How to a Authenticate an Audubon Print
We often receive inquiries from people wishing to buy or sell an "Audubon" print, or from those wanting to know if a print is authentic. Audubon's images are so well-loved that several editions were done throughout the 19th and 20th century. Here are some general guidelines to identify your piece.
First, examine the sheet out of the frame and mat. Measure the sheet, keeping in mind that, unless it's been drastically trimmed, it should be close to the 29.5 by 40 inch sheet size of the original Double-Elephant sheets. Look for the "Whatman Turkey Mill" watermark by holding the sheet up to a strong light source. A 19th century sheet of paper has a look and feel that cannot be replicated by a modern made paper. You may see stitch holes along the long edge of the piece showing where it was originally bound.
If your piece says "Chromolith by Julius Bien," it is from an edition done in 1860, which is quite rare but less valuable than the first edition published in London in 1827-38. The Bien edition should also measure close to 29.5 by 40 inches and was printed by the media of chromolithography (a color printed lithograph).
If your piece measures around six by eight inches, it is from the Octavo edition of Birds of America. The first octavo edition was published between 1840-44, and was vastly more affordable than the first edition. It was more accessible to a wider market, and was a convenient way to read the accompanying text while studying the images. The octavos are a wonderful and affordable way to collect Audubon prints.
If you have a print measuring about eighteen by twenty inches, it is likely a calendar cover published by an insurance company in the 1950s and has very little value.
Just to complicate things, there are at least three modern fascimile editions of Audubon's birds done on the Double-Elephant size sheets. They will not, however, have the Whatman Turkey Mill watermark. Examined under a loop, they will display a mechanical dot pattern, much like a magazine photo would look magnified. Known as the "Amsterdam," the "Leipzig," or the "Abbeville" editions, these are good for decoration but probably not good for financial appreciation over the long term.
If you need more assistance in assessing the value of your print, we can offer appraisals for a reasonable fee. In addition, we can make recommendations on special conservation and archival framing to preserve your art.
Tam O'Neill Fine Arts buys and sells Audubon and other antique prints. We are listed as a "Recommended Dealer" by Ron Flynn, publisher of the Audubon Price Guide series. Contact the gallery for more information.