antique prints, maps and watercolors

Plate CCLXIII. Pygmy Curlew. The Birds of America. London: Robert Havell, 1827-38. $3,800.00

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Plate CCLXIII "Pygmy Curlew"

The Birds of America is the work that established John James Audubon (1785-1851) as the greatest 19th century American natural history artist. It is the single most important work on American ornithology. It depicted with great artistry and magnificent detail every bird known to exist in North America. This magnificent engraving of the curlew sandpiper is from the first edition engraved and hand colored by Robert Havell, and published between 1827 and 1838. It is based upon a composition painted between 1832 and 1834 on the Atlantic coast. These wonderful original prints were printed on the finest quality paper in a sheet size large enough to depict even the largest birds in their true. For this reason, this work is often referred to as the "Elephant Folio." It is estimated that there were only 180 complete sets of the work produced. It is exceedingly rare to find examples of these large prints in condition as fine as this example.

Audubon's accompanying text records "In the course of my extensive rambles along our coasts and in the interior, I have seen only three birds of this species, all of which I have kept with care, considering the Cape Sandpiper or Pigmy Curlew as the rarest of its genus with us. It appears to resort to particular districts; two of my birds were shot at Great Egg Harbour in New Jersey, in the spring of 1829, the other on Long Island near Sandy Hook. No other birds were near them, and I approached them without much difficulty. They were wading along the shores up to the knees, picking up floating garbage and sand-worms. In their stomachs I found fragments of minute shells, slender red worms, and bits of marine plants."

Full sheet measuring 25 1/2 x 38 inches.
Paper with watermark in upper left "J. Whatman, 1835"
Hand colored copperplate engraving with aquatint.
Excellent condition save barely noticeable transference from adjacent plate.