Audubon Octavo Print “States” Versus “Editions”,  Plus Valuations, Collecting, and the Marketplace.

by Ron Flynn  

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There seems to be some confusion about the differences between “States” and “Editions” of antique Audubon prints. In putting together this article, I have edited and compiled certain posts from the Yahoo Audubonprints email discussion Group covering these topics. I have supplemented this information, and expanded this article to include information that pertains to valuations, collecting, and the marketplace, as they affect print "state" and "editions". 


The American Historical Print Collectors Society (AHPCS) definition of “edition” reads, “An edition of a print includes all the impressions published at the same time, or as part of the same publishing event. A first edition print is one, which was issued with the first published group of impressions. First edition prints are sometimes pre-dated by a proof edition. Editions of a print should be distinguished from “states” of a print.”

An edition is also defined as, “all prints pulled and issued as part of a discrete publishing event, as defined and determined by the publisher of that edition.” An edition can be produced in one day, or it can take many years to complete. An edition can consist of only one print, or many hundreds of different prints. Despite confusion and misunderstanding that may develop later, the publisher determines and defines which prints constitute his first, as well as his subsequent editions. Editions are usually identified as 1st, 2nd, etc., or identified by dates on the title page. The number of different prints to be included in an edition is usually predetermined. However, the number of pulled prints, for each print in the edition, can be a predetermined number done on speculation, or the number can be adjusted upward if the edition is being sold by subscription and the edition is being produced over a number of years.


The AHPCS definition of state is, "a “state” of a print includes all the impressions pulled without any change being made to the matrix. A first state print is one of the first groups of impressions pulled. Different states of a print can reflect intentional or accidental changes to the matrix. States of a print should be distinguished from “editions” of a print."

Another way of saying this is that a different state occurs when there is a change in the image matrix, whether on purpose or by accident. The image matrix of a print consists of the printed image, all of the text and credits, and the hand coloring (if done). If a purposeful change is made to the printed image, a new state occurs. If a change is made to the text or credits, a new state occurs. If a stone accidentally breaks, or simply wears down, and a new stone has to be made, that is a new state. If there is a purposeful change to any of the colors applied by hand, this constitutes a new state.


A state relates to timing. The first prints pulled are 1st state prints. Whenever a change occurs to the image matrix, for whatever reason, the next prints pulled become the 2nd state, and so on for every different print in the entire edition.

An edition relates to when the prints were published or issued, and can be mostly a business decision by the publisher. He decides what goes into his edition, plus when it begins and when it ends. It can be based on time or date, numbers of prints, or any other reason. He can declare his first edition complete, and start a 2nd edition the next day using the same plates or stones.

There can be several states of a print from the same edition, and there can be several editions of a print all with the same state.


Audubon Octavo Editions - Birds

1st  edition  1840-44

2nd edition  1856

3rd edition  1859

4th edition  1860 issued without plates

5th edition  1861

6th edition  1865

7th edition  1870-1


Audubon Octavo Editions - Quads

1st edition  1849-54

2nd edition  1852-55, often as mixed 1st and 2nd editions

3rd edition  1856

4th edition  1870

The discussion posts to the Group were concerned with the editions and states of the Audubon octavo series. The 1st octavo edition bird prints are easily distinguished from later editions because they lack the printed colored background that is present on all later editions. The octavo bird prints for the 2nd and later editions are virtually identical, and edition cannot be determined by simply looking at a print that has been removed from its bound volume. You can determine edition with some certainty with an intact volume and dated title page. If you are buying 2nd and later edition individual bird prints, you will have to trust and rely on the seller.

All octavo quad prints are virtually identical, except for different states. 1st state prints have been found in all editions. A dated title page may not be a true indication of edition. Edition dates overlapped and erroneous and undated title pages have been found in bound volumes. Many mixed edition sets were put together and distributed.

Different states of prints are theoretically easily identified. You place 2 prints of the same plate number side by side. If there are differences in the image or text, you have different states of the same print, but you still cannot determine edition among the quads. A number of states have been identified that affect more than a single print. Identical plate #s are found: with the credits in italics, with the credits in bold type, and with some credits missing. Also, there are different states, of the same print, with differing credits, mostly to the lithographer. There are different states of specific prints where the image has changed or the spelling of the animal’s name has been changed. Many more states are likely to be discovered in the future.

Please consider the following examples and possibilities as they might pertain to the Audubon octavo quad editions -

1. - Say the Audubons ended their 155 print 1st quad edition with some prints from certain stones being 2nd or 3rd state. Then, the very next day they start pulling prints for their 2nd edition, using the very same unchanged stones from the end of the 1st edition. What happens? All of the newly pulled prints from those stones become 2nd edition, 1st state prints, and there is no way to distinguish them once removed from their bound volumes. This can progress throughout all remaining editions.

2. - Another more confusing occurrence probably happened more often. When the Audubons ended their 1st quad edition, it was very likely that there were any number of leftover uncolored prints, and perhaps completed colored prints (all of various states). Certainly, these leftover prints would be used in the upcoming 2nd edition, rather than being discarded. The publisher would begin making up sets of prints for his 2nd edition, using up the leftover prints from the 1st edition, plus putting in freshly pulled prints where there were no leftovers. If the leftover 1st edition prints are initially used in making up sets for the 2nd edition, these sets of prints become a mixed 1st and 2nd edition.  Eventually, the very last leftover 1st edition print is used up, and then the very next set sold becomes a true 2nd edition, rather than a mixed 1st and 2nd edition. But exactly when did this occur so we can distinguish between mixed editions and the true 2nd edition? I don’t think the date on the title page is definitive. This phenomenon could have easily occurred at any time between any of the various editions. Many more sets that are out there may be actually mixed edition, rather than true 2nd, 3rd, or 4th editions.

3. - It is known that Nagel and Weingaertner were hired first by the Audubons, and that they completed plates #1-#25 and plates #28-#31 of the octavo quads 1st edition. They would have been 1st edition, 1st state. However, no one knows how many prints they pulled for each plate. J.T. Bowen eventually took over for N&W, and redid the stones and added his name.  In between that, a good number of prints appeared with no credit to either N&W or Bowen. That’s 3 different states. It seems likely that the Audubons used some sort of storage system, with hundreds of cubbyholes, to pull out prints to fill subscription orders and make up sets. It also seems likely that prints were regularly being produced to fill the need. New prints came in and went on top in each cubbyhole, and at the same time prints went out to fill orders. Nobody kept track of anything, as long as production and distribution rolled along smoothly. Perhaps semi-literate people did much of the work, or perhaps the Audubons had no concept of edition and order, or didn’t care. How many 1st edition 1st state volumes were there?  There is much confusion as to what volumes are truly 1st edition, when N&W prints have been found in 3rd and 4th edition volumes with 1856 and 1870 dated title pages. The 1st and 2nd edition octavo quads overlap each other. Perhaps only volume I with title pages dated 1849 can be considered true 1st edition? Yet, 1949 Volume I books exist with few or no N&W prints bound into them. How does one prove that a Volume II or III is a 1st edition, rather than from a mixed edition set? If a N&W plate is found in a dated 3rd or 4th edition Volume I, then isn’t that a mixed edition volume? No one can be certain that an individual print is truly a 1st edition, unless it is one of the first 29 plates completed by N&W (even if found in an 1870 dated volume).

There are so many combinations and possibilities that answers may never be found. There could be one or more states for each of the 500 prints, in each of the many editions of the octavo birds. There could be one or more states for each of the 155 prints, in each of the 4 editions of the octavo quads. It would be a monumental task to examine and compare numerous volumes from each of the editions, to find all the states of all the octavo editions. I have personally seen eight different states of plate #11, Northern Hare, which are solely different combinations of the text credits. I suspect that dealers and collectors will discover many new states in coming years.

The research to clarify and define the editions, and identify the various states, has simply not been done. There are known records with information about the octavo bird editions, along with print run numbers for the 1st edition. I don’t know if any other records exist, or if records do exist that have yet to be researched that might shed more light on the Audubon’s business practices and the production of the octavo birds and quads.


The concept of collecting octavo print states, as expressed by a couple members of the Yahoo Audubonprints Group, is an interesting idea. However, I can’t imagine anyone simply buying different print states at random, with the expectation of higher values. If you are interested or passionate about a particular species or two, I think assembling all Audubon examples of the species can make a nice collection, including different print states. It is estimated that between 20-60 individual unbound prints of each of the 435 Havell Birds of America prints survive today in private hands. Because of their rarity and cost, most of us would be happy just to own 1 or 2 Havells, and never think about trying to own different states of the same Havell print. The same could be said for the Bien and Imperial Folio editions. However, collecting print states of your favorite octavo bird or quad is financially doable, if the different print states can be identified and then searched out and purchased.

In preparing to write this article, I contacted a handful of dealers that I personally know, to inquire about print state collecting. First, no dealers had or could remember a customer who collected Audubon print states. This is not to say that other dealers do not have customers who are print state collectors, but I suspect there are very few. Secondly, and more important, no dealer I spoke with, or any other dealer I have contacted for price information, has ever listed or described an Audubon octavo print as being a particular print state (1st, 2nd, etc.). However, I have seen a number of dealers describe the print state for Havell prints they are selling.

It has been my experience, and this is confirmed by dealers I have discussed this with, that people most likely collect a diversified selection of Audubon bird and/or quad prints: that are common or well known, that are personal favorites, that represent species found or seen in their local area, or have a specific purpose such as fitting into a particular decorating scheme. Next, people will collect by genus. That is, collecting all or many of the species in a particular genus group (such as woodpeckers, hummingbirds, bears, etc.). Finally, more people seem to have started collecting octavos for investment purposes. I think the Havells have long been sought as wonderful works of art, as well as for potential price appreciation. The Bien and Imperial Folio editions have also reached that status. Now, the more affordable octavos are beginning to be thought of for their potential investment possibilities.


Today the term “print variant” is being used interchangeably with the term “print state.” I think this is a favorable improvement. When a collector encounters the term “print variant” in discussions or in reading, it is virtually self-explanatory and a basic understanding of the meaning is immediate. The idea that print states or print variants, by themselves, are more valuable is unfounded. The belief that a particular print variant of a specific plate # is more valuable than another print variant of the same plate #, is also unfounded. There are too many unknowns for these ideas to have merit. First, no one knows (with the exception of the 1st edition birds) how many prints were pulled from each different stone in each edition of the octavo birds and quads.  Second, no one knows how many prints survive today for any print in any edition of the octavo birds and quads.  Third, no one knows how many different print variants or print states exist for any print in any edition of octavo birds and quads. Finally, no one knows how many prints exist of any print variant compared to another print variant of the same plate # and edition. If none of this information is available or known, there is no possible way to determine scarcity or rarity, and no way that valuations can be determined or set in the marketplace. Dealers do not recognize and sell by print state. A few dealers may occasionally mention a print variant in a print description. However, dealers will not price a print because of the print variation. Instead, a print will be priced by its condition and relative popularity within its edition, as determined by supply and demand in the marketplace, and the dealer’s overhead and markup.


The Audubon octavo prints are not art as it was traditionally thought of. That is, they are not paintings, sculptures, etc., that were created by an individual artist. However, the individual hand painted plates, dis-bound from book volumes, is most certainly art. Any of these Audubon prints would look great, and be appropriate, framed and hung in your home or office. Inexpensive Audubon off-sized reproduction prints and glossy posters cannot compare with an original Audubon. I think many people buy the least popular Audubon originals and think of them as “collectibles” rather than art. Look at their prices. Maybe 200-250 out of the 500 1st edition octavo bird prints (the most popular of all octavo editions) can be purchased on eBay in the $100 or less price range. These same prints can be purchased from retail dealers for around $200 or less. I know of many people who own and/or are acquiring fairly large quantities of octavo bird and quad prints from several editions. Unless they own, or are going to open a store, this is far more than anyone would ever frame and hang on their walls. I can only assume they are storing them in hopes of future price appreciation. If someone purchases something as art, I think they should frame and hang it to be viewed and enjoyed.

I know a number of dealers with large inventories of octavos. They have told me that the hundreds of least popular octavos may stay in their inventory for 4-5 years or more before selling. Thus there is: a reason for print valuation and pricing based on supply and demand, a reason for some dealer’s high markups, and a reason for eBay in the marketplace. I think the chances for significant price appreciation over the next 5-10 years, for 400 or so, of the least popular octavo birds, and for 125 or so of the least popular octavo quads, are very low.

The marketplace does not recognize the octavos by print state or print variant. Dealers sell the octavos by editions. Besides the condition of a print, dealers set their prices based upon supply and demand plus their own business experience and instinct. The supply of individual prints from various editions is a bit uncertain. The number of surviving prints and unbroken volumes for each edition is unknown. Many are owned by museums and other institutions, and will never be sold. However, for many years private owners have been selling their volumes to dealers, who take them apart and sell the individual prints. Volumes of various octavo editions can most always be found for sale at .

Remember, for every complete set of any of the octavo editions, there is only one print of each of the octavo birds or quads. Over a period of time, dealers from all over the country have learned which individual octavo prints are more sought after or popular. This is the “demand” part of supply and demand. Dealers set their prices accordingly, and this establishes the market. Dealers’ retail asking prices for the same individual print, from the same edition, still vary widely across the country, especially for the most sought after prints. Dealers’ retail asking prices for the least popular prints are more uniform. The highest dealer asking price for an Audubon octavo print that I have seen is $3800.00 for the 1st octavo edition plate # 423 Brown Pelican adult (a very popular regional bird) from Audubon House in Florida.

I believe that virtually all dealers would agree that demand from collectors is mostly for 1st edition octavo prints. This can be seen in the market prices. Dealer asking prices for 1st edition octavo prints are generally much higher than their prices for later editions. In fact, many dealers will price specific individual later edition prints about the same, no matter which edition they are from. If you want a 1st edition octavo quad, be certain you get a 1st edition. Because of the confusion over which edition an individual octavo quad print might actually be from, it is often suggested that you ignore edition and purchase more for the print’s condition and appearance.

In conclusion, when buying Audubon octavo prints, buy them as art, and buy what you like. Buy each print in the best condition that you can afford. Buy print variants only as a very specialized area of collecting, and not for investment. If you can afford Audubon originals of any edition, don’t buy off-sized modern reproduction prints or shiny posters. Don’t buy large quantities as “collectibles”, because you’ll be lucky to break even when it’s time to sell. Finally, if you’re going to speculate on Audubon octavos and buy them as investments, the 50 or so most popular octavo birds, and the 15-25 most popular octavo quads, have the best chance for price appreciation. Prices can swing widely based upon the economy and what’s in or out in the art market. There can always be sleepers!

Portions excerpted from the Yahoo Audubonprints email discussion Group archives.


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