The majority of these books had been acquired by Frederick, 2nd Baron Hesketh (1916-1955), who bought them at a great time. Lord Hesketh acquired a magnificent subscriber's copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America; a crisp, textually complete folio in an early binding; and other masterpieces of natural history.
Audubon’s Birds of America sold in London for £7,321,250, establishing a new world record auction price for any printed book. The previous auction record for a printed book was £5,565,110. Amazingly this too was for a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, sold in New York in Mar 2000.
With the friend's assistance, Audubon continued trying his luck at various business endeavours in Ohio, before living in Henderson Kentucky from 1810-19 . A sawmill business Audubon ran in Kentucky failed in 1819, partly due to a wide spread credit crunch. But mainly he failed because he spent too much time looking at birds to worry about practical business matters. Aubudon found himself in serious financial trouble, with a wife and two young sons to support, so he and the family travelled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Thankfully his wife found employment as a teacher and governess, and supported the family financially for a very long time.
He began conducting simple experiments on local birds, checking their nesting habits, drawing them in flight and recording their behaviour on the ground. Back in France for a family trip, young Audubon metthe naturalist Charles-Marie D'Orbigny, who taught Audubon proper, scientific methods of bird research.
In America again, Audubon joined Shawnee hunters on their expeditions, learning their methods and recording the details on paper. Audubon spent 20 years travelling throughout the length and breadth of America, painting every different species of bird he encountered. The birds were posed as he saw them in real life — feeding their young, hunting, eating and flying. In time he added animals and fish to his collection, but the birds remained the stars.
The cost of printing the entire work was huge, paid for by subscriptions, exhibitions and commissions. King George IV said he loved Audubon’s work and became a subscriber to the book. In Sept 1827, Audobon approached Isabella, Marchioness of Hertford in her Leeds home, Temple Newsam. He convinced her to subscribe to the first volume of the gigantic work back then, and today a rare volume is still on display in Temple Newsam. The British Royal Society, a learned society for science, elected Audubon a fellow and made him even more famous.
John James and his wife had two children who survived into adulthood, including the naturalist and painter John Woodhouse Audubon (1812-62). John W Audubon, bless his heart, was involved in publishing John James’ books.
Various collections can be visited today, 160 years after his death: the preparatory watercolours for Birds of America are in the New York Historical Society while the Stark Museum of Art in Texas owns and exhibits JJ's personal copy of Birds of America. Milwaukee Art Museum had an exhibition in 2008-9 called Catesby, Audubon and the Discovery of a New World: Prints of the Flora and Fauna of America. North Carolina Museum of Art has all four volumes of Audubon’s The Birds of America which are now on view.