Octavo Print “States” Versus “Editions”,
Plus Valuations, Collecting, and the Marketplace.
by Ron Flynn
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.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN TODAY? –
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
AUDUBON OCTAVO EDITIONS and STATES -
Audubon Octavo Editions - Birds
1860 issued without plates
Audubon Octavo Editions - Quads
1852-55, often as mixed 1st and 2nd editions
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
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
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.
COLLECTING PRINT STATES –
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.
VALUES OF OCTAVO PRINT STATES or PRINT VARIANTS
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.
VALUATION OF OCTAVO BIRDS AND QUADS IN THE
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 http://www.abebooks.com
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
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.
Copyright © 2008 by Ron Flynn, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Ron Flynn, 796 Holly Creek Dr., Holland, MI 49423
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