tiny ink dot can change slightly as it is absorbed into the paper and dries. Second, the ideal outcome occurs when each color ink dot lands on the paper and remains the exact same color and size as it dries, whether it is partially absorbed into the paper or dries on the surface. Finally, the worst outcome occurs when the tiny color ink dots expand, wander, or change shape before they dry, whether they are partially absorbed into the paper or not. The latter occurs most often with dark colored ink, and can noticeably effect the quality of the print job. When printing, it is extremely important to match the inks to the paper for the best finished product.
As mentioned above, some papers are coated. However, even though 100% cotton rag paper is uncoated, these papers are sized when manufactured, with gelatin or some other material like methyl cellulose (common wallpaper paste), that prevent rapid absorption of the inks into the paper. DEF prints on smooth coated paper made using color offset lithography rarely, if ever, show problems of paper/ink interaction. Printers, including myself, who use giclée printing techniques on 100% cotton rag paper, are well aware of paper/ink interaction problems, and a wide variety of papers are specifically manufactured for this type of print job. The DEF giclée editions discussed below have no paper/ink interaction problems. Problems do seem to occur when DEF prints are made using color offset lithography on 100% cotton rag paper, but they can be corrected before final printing. I believe that when the quality of these type prints is affected, it is most likely a combination of too coarse a screen, over inking, and/or paper/ink interaction. I am not technically qualified to determine which, or to what extent, each of these three factors affects the quality of any DEF print. I will comment and evaluate the comparative quality of the DEF prints in this article.
The basic idea in publishing modern high quality editions of Birds of America facsimile or reproduction prints is to make them look like the originals, but at more affordable prices. Distinguishing between prints from the different editions will mostly involve examining an embossed mark/seal or a watermark. The original Audubon Havell prints were watermarked with the name of the paper manufacturer, J. Whatman. Today, identifying marks may credit the papermaker, printer, publisher or even sponsor. All will be distinctive. An embossed mark/seal will appear as a colorless raised shape on the paper, usually near the bottom margin. They may contain words, symbols, initials or logos. Embossed marks or seals are added after the print is printed and dry. A watermark is a colorless depression or indentation in the paper. The paper, where the watermark is, will be slightly thinner. The watermark is imparted into the paper, during the papermaking process, with a roller containing the watermark. A watermark can be most any size or shape, and can contain words, initials, symbols or logos. To find a watermark, you simply hold the paper up to a light source. The thinner paper of the watermark will be plainly visible. They can be quite small or very elaborate. Since both watermarks and embossed marks/seals are colorless and in the paper, my illustrations below are either actual digital photographs or black and white renditions, to make it easy for the reader to recognize these identifying marks.
The original Audubon Havell prints, that were bound into book volumes, measured about 26-1/2" x 39-1/2" (known as DEF sized paper). A small number were never bound into books and measured an inch or more larger in each direction. DEF sized paper is not a precise measurement. The size of the sheet of paper for the various editions described below will not be identical from edition to edition. However, the sheets for all the editions below are all considered to be DEF sized. If you can identify a print from one of the editions below, that has obviously been trimmed more than about 2" in either direction from the above measurements, you should consider that print ruined, and its value will be only a fraction of an identical full sized print from that edition.
Some of the editions below were originally sold as complete sets and bound into book volumes, and in others the prints were sold individually. Eventually, some of the complete bound sets are broken, and the individual prints are sold off. Complete sets are originally sold by the publisher, and will turn up in the secondary market from time to time. Individual prints can be sold by the publisher, various dealers and art galleries, and on secondary markets and auctions. The market value or prices for individual prints will generally vary widely, within each edition, when that edition has sold out or is being sold on secondary markets. Among the reasons for this are: the larger images are priced higher, attractiveness of the overall image, some birds are more popular and well known, some birds are more attractive and colorful than others, and some birds have regional popularity.
Many limited edition facsimiles or reproductions will be hand numbered and/or signed in pencil, either on the front or back. The Loates Edition prints (below) may bear the signature of the artist. The hand numbering will appear as 187/250 or 187/1000. In these examples, the 187 is the number of the print in the edition, and the 250 and 1000 are the total number of prints in that limited edition.
AMSTERDAM EDITION - The 1971-72 Amsterdam Edition was the first complete DEF size facsimile reproduction of John James Audubon’s original (1826-38) Havell Edition. It consisted of 250 sets of all 435 Audubon Havell prints. Approximately 50-75 of the 250 sets were bound into four book volumes, and the remainder were sold as loose sheet sets. Sheets generally measure about 26-1/2" x 39-1/2", or slightly larger if unbound. The edition was printed in Amsterdam on a custom made 100% unbleached cotton rag paper. The paper has a very light beige tone, and was made to look and feel like the original J. Whatman paper used for the original Havell Edition. The paper has the right feel, but I think it should have been made a bit heavier. The Teyler Museum of Holland loaned their Havell set to make film transparencies. Up to eight colors were used to print each sheet using color offset lithography. Color lines are somewhat fuzzy and not sharp. Various colors (primarily darker tones) appear, on the toned paper, as somewhat flat, too dark, and not natural looking. The color dot pattern is more easily seen on these prints than in any other edition, and I wonder if they used only a 100 DPI/line screen. I think that most of the darker colors, on many different prints, look saturated or over inked, and as a result, detail is lost or covered up. I also think there were some paper/ink interaction problems. Though the best technology, available at the time, was used to produce these prints, their technical quality is only good when compared to the new offset and giclée prints being sold today.
Each Amsterdam sheet has a colorless rectangular false plate mark surrounding the image matrix area. The true plate mark of the original Havell prints was a colorless rectangular depression in the paper, created by the tremendous pressures of the printing press. There is a continuous repeating watermark running the entire length of each sheet. The watermark (illustrated below) measures about 1" x 11".
Amsterdam print prices are currently down from the highs of late 2005, due to large numbers being sold on eBay. Retail prices for individual Amsterdam Edition prints range from $50-$75 each, on up to a few thousand dollars each. Amsterdam Edition prints are widely available at dealers and art galleries in the U.S. Individual prints are commonly auctioned on eBay, and prices are virtually always much lower than at retail. The Amsterdams, as the 1st complete facsimile edition, are very popular with collectors.
*SPECIAL NOTE - I have heard from 2 sources, a Chicago and a St. Louis dealer, who report owning quantities of "fake" Amsterdam Edition prints. These prints, apparently produced in Switzerland, are printed on the same watermarked paper as the original Amsterdams. The fakes, printed using modern digital giclée technology, are BETTER than the originals.
Image of a section of the continuous Amsterdam Edition watermark
ABBEVILLE EDITION - The National Audubon Society (NAS) in conjunction with Abbeville Press published this edition in 1985. It was printed in Japan to commemorate the two-hundredth birthday of John James Audubon. This edition consisted of 350 sets of facsimile reproductions of all 435 Audubon Havell originals. The 435 different prints were bound into four volumes for about 300 of the 350 sets, and the remaining prints were sold as loose sets.
The paper is a coated 100% acid free cover stock paper manufactured by Mohawk Paper Co. in New York State, and is a creamy white color. The paper is somewhat smooth (not glossy) and does not have the texture or feel of 100% cotton rag paper. The paper has a watermark (pictured below) that repeats itself several times along the length of each sheet. Each watermark measures about 1" x 12". Photo transparencies of the NAS's Havell set were used in making this edition. The quality of these transparencies varied, and as a result, the quality of individual prints within this edition varied somewhat. The prints were created using 13 color offset lithography. Of the numerous Abbeville prints I own, and others I have seen, colors are bright, fresh and natural looking. The color dot pattern can be seen under magnification, but it is not as prevalent as on the Amsterdams. The images and color lines are generally sharp. The quality of these prints is generally very good, though lacking fine detail.
Retail prices for individual prints range from around $50-$75 each on up to a few thousand dollars each, depending on the popularity of the image. However, dealers have not listed significant numbers of individual prints for sale. Recently, several broken sets of these prints have turned up on eBay. Realized eBay auction prices ranged from around $25 to around $1,000 per print. After many years and numerous requests, I have finally accumulated enough data to publish an Abbeville Price Guide. It is currently available on my other website at www.audubonprices.com . It has dealer and eBay prices for all 435 prints in the edition.
It was not widely known that Abbeville Press of New York (the original publisher of this edition) had 10 brand new four volume bound sets still available for sale in 2006. They were priced at $35,000.00 per set of 435 individual prints. In 1985, the original four volume bound sets sold for $15,000.00. In the spring of 2006, I received word from a dealer friend of mine stating that he had purchased the last remaining unsold original Abbeville Edition volumes from Abbeville Press.
A depiction of the Abbeville Edition watermark
PRINCETON AUDUBON EDITION - The Princeton Audubon Edition was published in 1985 by Princeton Polychrome Press (now Princeton Audubon Ltd.) in New Jersey. The edition consists of 36 different Havell facsimile reproductions. Prints of the Wild Turkey male and the American White Pelican have a limited edition of 500. All other prints have a limited edition of 1500. The company bought the individual Audubon Havell original prints that were used to produce the facsimiles.
The paper is a museum quality acid free 80# cover stock (non glossy) that has been specially toned to match the appearance of the original Havell prints. I would describe the paper color as off-white. It is a shade or two darker than the Abbeville paper, but several shades lighter than the Amsterdam paper. The paper is somewhat smooth, without the tooth or texture of 100% cotton rag paper. Direct camera color offset lithography techniques were used, along with 300 line screens, to make full DEF sized plates with virtually no loss of detail. Up tp 9 different plates were used for each print, on a four color press. Specially developed archival inks were used in printing. Colors are bright, fresh and natural looking. Color lines are very fine and sharp, and it is more difficult to see the tiny color dot patterns using magnification, than on the Amsterdam and Abbeville editions. Each print is hand numbered in pencil at the bottom left. The Princeton Audubon Ltd. embossed seal (see below) is at the lower right of each print.
Plate #1 Wild Turkey male, with an edition of 500, is sold out. All other prints are available from the publisher @ http://www.princetonaudubon.com/index.html or through numerous retailers. Prices range from $150-$500 per print. These prints are rarely found for sale on eBay, though I bought one there.
LEIPZIG EDITION - The Leipzig Edition was originally published in Leipzig, Germany in 1972. It consisted of 40 different Audubon Havell facsimile reproductions, 20 of which were horizontally oriented images, and the other 20 were vertical. The original publication was supposedly 1000 prints of each image. 500 of the 1000 were sold as loose sets, and the other 500 were bound into 2 book volumes. However, it cannot be confirmed that the entire publication was completed in Germany. One book volume contained the 20 horizontal prints, and the other book volume had the 20 vertical prints. The text in the book volumes was printed in both English and German.
The paper is heavy, almost like a cardstock. It is quite smooth, without gloss, and is a light grayish white color. The prints are collotypes, and there is no color dot pattern at all. The paper has no watermark, and there are no embossed seals or other stamps to identify the prints. However, the 6 examples I own have a row of perforated holes along one long margin. These holes would have been used in the bookbinding process. The color lines are very sharp. The colors, however, do not have the natural depth or translucency, as in a real watercolor painting. The colors seem a bit dreary and dull, and are more opaque, as a result of the collotype printing process. The prints are very interesting, but come across more like a commercial illustration rather than an artistic rendering. For additional information on this edition and collotypes, please read my article, The Leipzig Edition, on this website.
These prints are more widely available in Europe. However, a few U.S. dealers sell individual prints from time to time. Retail prices begin at about $100-$300 for most of the images, and go up to $1500 or more for the most popular images. A few come up on eBay from time to time, and I have bought several there for around $50.
OPPENHEIMER FIELD MUSEUM EDITION - In 1999, Oppenheimer Editions L.L.C., in conjunction with The Field Museum of Chicago, began publishing The Oppenheimer Field Museum Edition of Audubon's Fifty Best. The editors and publishers decided on what they felt were the 50 best Audubon Havell prints, from the entire set of 435. The very fine Havell Edition owned by Chicago's Field Museum was used to make very high quality DEF sized facsimile reproductions. This edition was produced using digital imaging and giclée printing methods. This edition is strictly limited to 150 sets of 50 different prints. Some of the prints are reserved to be sold as complete sets of all 50 prints, and the remainder will be sold as individual prints.
The selected Havell prints were directly scanned into a computer using digital imaging techniques. The resulting digital computer image files were generally larger than 300 Megabytes (MB) for each of the 50 prints. They were printed in Chicago, by Archival Imaging, using an Iris continuous-tone giclée printer at 300 dots per inch (DPI). An equipoise dye based CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) four color inkset was used. This inkset can produce many millions of different colored dots, which is far more than the human eye can distinguish. They were printed on a heavy 100% cotton rag acid free paper called Somerset Velvet, manufactured in Inverseek, England. I have personally used this paper for a number of years, and it has a wonderful natural texture, and it feels right when handled. Wilhelm Testing has rated this inkset/paper combination as likely to last up to 75 years, with proper care. The dye based inks are more prone to fading and are sensitive to moisture. Prints should probably be framed using UV glass or UV plexiglass.
These prints are identified by two embossed seals (see depictions below) that appear below the image at the lower left and right. One is the seal of Oppenheimer Editions L.L.C. measuring about 3/4" x 3/4", and the other the seal of Chicago's Field Museum measuring about 1/2" x 1-3/8". In addition, an inked stamp appears on the verso (reverse side). It reads "OPPENHEIMER FIELD MUSEUM EDITION Audubon's Fifty Best, copyright 1999, No. xxx of 150." It is signed by Ben Williams, Field Museum Librarian. These prints are shipped flat, with four layers of protection.
The color of the paper on the printed side (front) ranges from a creamy white to a light beige (depending on the particular original source print), while the paper color of the reverse (verso) side of the sheet is the true natural white of the paper.. When the original Audubon Havell print was scanned, the color tone of the original print's paper was included in the scanned image. When the facsimile was printed, the color of the original Havell paper was printed on the front of the Oppenheimer print, in a bleed over style with no border. This accounts for the face of the print being a different color than the verso of the same sheet. Many people have commented to me that they felt this method was fakey, and that the paper should have been toned a uniform color when manufactured, and then the color image printed on the toned paper. The overall quality and appearance of these prints is excellent. The colors are vivid, bright and natural looking. Many of the colors appear somewhat translucent, which makes the print look almost like a real watercolor painting. The color lines are very sharp, and the depth and fidelity of the colors is excellent. The amount of visible detail in the print is amazing, and it is very difficult to discern any color dot patterns under magnification. Tonal shading of colors is seamless. Today's modern high tech giclée printing methods produce a facsimile print of the highest quality and appearance.
This edition is not sold out. The giclée printing method is a print on demand system. The entire edition was not printed in 1999, and individual prints, up to the 150 limit, can be produced at any time. Complete sets of all 50 prints are currently priced at $47,500.00. Individual prints are priced from $1,250.00 - $4,500.00, except for the Great Blue Heron print, with only a few remaining, that is priced at $9,000.00. Prints are available through the publisher at http://www.audubonart.com/index.asp on the Internet, and at several other galleries around the country.
Depictions of the Oppenheimer Field Museum Edition embossed seals
AUDUBON CENTENNIAL EDITION - On September 1, 2005, Robert Hall of Zebra Publishing in West Palm Beach, FL, in conjunction with the National Audubon Society, issued a press release announcing the publication of the "Audubon Centennial Edition" of John James Audubon's Birds of America. The publication of this edition commemorates the 100th anniversary of the National Audubon Society. This limited edition publication is the first to produce facsimile reproductions of all 435 original Havell prints, using digital imaging and giclée printing methods. It is only the 3rd complete DEF Birds of America facsimile reproduction edition (1972 Amsterdam and 1985 Abbeville are the others) in 168 years, since the original Audubon Havell publication was completed in 1838. The Audubon Centennial Edition is strictly limited to 200 sets of each of the 435 original Havell prints. Of the 200 sets, 50 will be reserved and sold to collectors as complete "Audubon Centennial Edition Suites", at a discounted price. The remaining 150 sets of 435 images will be sold as individual prints. The very fine Mill Grove, PA, Audubon Havell set was used as the model for this publication. Each of the original Havell prints was captured, using a custom digital camera, to create a first generation 320 Mega-pixel image file. Using exceedingly sophisticated software, each image was restored to its original beauty and brilliance, while defects that appear in the original copper plates and original paper, were removed. Currently, all 435 of the original Mill Grove Havell prints have been scanned at a Pennsylvania conservation center, where the Mill Grove Havell set is being restored and re-bound. As this is written in April, 2007, 95 images have been completed and issued for individual print sales. Additional completed prints are released every 7-10 days.
The Audubon Centennial Edition has a unique retail pricing structure. For those not familiar with the original Havell Edition of Birds of America, Audubon sold the prints by subscription. Prints were sold and issued in groups of five, called a part. In the upper left corner of each original Havell print, a part number is printed. The same part number is used for 5 different prints. When each original part was issued, it contained one print of a large sized bird (full plate), plus one print of a medium sized bird (1/2 plate), and three prints of songbirds or small sized birds (1/4 plate). Thus, in the Havell Edition plate numbering system, every plate number ending in I (1) or VI (6) had an image of a large sized bird (full plate). Every plate number ending in II (2) or VII (7) had a medium sized bird image (1/2 plate). Finally, all other plate numbers had small sized images (1/4 plate). There were 87 part s of 5 prints each, for a total of 435 different Havell prints. The retail pricing of the Audubon Centennial Edition is initially structured so that the 87 different full plate images, and the 87 different 1/2 plate images are priced at $1,200.00 each. The remaining 261 small 1/4 plate images are priced at $500.00 each. Prices may vary slightly for particular prints within this retail pricing structure.
The paper used for this edition is a medium heavy, 310 gsm (grams per square meter), German made unwatermarked 100% cotton rag and acid free paper, with a nice feel and texture. The paper is white in color, and perhaps the whitest of all papers described in this article. However, it is certainly not what is called brilliant or radiant white, and it nicely sets off the printed images. The original Havell prints are scanned at 300 dots per inch (DPI). The edition is being printed at 1440 DPI using an Epson 9800 wide format giclée printer . The ink is an archival pigmented 7 color inkset. While Wilhelm testing results for this particular inkset/paper combination are not available yet, I would guess that these prints should last, with proper care, for 75-100 years or more, owing to the archival pigmented inkset. The embossed logo of the National Audubon Society (see below) is at the lower right of each image and measures about 3/4" x 1-1/4". Each print is numbered in pencil at the lower left, and is signed in pencil at the lower right by the publisher, "R. Hall."
I own a print of plate #1, Wild Turkey male, from this edition. It is interesting to note that the Mill Grove original plate, that was scanned to produce these facsimiles, was plate variant #3 according to Susanne Low in her book, A Guide to Audubon's Birds of America. Unlike the above Oppenheimer Edition, the paper color of both sides of each print is identical. During computer restoration and color correction, the image area is masked off and the original colors are preserved, while the scanned color of the original Havell paper itself is made neutral. The result is that the overall appearance and quality of the print is spectacular. The vibrant fresh and natural looking colors contrast with the natural white color of the paper, and seem to jump off the page. The extent of visible details in the image is superb. Color lines are very sharp, and the color dot patterns are very difficult to detect under magnification. The depth of colors is amazing, and the colors seem alive and appear to have the translucency found in watercolor paintings. The color shading or color tone transitions are beautiful and flawless.. The sophisticated technology that is available today, combined with a 7 color high resolution printer, makes it possible to produce these extremely high quality facsimile reproductions.
These prints are available through Audubon dealers, as well as antique print dealers and art galleries, all over the country. For more information, or the name of a dealer nearby, you can call Bob Hall or Randy Matthews at 1-561-881-7514 or toll free at 1-877-691-4293 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. An informational website at http://www.auduboneditions.com/ has been recently updated. You can now see and purchase all the latest images that are available. This website now has a complete list of dealers, arranged by area of the country, that carry the Audubon Centennial Edition prints.
NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY EDITION - In September, 2005, Oppenheimer Editions L.L.C., in conjunction with the New York Historical Society (NYHS), announced the future publication of The New York Historical Society Edition - Audubon's Fifty Best Watercolors. The NYHS acquired John James Audubon's original watercolor paintings from Lucy Bakewell Audubon, his widow, in 1863. Fifty of these paintings will be used to create full DEF sized facsimile reproductions using digital imaging and giclée printing. The edition will be limited to 200 copies of each of the 50 selected watercolors.
In February, 2006, Joel Oppenheimer invited me to Chicago to see and review these prints. I was unable to travel and take Joel up on his offer. In 2007, I did see many of these prints, owned by collector friends of mine. Overall, I actually prefer the original Havell Edition hand colored aquatint engravings to Audubon's original watercolor paintings, with many exceptions, though the watercolors certainly have great historical significance. With the exception of 3 or 4 prints, I prefer Oppenheimer's Field Museum 50 Best to these new NYHS 50 Best Watercolors. As of this update, the entire collection of 50 different watercolor prints is now available for sale. As for quality, these prints are very good-excellent, and are identical to the quality of Oppenheimer's Field Museum Edition (described above). These watercolor facsimile prints are being produced by the same company that printed the Field Museum Edition. They are using the same printer, the same inkset, the same paper, and the same resolution as the Field Museum Edition
As for value for your dollar, 46 of the 50 prints in this Edition retail for $2,500.00 each (the other 4 prints are higher). That's twice the retail price of most of the identical quality Field Museum Edition prints. On the other hand, for now, these are the only Audubon watercolor facsimile reproductions currently available. Audubon's original watercolor paintings likely will never be sold by the NYHS, They would fetch well over $1 million each if they were sold. This is a new edition and it will probably be 10-20 years before it sells out. If you prefer the watercolor facsimiles to the Havell facsimiles, buy these prints as art, to display and enjoy. You cannot even begin to think about price appreciation until individual prints are sold out. The complete set of all 50 prints currently sells for $37,500.00.
They are available through the publisher on the Internet at http://www.audubonart.com/index.asp
MARTINO PUBLISHING EDITION - In November, 2005, Martino Publishing issued their first, of a possible edition of twelve, Audubon DEF facsimile print of plate CCXI (#211) The Great Blue Heron. This print has been issued in a limited edition of 500, and each print is hand numbered in pencil (xxx/500) at the bottom right of the front. They retail for $400.00 each. The Great Blue Heron is printed on a 175 gsm (grams per square meter) watermarked (see image below) BFK Rives 100% cotton rag paper. This weight paper is about the same as the Whatman paper used for the original Havell Edition. Each sheet measures 26" x 39-3/4". The paper is a creamy ivory color, and has that wonderful authentic feel and texture of mould-made 100% cotton rag paper. The print was produced using a 200 line screen and 10 color offset lithography techniques from a 5" x 7" transparency. Most DEF offset lithography editions are produced using a transparency of about this size. Besides the hand numbering and watermarked paper, other authentication and publishing information is printed on the verso in eight lines of text, covering about 4" x 6", and centered on the sheet.
Under magnification, the tiny individual color dots are very slightly larger (200 line screen) than those on the Princeton-Audubon and Abbeville prints, but not nearly as coarse as on the Amsterdam prints. This minor difference is not at all detrimental to the quality of the print. In fact, the color lines are very sharp and clear. The colors of the heron seem true and natural compared with my Amsterdam Great Blue Heron print, where the heron's colors are darker and unnatural looking. The habitat scene at the bottom of the Martino print has vivid natural colors. The Martino heron, of course, has a lot of blue color. The blues appear somewhat opaque and muted. In a few small areas the blues seem a little too dark and flat, and the colors seem saturated and perhaps hide a little detail. When a small transparency is blown up to make a DEF sized print, some detail is always lost. More detail can be lost or covered up in a print when there is over inking, or there are paper/ink interaction issues. I am not qualified to determine what caused these very minor problems that I point out, in an otherwise wonderful print. Unless hand colored, The Great Blue Heron image is a very difficult one to print perfectly. Overall this is a very good print on superb paper.
This print can be ordered through the publisher at -
P.O. Box 373
Mansfield Centre, CT 06250 USA
A depiction of the Martino Publishing watermark
DISCOVERY EDITIONS - In April, 2006, Discovery Editions, of New York, began publishing their Perfect RecreationsTM editions of high quality giclée prints. Besides a Perfect RecreationsTM edition of Audubon prints, Discovery Editions (D.E.) produces various editions of natural history, flora, fauna and antique map prints by such artists as: Bodmer, Catesby, Redouté, Merian, LeMoyne, Ehret, etc. At this writing, there are 18 different Audubon edition prints available. Perhaps 4-6 more prints will be introduced during the first half of 2007. Each Audubon edition print is digitally scanned from original early edition Havell prints owned by private collectors, including W. Graham Arader. All Audubon edition prints are identical DEF size for framing convenience. Unfortunately, all Audubon Discovery Edition prints are "open editions", and the number of each print produced is not limited to a specific number.
To produce these prints, the privately owned original Havell prints were digitally scanned, creating a computer file size of approximately 1.4 Gigabytes (GB) per image. The initial computer file size for these prints is much larger, and therefore would contain more image information, than earlier giclée printed editions. The prints were produced using an Epson 9800 printer with a 2880 x 1440 DPI (dots per inch) output, which puts the resolution at around 760-800 DPI. The printing was done using an eight (8) color archival pigmented inkset called Ultra Chrome K3. The paper used is called Parrot Paper, a paper produced especially for Parrot Digigraphic Ltd. of Billerica, MA. The style name of the paper is called Angelica. It is an unwatermarked coated alpha cellulose acid free fine art watercolor paper weighing 315 gsm (grams per square meter) which equates to about 150# paper in US terms. Wilhelm tests were performed on this particular paper/inkset combination, and the results were that these prints would have a life of 120+ years with normal care. The digital scans of these prints picked up the actual tones of the non-image areas of the original Havell paper. No digital restoration of any kind was performed prior to printing. Thus, these prints have the actual tone/color of the original Havell paper, along with any flaws or marks, printed along with the image and text of each print. The printed color of the front/face side of the paper is different than the bright neutral white color of the paper's reverse/verso. On the American White Pelican print that I had for review, there were very faint finger smudge and/or soiling marks, and several fox marks in the margins, that were picked up from the original scanned Havell print, and reproduced and printed on this facsimile reproduction. A fox mark or two might have imparted an interesting hint of authenticity, but finger smudges and soiling should not have been reproduced.
Since these prints are identical facsimile reproductions of the original Havell print, they are identified by the Discovery Editions (D.E.) imprint at the bottom of the reverse side (see image below). It measures approximately 1-3/4" high by 2-1/2" wide.
Upon initial inspection of the American White Pelican print (plate #CCCXI or 311) the colors appeared slightly opaque and cloudy. They do not appear to be at all transparent or translucent, which is a characteristic that you would find in the colors of an original Havell. When compared with the same print in another giclée printed edition, the D.E. colors did not appear as bright and fresh or as natural. Also, the background nighttime detail of trees, rocks, water and reflections in the water, seen in the original Havell Pelican print and in other reproductions, was not clearly reproduced in the D.E. print. On closer examination, the fine engraving detail found in the feathers, bill and feet are clearly reproduced in the D.E. print. Under magnification, color lines are extremely sharp, and color transition from one color tone to another is perfect. Color dot patterns are extremely difficult to discern under minor magnification. The high resolution of the print appears about the same as the Audubon Centennial Edition prints. The paper is a nice durable medium heavy stock that feels good when handled, but does not have the same feel as 100% cotton rag paper. Because these prints are open edition, they may not be attractive to collectors or other buyers, because the total number of prints to be published is unknown. Some may consider these prints to be high-priced decorator art, rather than true collectibles.
As this is written, the American Flamingo and Great Blue Heron prints are priced at $1195.00 each, and all other Audubon Discovery Edition prints are priced at $1400.00 each. There is a posted special price to buy the entire collection for $13,500.00, and that is for the first 12 prints in the Audubon collection. This D.E. edition contains many of the most popular Audubon Havell prints including: Male Wild Turkey, American Swan, Snowy Owl, Carolina Parrot, Hooping Crane, etc. You can buy prints and contact Discovery Editions through their website at http://www.discoveryeditions.com . The website also lists other locations where these prints can be purchased.
BEAUX ARTS GALLERY EDITIONS - In April 2007, Beaux Arts of Dallas, Texas, introduced an interesting new set of high quality DEF Audubon Havell facsimiles. All six prints in the set are birds of prey. The original images used for these prints come from private sources. This set joins a growing number of high quality DEF Audubon facsimile prints, covering a wide variety of subject matter. This set is produced using digital imaging technology, and printed using giclée printing methods. The images that are currently available are -
Plate 11 - Bird of Washington
Plate 16 - Great-footed Hawk
Plate 31 - White-headed Eagle
Plate 36 - Stanley Hawk
Plate 56 - Red-shouldered Hawk
Plate 147 - Night Hawk
The original Havell prints are scanned at high resolution, and a computer image file is created. Each image file averages about 650 MB. The Havell facsimiles are printed, using giclée inkjet methods, at 720 DPI. Each finished print measures about 27" x 40". The paper used is Hahnemuble Photo Rag, which is an acid-free 100% cotton rag fine art watercolor paper. The paper is a nice medium-heavy paper, weighing 308 gsm, and feels right in the hand. Despite the "Photo Rag" name, this paper is not at all glossy or smooth, but rather has a little texture or tooth. An Epson Stylus 9600 Pro printer, with a 7 color inkset, was used to produce these prints.
These facsimiles have a printed colored background that is designed to match or create a shade of color similar to the color of the actual paper of an original Havell print. This is similar to what was done on the Oppenheimer Field Museum Edition. My wife, a professional water color artist, describes this color shade as ecru or oyster shell. The printed colored background covers the entire image matrix (including all text), but not the entire sheet, as in the Oppenheimer Edition. Thus, there is an approximately 1/2" wide uncolored border around each print that is the natural off-white color of the paper. Prints can be matted over this border, and right up to the printed colored background edge. I have seen all 6 of the prints listed above. The initial appearance and overall quality of these prints is excellent. Colors are rich and natural looking. Many of the lighter colors have the appearance of being translucent, which is how original watercolor paintings look. Color lines are very sharp and the amount of visible detail is excellent. No printed color dot pattern can be seen under 10X magnification.
These prints are identified by 2 printed credits (see depiction below) at the extreme bottom edge of the paper. The one at the lower left edge (AUxxx) represents the actual Havell plate # for each print. The one at the lower right edge is the Beaux Arts credit. Unfortunately, these prints are not limited edition, and are "open edition" prints. However, their technical quality, plus the paper used, is so good that they are included here. Each print retails for $400.00.
You can view and order these prints on the Beaux Arts website at http://www.beauxartsart.com/index.html . You can email Beaux Arts at email@example.com or you can call them toll-free at 1-877-741-1555.
Depiction of the identifying credits for the Beaux Arts facsimiles
LOATES EDITION - M. Bernard Loates is
an extremely talented artist and a master lithographer. However, when it
came to marketing and distributing his works, the job was poorly done. I
have viewed many websites and communicated with at least 12 sellers and
dealers of Loates prints, and no one agrees as to how many different prints
were actually produced or how they were printed. The Loates Edition actually
consists of up to 5 different editions, depending if you count an
"Introductory" edition separately, or if the "After"
edition is a separate edition. There was a Masters edition, but it was
smaller than DEF size and will not be discussed in this article. Also, to
add to the confusion, unsold prints from one edition were merged/moved into
the next edition. Some early prints were supposedly printed on 100% cotton
rag watermarked paper. No one knows how many different prints or how many
prints of each image were supposedly printed on this paper. Whenever I
contact a seller or dealer whose literature or website claim he is selling
prints on watermarked 100% cotton rag paper, I find that early promotional
material is being used, and that the prints actually for sale are on plain
coated acid-free paper. Some sellers speak of the secret Tryon printing
method, or of prints being entirely produced using hand inked steel engraved
plates, and others mention hand coloring or painting was done in their
promotions. I believe that published reports and advertisements claiming
that Loates originally issued 1000 limited edition prints of 29 different
images in a set (there were actually 31), printed on watermarked 100% cotton
rag paper, and all produced using a hand engraved steel plate with up to 60+
separate inkings with hand coloring, were erroneous in many ways. Where are
they all? I’ve talked to people who swear they have a Loates print on
cotton rag paper, and there probably were some done on this paper, maybe as
a test. Maybe the quality of the prints on cotton rag paper was not good
enough with all that inking, or maybe the cost of that type of paper proved
to be too much? However, no one knows how many were produced on watermarked
100% cotton rag paper. I suspect very few. I am not sure if every Loates
print began as a black inked steel plate engraving, similar to the Audubon
Havells, and then printed in up to 60 single color printer passes. If so,
the effort was wasted and obliterated with all the inking. They look like
color offset photo lithographs. I own 12 Loates Edition prints. I have never
seen a Loates print that was on 100% cotton rag watermarked paper, or
printed with hand inked steel engraved plates, or hand colored or painted.
According to seller's website charts, three of the Loates prints I own were
supposedly printed only on 100% cotton rag watermarked paper, but mine were
not. Therefore, I will discuss and describe the Loates Edition using my
personal observations, what I own and find today in the marketplace, and
what seems likely to be accurate..
From 1987-1999, M. Bernard Loates produced and
published 31 different DEF sized Audubon reproductions. These are all
reproductions of Audubon's original watercolors, and not the Havell prints,
despite claims that they are Havell reproductions. The prints are a group of
interpretive drawings by Loates that resemble Audubon’s original work, but
do not have Audubon's name on them. Therefore, these prints are "after
Audubon" reproductions, and Loates is the artist. Overall, the Loates
prints are very similar to the Audubon watercolors. They are easily
recognizable to anyone familiar with Audubon's work. Tryon Mint of Canada
produced 1000 limited edition copies of each of Loates’ images, though
this cannot be verified. The DEF images, that I know of and have seen, are
printed on a medium weight acid-free paper that is generally white in color.
The paper has been coated and is smooth to the touch, but not glossy.
Several of the prints I own are on a different color paper that is a shade
or two darker, towards gray, from the others. The modern name of the bird
(not the name it was known by during Audubon's time) is printed at the
center below the image. There are no part or plate numbers, and no other
printed credits, as you would see on an original Havell print or a
All of my Loates prints have a copyright
(dated either 1987 or 1988) printed vertically at the lower right edge of
the image (though a copyright date is not necessarily the date of printing).
Loates prints are identified by various embossed seals at the left and
right, below the image (see examples below). Loates prints are advertised as
being individually signed and numbered by the artist. However, only 8 of my
12 prints are signed and numbered. Mine are signed M. Loates. My Loates
prints were all produced using offset color lithography. Whenever I
contacted a seller/dealer claiming their prints were multiple inked steel
plate engravings on watermarked 100% cotton rag paper, ALL relented and said
that what they actually had for sale were offset color lithographs and they
were using original press releases as a basis for their claims. Some sellers
claim that individual prints were printed in over 60 colors or passes on a
single color press. This seems excessive, but if true however, it is perhaps
to the detriment of the finished print on non cotton rag paper. The color
lines are very sharp, and colors are generally bright and natural. The color
dot matrix pattern, under magnification, is quite similar to the
Princeton-Audubon prints. Thus, I would guess that a 300 dot screen was used
for the images. I understand that the printing inks were specially and
carefully mixed by expert colorists. However,
background colors and some colors in prints with habitat scenes or scenic
views were often muted and unnatural looking. In these areas there was a
loss of detail. Whether this is the result of poor ink color or over
saturated printing or inking, I cannot say.
Some websites claim that they have sold Loates
prints for $1500-$3000 each. However, as I survey what is for sale today, I
find that Loates prints retail from around $200-$800. The market for these
reproduction prints seems to have collapsed. Fewer and fewer dealers are
selling them. They are being sold on the giant poster website, www.art.com
, at outrageous prices. Retail
dealers, who cannot hold the line on their retail pricing, readily discount
these prints. Loates prints have been regularly found for sale on eBay for a
couple years or so. It is quite rare if one sells for over $100, and most
bring less than $50. It is interesting to note that prints sold on eBay,
which claim to be printed on 100% cotton rag paper, sell for no more than
those printed on the coated commercial paper.
Images of various Loates Edition embossed seals measuring about 1/2" - 1" high
*NOT RECOMMENDED !!! - INSTITUTE DE FRANCE EDITION - In 1987, The Institute de France, in conjunction with Amiel Limited Editions, both in Paris, undertook a very ambitious project to produce the finest hand colored reproductions of Audubon's original Birds of America prints, as a limited edition publication. It was determined that existing original Audubon copper plates, used to print the Havell Edition, were either too worn or unavailable to use to publish hand colored restrikes. Therefore, they decided to have brand new copper plates engraved to produce their edition. Perhaps the finest engraver of the 20th century, Jacque David, was commissioned to engrave three new DEF sized copper plates. The Institute de France's extraordinary Havell Edition was used as the model for these new engraved copper plates. The Wild Turkey male, The Washington Sea Eagle (Bald Eagle), and The Louisiana Heron were chosen. The copper plate engravings were hand colored by 4th generation colorist, Jacomet, of Paris.
The copper plate engravings were printed by Leon Amiel Printers on a medium heavy watermarked (see below) Canson's BFK Rives 100% cotton rag paper. 300 sets of uncolored prints from each of the three new copper plates were produced. The color of the paper is a soft creamy white, with an excellent natural feel to it. Each DEF sheet measures 29-1/2" x 41-1/2, and all four edges are deckled. There is a very noticeable and authentic rectangular plate mark that is slightly larger than the image area. All three prints have nomenclature identifying the particular birds, and have an Audubon credit at the lower left. The three prints differ slightly on additional printed credits. All will have printed credits for the engraver and colorist. All but the Turkey have a printed credit to the publisher that reads - "Institute de France - Leon Amiel - Paris - New York." Each print has the Institute de France embossed seal, almost 2" in diameter, outside the plate mark at the lower left.
I mentioned above that 300 sets of each print were produced. For the first time in history, each color print purchased would be accompanied by its black and white mate, expressly for the purpose of revealing the art of the engraver. Back in 2005, I received a B&W and a colored Wild Turkey print for review. However, today the prints are no longer being sold and delivered as originally promised pairs. The B&W prints are now being sold separately. I have knowledge that some of these B&W engravings are being colored and marketed here in the U.S., by persons other than Ken Woody.
The quality of the hand colored Wild Turkey print I saw back in 2005 was actually very good. The colors were generally vivid and bright, with most having the translucence of original watercolor paintings However, on the particular print I examined several color areas on the bird had poor tonal shading, and looked unrealistic. Also, the paint in a few areas was applied too thickly, so that it was opaque and covered the feather details that were apparent on the uncolored B&W print.
These prints are owned, and being exclusively sold, by Ken Woody of Ferrum, VA. In May of 2007, Ken sent me hand colored prints of all three images, plus B&W examples, to re-examine and evaluate. Overall, my wife and I found that the B&W engravings lacked some of the fine detail that is reproduced in the best modern DEF edition prints. Also, we found many of the colors in the IDF prints to be off or looked unnatural. The sea eagle colors are simply off, and look drab and lifeless. There is no sheen to the feathers. The turkey foliage in the foreground of the turkey print is a hodge-podge of colors, with no flow of shadow or light. The turkey colors are too bright and unnatural. The blue, red, orange striped areas are unrealistic looking. On the heron print, the colors are too bright, back and legs too yellow, and the plumage an unnatural blue. The background foliage on the left is blocky and poorly colored, the center foreground foliage is unnatural or too gray, and on the right background plant one color seems to be smeared all over, without regard to any shadows or tones of color that should be there (it look like a blob of green). The best that I can say is that some of the turkey prints might be considered good. The prints being sold in 2007 are not even close in quality to the print I saw back in 2005.
Besides seeing the IDF prints being sold today, I have had numerous reports and complaints from both dealers and collectors who have seen the IDF prints on the market today. It is my belief that perhaps a small number of prints were actually hand colored in France by the original master colorist, Jacomet. However, I believe that most of the prints colored in France were probably done by his students or apprentices, and quality varied widely, but everything passed in order to complete the edition. I think the good prints perhaps colored by Jacomet are long gone. They probably were picked over back in France 20+ years ago, long before Ken Woody bought the remaining prints. The prints being sold today are only good (at best) to horrendous. Prints are being sold without the official embossed seal, and I suspect that these have been recently colored here in the US.
These prints sat in storage for more than 20 years, and many were damaged or got very dirty. Most have been cleaned and restored, but watch for creases and other damage that could not be fixed. I simply no longer can recommend these prints.
The turkey and heron prints are being sold to dealers for $600-$700 each, or higher for the unknowing. Dealers are selling these prints framed for up to $5000.00. Ken Woody is selling the heron for $3000, and the turkey for $3500 (both unframed). The sea eagle print is being sold to dealers for $250-$500+, and dealers sell them for $1000-$2000. Ken Woody sells the sea eagle print for $1500. These prices are outrageous considering the quality of the artwork. If you do not know how to recognize quality watercolor painting, you should not be spending this amount of money on fine art hand colored prints. These prints are currently available through Ken Woody's website at http://www.audubonprints.net/ , although he does not seem to return calls or respond to emails.
Below, I have subjectively ranked all of the above editions based on: overall appearance, technical quality, and the paper used.
4th Princeton Audubon Edition
10th Loates Edition
11th Institute de France Edition - NOT RECOMMENDED
All of the prints in every edition described above should be considered a work of fine art. They should be purchased because you like them and/or want to collect them. Do not speculate and purchase them as investments. You will be able to purchase prints in all price ranges. They are often referred to as collectible art. While restrikes (see below) are seldom found for sale, all other prints in all the above editions are commonly sold in the marketplace today, though a few of the popular prints from the sold out editions may be hard to find at any given time. A small number of these prints will have a retail market value of up to several thousand dollars or more.
With the aid and opinions of my wife (a professional water color artist) and occasionally a few serious collector friends, I have described above the features and characteristics of the various modern DEF editions. Currently, two editions, Amsterdam (AMS) and Abbeville (ABB), offer facsimile prints of all 435 original Havell prints. A 3rd complete 435 print edition, American Centennial Edition (ACE), is in production. The remaining editions offer from 1-50 different Audubon images. No two editions are alike, and none is perfect for everyone.
Some people will prefer the authenticity of 100% cotton rag paper over the smooth coated acid free papers, and some people will prefer one color of paper over another. Minor details such as: the use and placement of embossed seals, printed credits, and other identifying marks, may influence buyers.
The availability of inexpensive wide format high resolution inkjet printers, along with sophisticated image editing software, has generally allowed the giclée printed editions to be the best technical quality available today. Prints produced using color offset lithography are all printed as a single batch. Giclée prints can be produced anytime in small batches or individually (print on demand), and that dramatically reduces initial production costs. Color offset lithography prints are produced using small photo transparencies (except for the Princeton Audubon (PA) Edition) of the original Havell image. These transparencies are then blown up to make DEF sized printing plates. With this process, important fine image detail is lost, and is missing in the finished print.
The giclée printed Audubon Centennial Edition (ACE), the 2 Oppenheimer Editions (OPP), and the Beaux Arts (BA) Edition are very close in overall quality and appearance, with only very minor differences between them. Their colors appear closest to an original hand colored Havell, and the amount of visible detail is superior. The ACE prints stand out in my mind and visually as the best. Your choice of images is, of course, limited with the OPP and BA editions. The few available BA images are a very good dollar value at $400 each. I think the OPP prints are overpriced, though the new Audubon watercolor prints are unique. The idea of artificially printing a paper color tone or shade onto a white sheet of paper (OPP, BA and DE), to resemble someone's idea of what an antique print looked like, is perhaps a bit absurd. However, when matted and framed these prints look very good, and no one would know. Another giclée printed edition is the Discovery Edition (DE). The DE prints should have been better, but fell short because detail was lost and the colors were more opaque and not as natural looking. This was either the fault of the initial scan of the Havell print, or more likely the technician using the image editing software. Also, the DE paper could have been better. The DE prints are definitely overpriced considering their quality and the fact that these prints are "open edition" and not limited edition.
Among the 5 editions produced by offset color lithography, there are noticeable differences in quality when prints from these editions are compared side by side. The overall quality and appearance of the Princeton Audubon (PA) prints stand out above the other 4 editions. The color tones and colors themselves, along with the amount of detail seen in the images, is extremely fine. The paper color looks just about perfect for an original Havell facsimile, though it is not 100% cotton rag.
I rank the Martino (MAR) Edition print ahead of the Abbeville (ABB) Edition prints because of the 100% cotton rag paper used for the MAR prints. It is difficult to rate a single print edition against an edition of 435 different prints. In the ABB Edition, the colors are bright and natural looking, and even appear delicate looking on the creamy white paper.
You do not see a color dot pattern on Leipzig (LPZ) Edition prints because of the collotype printing method. These prints have very sharp color lines that make bold dramatic displays, despite some of the colors appearing muted or opaque. The color of the LPZ paper is somewhat unattractive.
The Amsterdam (AMS) Edition, being the first complete facsimile edition, I think suffers from the technology of the early 1970s. These prints are the poorest in technical quality of all the editions. They tried to make a good accurate paper, but I think it is too thin and too dark in color. Far too many colors are saturated or printed too darkly on the paper, resulting in the loss of important detail in the images. I think a 100 line screen was probably the best available back in the early 1970s. That would account for the blurry color lines and easily seen color dot pattern. Having said that, the AMS Edition remains the most popular and widely collected of the modern DEF editions.
Finally, my least favorite is the Loates (LOA) Edition. I really don't like these prints. I am sorry that Mr. Loates, an obviously gifted and talented artist and lithographer, allowed these prints to be produced, marketed, and distributed in the confusing, hap-hazard, and misleading way that they were (still Loates himself signed his name to most all of them). Those familiar with Audubon's work will recognize the LOA prints as looking like Audubon's, but they are reproductions with Loates being the artist. I do not like the absence of an Audubon credit, or other clear distinctive credits. I do not like the myriad of confusing embossed seals. I do not like the additional colored backgrounds, and I think the colors are poorly done. If I believe these prints were inked up and printed as many as 60+ times, they were certainly over printed and over inked, and their colors look muted and unnatural, with noticeable loss of detail.
I have nothing more to say about the Institute de France (IDF) Edition prints.
With all the newer technology of direct scan digital imaging and high resolution giclée printing, we now seem to have reached a higher quality level for Audubon facsimile prints. All of the giclée prints, and most of the offset lithography prints, look very good-excellent at normal or close viewing distances.
VALUE - When I speak here of value, I am not going to discuss the market value of individual prints or editions. Rather, I am going to discuss and compare what you get for your money, as it relates to quality. The Abbeville, Amsterdam, Loates and Leipzig (AALL) editions have sold out their initial offerings, and are bought on secondary markets from dealers. These AALL prints are often found for sale on eBay at greatly reduced prices. However, you must be careful when buying prints on eBay to be certain that you are getting original prints, and that you do not pay more than actual market value for any individual print.
Over the years, retail prices for individual prints from the AMS and ABB editions (and to a lesser degree the LPZ and LOA) have aligned themselves into fairly regular and stable price groups or tiers, based on supply and demand and popularity. The most popular prints in any of these editions sell at the highest retail prices, and are referred to as upper tier prints. The least popular prints in any of these editions sell at the lowest retail prices, and are referred to as lower tier prints. There are no formal written guidelines or dollar amounts that define various tier price groups. "Tier" is merely a term that dealers use to refer to various retail price groups that individual prints fall into because of popularity and supply and demand. Besides the AALL editions mentioned above, all original Audubon edition prints (Havell, Bien, Imperial Folio, and Octavo Birds and Quads) fall into remarkably similar price tiers.
The ABB and AMS editions offer facsimiles of all 435 original Havell prints, while the LOA and LPZ editions offer only a select few of these. Retail prices for any particular print in either the ABB or AMS editions will be similar, but the ABBs will be perhaps 10%-20% lower. The lower retail prices for the higher quality ABB prints is accounted for solely because of the popularity of the AMS edition among collectors. For prints in the LPZ and LOA editions, prices will generally be lower than for the same print in the ABB or AMS editions. I believe this is primarily the result of lower quality. However, 1 or 2 Inetrnet dealers are still selling LOA prints at inflated retail prices of about 10 times what they sell for on eBay. Lower tier prints in the AALL editions have relatively low prices, and there is little value versus quality to compare. Instead, you should determine which edition you like and shop around from dealer to dealer for the best price, or look on eBay to add to your collection.
All of the other editions, besides the AALL prints, are not yet sold out. You will have to buy them at full retail prices, unless there is a sale or courtesy discount. Few of these prints have turned up on the secondary market. When they are resold by a collector, they tend to bring around 50% of the current retail price.
Restrikes, from original Audubon copperplates, are somewhat rare, but they do show up from time to time at auction, or at dealers and art galleries. I've found references to more than 10 restrike editions, though most were issued privately and in very small numbers. Their quality is unknown. Below are a few of the more well known restrike editions that one might find for sale in the secondary market.
In 2002, the Audubon State Park Museum, in Henderson, KY, along with the Friends of Audubon, issued an uncolored restrike edition from Audubon's original copper plate of the Tell-tale Godwit, plate #308. The edition was printed on archival paper at the University of Southern Indiana at Evansville. 50 prints were printed using black ink, and 50 prints were made using sepia ink. The 100 uncolored restrikes were offered at $500.00 each, to benefit Friends of Audubon. It was originally thought there might be addition prints made at a future date. However, in the original printing, the plate suffered some minor damage, and it was determined that no more restrikes would be printed. As of this writing, The Audubon State Park Museum has less than 20 of the sepia printed uncolored Tell-tale Godwit restrikes still available. They are being sold for $500.00 each unframed, and $750.00 framed. You can call the museum at 1-270-827-1893.
In 1985, the American Museum of National History, along with Alecto Historical Editions, printed, in London, a limited edition of 125 copies of six different Audubon restrikes. This is commonly referred to as the Alecto Edition. The plates that were printed as restrikes were: Wild Turkey male, Wild Turkey female and young, Snowy Owl, Great White Heron, Canada Goose, and Mallard Duck. They were first printed in different colored inks, and then finished with hand watercolor paints. A few prints were issued uncolored. Because of the finishing technique, some people say these restrikes look better than the original Havells. Individual prints and sets of all six do come up for sale from time to time. Individual prints will probably sell in excess of $5,000.00 each.
In 1968, the New York Botanical Gardens issued 300 limited edition restrikes of two original Audubon plates, #194 Hudson's Bay Titmouse and #64 Swamp Sparrow. The restrikes were printed on French made 100% cotton rag watermarked Arches paper, and hand colored. The most recent sales records for these prints indicate that they generally sell in the $1,000.00-$2,000.00 range.
In 1984, the Princeton University Library issued 50 restrike prints of Audubon plate #434. This plate depicts six different bird species. The prints were hand colored by students. Each print has a blind stamp of the student press at Princeton University, Pynson Printers.
Copyright © 2007 by Ron Flynn - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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