The following timeline is an excerpt from Bill Steiner's book “Audubon Art Prints – A Collector’s Guide to Every Edition”, published in the autumn of 2003 by the University of South Carolina Press. Mr. Steiner is an Audubon Galleries Advisory Board Member.
A Timeline for Audubon Prints
|John James Audubon born in Haiti, the illegitimate son of French sea captain Jean Audubon and a chambermaid named Jeanne Rabine, who sailed with him from France on the same boat. Mlle. Rabine dies soon after the birth of her son.
|Capt. Audubon takes his son briefly to the United States, and then home to France, where his tolerant wife accepts the boy and an illegitimate sister by yet another woman, and raises the children as her own. Audubon spends much of his time drawing and studying nature, but does poorly in school.
|Audubon and his sister are legally recognized and adopted by Capt. and Mme. Audubon
|The Bakewell family emigrates from England to the United States. They eventually settle on a farm near Philadelphia called Fatland Ford.
|John James Audubon, aged eighteen, travels to America to manage Mill Grove, a Pennsylvania farm owned by his father that is adjacent to Fatland Ford. Audubon meets Lucy Green Bakewell.
|Audubon returns to France for a year-long visit. Begins in earnest to paint birds.
|Audubon leaves Pennsylvania and travels to Louisville, Kentucky, with his business partner, Ferdinand Rozier, where they begin a general store.
|Audubon returns to Pennsylvania and marries Lucy Bakewell, then travels with her back to Louisville.
|The Audubons' first son, Victor Gifford, is born.
|Audubon meets ornithologist Alexander Wilson. The Audubons move downriver to Henderson, Kentucky.
|Second son John Woodhouse Audubon is born. The family travels back to Philadelphia for a short time, and Audubon becomes an American citizen there. They return to Kentucky, where over the next few years Audubon engages in several different business ventures, all of which fail.
|Audubon forms a partnership to build a steam grist/lumber mill. The other two investors drop out before construction is completed. The mill fails miserably.
|Audubon is briefly jailed for debts until he declares bankruptcy. Works at the Western Museum in Cincinnati as a taxidermist.
|Audubon decides to publish the greatest bird book ever. Takes on twelve-year-old Joseph Mason as an apprentice and begins the task of painting the images for “The Birds of America.” Mason travels with Audubon on a flatboat down the Mississippi.
|Audubon and Mason arrive in New Orleans in January. Audubon paints birds, but his small income is made by drawing portraits in black chalk. In June, they travel up the river to Oakley Plantation near Bayou Sarah, where Audubon serves as a tutor. In October, they return to New Orleans. In December, after being away from Audubon for fourteen months, Lucy and sons travel south and reunite with him in New Orleans.
|In February, Lucy finds a position as a live-in governess in New Orleans. Soon after, Audubon leaves his family again and travels north to Natchez with Mason to find and paint more birds and to make money drawing portraits. In July, Mason leaves Audubon and returns to Kentucky. Sons travel to Natchez to reunite with their father; Lucy follows soon after.
|Lucy finds a position as live-in governess at Beech Woods Plantation. Audubon continues to paint birds and to make money painting portraits. In the fall, travels north with Victor to Shippingport, Kentucky.
|Audubon leaves Victor with Lucy's relatives in Kentucky. In late April, arrives in Philadelphia to show his paintings to the scientific establishment and to find an engraver. In his three-month stay, meets most of America's leading naturalists and scientists. Although Audubon receives some encouragement, his work is generally disdained by a coterie of men trying to protect the place of Alexander Wilson as America's pre-eminent ornithologist/artist. Several learned men advise him to seek an engraver in England. Meets Edward Harris and begins a lifelong friendship. Travels on to New York, then to Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, and then down the Ohio and Mississippi to his family in Louisiana. While in Pittsburgh, meets Swiss landscape painter George Lehman.
|Audubon and Lucy work in Louisiana and save money. Audubon produces some of his best work: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Carolina Parrot. In this year, paints about fifteen birds that are eventually included in “The Birds of America.”
|With Lucy staying in Louisiana, Audubon sails to England from New Orleans on April 26. Soon after landing in Liverpool, exhibits his paintings and they are enthusiastically received. At the age of 41, Audubon is finally a success. Solicits subscriptions and hires William H. Lizars of Edinburgh to be his engraver, etcher, and colorist. In November, work begins on part 1 and by New Year's Day, the first five images of the Double Elephant Folio edition of “The Birds of America” are engraved and printed. Due to election in December as an honorary member of the Wernerian Society, has “M.W.S.” is appended to the artist's credit on the prints.
|The five copper plates for part 2 are engraved (etched). Approximately fifty prints are pulled and colored from the first ten plates before Lizars' staff goes on strike. In June, Audubon retrieves all ten plates and some uncolored prints, travels to London, and hires Robert Havell and his son Robert, Jr., to complete the work. The Havells use both etching and aquatint. Havell, Jr., manages most of the work. In March, Audubon is elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in March; begins to use "F.R.S.E." in the artist's credit on the prints. In Louisiana, Lucy Audubon leaves Beech Woods Plantation and becomes governess and schoolmistress at nearby Beech Grove.
|Audubon travels to France to sell subscriptions. Also visits Cambridge and Oxford. Havell and his staff continue to work, and more parts are delivered to subscribers. Audubon elected Fellow of the Linnean Society and begins to use "F.L.S." in the artist's credits.
|Audubon's first trip back to America to sell subscriptions and paint more birds. Hires George Lehman to paint backgrounds; they work in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His work is still not accepted by most of the Philadelphia establishment. After five months of painting birds, travels down the Ohio to his sons in Kentucky and then down the Mississippi to Lucy in Louisiana.
|With Lucy, Audubon travels back to England to supervise the work. Upon arriving in May, learns he has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London in March 1829; begins to use "F. R. S." in the artist's credit on his prints. Paints and sells many small oil paintings of birds and mammals to make ends meet. Spends a considerable amount of time writing the text for the Ornithological Biography, which is edited by William MacGillivray. By this time, Robert Havell, Jr., has assumed nearly all responsibility for engraving, printing, and coloring the prints.
|Audubon makes a second trip back to America; stays until 1834. In Philadelphia, is elected to both the American Philosophical Society and to the Academy of Natural Sciences. In October of 1831, travels south to Charleston with Lehman, where he is warmly greeted by most of the leading citizens. Meets the Reverend John Bachman and embarks on his most significant lifelong partnership. Also meets Maria Martin, Bachman's sister-in-law (and later his wife), who will also paint many flowers, trees, and leaves as backgrounds for Audubon's bird paintings. Travels on to St. Augustine and into the interior of Florida in November to find and paint more birds. Also in 1831, Lucy travels to Louisville to visit her brother Will. While there, she sells at least two subscriptions to “The Birds of America.”
|Audubon returns to Charleston from Florida in March. Rough seas divert his ship to Savannah, where he sells five subscriptions. Then in April, travels again to Florida, this time all the way to Key West, where he paints Mangrove Cuckoo, Great White Heron, White-headed Pigeon, and other South Florida birds. In late summer, travels to Philadelphia, where he contracts with Childs and Inman to do an experimental lithograph of his paintings of Marsh Hens. In September, he and his family explore the coast of Maine. Then Victor travels to London to oversee the engraving, printing, and coloring and to take art lessons. In November, Robert Havell, Sr., dies in London.
|Audubon travels north to New York and then to Boston. From there, charters a ship to take him and his party to Labrador to paint seabirds and northern land birds. There paints Black-backed Gull, Gannet, Lincoln's Sparrow, Shore Lark, and others. In October travels back to Charleston, where he spends the winter painting birds at Bachman's house.
|In April, Audubon sails back to England from Charleston to supervise “The Birds of America” project and to sell subscriptions. Spends much of his time writing the species accounts for the “Ornithological Biography.”
|Victor and John Woodhouse tour Europe. Audubon goes back to America for the third time. By now, he is a huge success and is hailed everywhere he goes. After initially being rebuffed, is able in October to buy the duplicate specimens of new western birds collected by the Nuttall-Townsend expedition. In November, travels again to spend the winter in Charleston with his friend Bachman.
|Audubon spends the early months painting the Nuttall-Townsend birds and a few others. Travels overland to Columbia, Augusta, Montgomery, and Mobile, and on by sea to the Texas coast. Not one new bird is found on this trip. The party returns to Charleston, where John Woodhouse marries Bachman's daughter Maria. In the fall, Audubon returns to England for the last time.
|In April, Audubon completes his final painting, and in June, Havell engraves the final copper plate for the Double Elephant Folio. Complete, four-volume, 435-print sets sell for $870.
|The final prints are pulled and colored. The “Ornithological Biography” is completed, and its fifth and final volume is published. Audubon and Havell make six copies each of the thirteen Composite prints. Havell produces fifteen extra complete sets of the entire Double Elephant Folio for Audubon to sell in America. Audubon returns and settles in New York City. Begins work on the “Birds of America” octavo edition and begins the drawings for the quadrupeds. In the fall, the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds project is announced.
|In Britain, many loose prints from incomplete subscriptions and from several broken complete sets are sold. Most probably do not long survive the combined effects of destructive framing practices, air pollution, low retail prices, and general neglect.
|Audubon and John Woodhouse begin painting the images for the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds. The first volume of the Octavo Birds is produced and sent to subscribers. Audubon travels through the Northeast and as far south as Charleston selling subscriptions.
|Work on the Quadrupeds and the Octavo Birds continues. Audubon purchases land and begins building a house, later called Minnie's Land, at what is now 157th street in Manhattan.
|Work on the Quadrupeds and the Octavo Birds continues. Audubon travels to Boston and then Canada to sell his remaining sets of the Double Elephant Folio and to sell subscriptions to the Octavo Birds and Imperial Folio Quadrupeds. Is well pleased with sales results.
|The first images of the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds are printed by Bowen of Philadelphia. Audubon travels with Edward Harris and others up the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone River on his last grand trip of exploration. At 58 years, he loses the last of his teeth. The party returns in the fall.
|The final volume of the first edition of the Octavo Birds is completed. The first volume of the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds is completed, but the books are delivered the next year. Bachman works on the text.
|Audubon's health and mental capabilities begin to decline. His sons gradually take over the family business. In July, a fire severely damages about 85 of the stored Havell copper plates.
|John Woodhouse travels to Texas to find and paint new quadrupeds. In June, he travels to London and the continent, where he spends a year painting arctic mammals from skins and stuffed specimens. Bachman completes the first volume of text for the Quadrupeds.
|In May, John Woodhouse returns to America.
|The third and final volume of the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds is printed and delivered.
|John Woodhouse travels overland from New York to Texas and then on to the California gold fields. The first volume of the Octavo Quadrupeds is printed.
|John Woodhouse returns from California.
|John James Audubon dies at the age of 65. Bachman completes the second volume of text for the Quadrupeds.
|The first octavo edition of the Quadrupeds is produced, totally by Victor and John Woodhouse. It features 155 prints plus Bachman's text.
|The second octavo edition of the Quadrupeds is produced, almost simultaneously with the first.
|Bachman completes the third text volume for the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds. Commodore Perry presents the emperor of Japan with copies of the Double Elephant Folio and the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds.
|The second octavo edition of the Birds is printed, with second-stone wash and changed typeface for the captions.
|The third octavo edition of the Quadrupeds is printed, very similar to first two.
|John Woodhouse publishes the Bien Edition as full-sized chromolithographs—150 birds on 105 pages. Prior to this, John Woodhouse and Victor engage in several disastrous business ventures.
|The third octavo edition of the Birds is printed, with many changed images and backgrounds.
|Victor Gifford Audubon dies. The fourth octavo edition of the Birds is printed as five volumes of text for the Bien edition. The Civil War looms, eventually spelling doom for the Bien edition and bankruptcy for Lucy and John Woodhouse Audubon.
|The fifth octavo edition of the Birds is published.
|John Woodhouse Audubon dies.
|Lucy Audubon sells the original bird paintings and nearly everything else she owns to satisfy bankruptcy debt from Bien edition and from other failed business ventures.
|The second edition of Imperial Folio Quadrupeds and the sixth octavo edition of the Birds are published by Roe Lockwood.
|Lucy Audubon sells The Birds of America Havell copper plates to the Phelps Dodge Company.
|The seventh octavo edition of the Birds and the fourth octavo edition of the Quadrupeds are published by George Lockwood. They are often printed together as eleven matching volumes
|About 80 of the original copper plates are saved from destruction as scrap metal.
|Lucy Audubon dies at the age of 87.
|The first local Audubon Society is formed.
|B. H. Warren's “The Birds of Pennsylvania” is printed in two editions with 49 and then 99 small chromolithograph prints, most of which copied Audubon's octavo images.
|Herrick's biography of Audubon is published.
|Approximately 41 complete sets of the Double Elephant Folio are broken up and sold as individual prints during this period—nearly all in America.
|The house at Minnie's Land is moved off the property to make room for a widened Riverside Drive. Bachman's Charleston home torn down about five months earlier.
|Macy's offers Havell prints for as little as $4.96. At this time, a very few of the same prints can be bought in Great Britain "for a pound, perhaps a few shillings more."
|Life magazine announces the Macmillan trade book of the double elephant folio images—the first complete, full-color facsimiles since 1839. The History Institute and A.P.P. prints appear. Audubon's work is rediscovered by a new generation of Americans.
|The second edition of Herrick's biography is published.
|The New York Graphic Society prints appear, the first full-sized color facsimiles since the Bien edition.
|Harry Shaw Newman of New York's Old Print Shop turns down the purchase of a four-volume set of the Double Elephant Folio for $32,000 as "too expensive."
|The Original Watercolor Paintings by John James Audubon for "The Birds of America" is published by the New-York Historical Society.
|The Amsterdam set is published in Holland—the first complete set of full-sized facsimiles since the Double Elephant Folio in 1839. The Ariel prints are published in England, Germany, and the U. S.
|The Double Elephant Folio by Waldemar Fries is published. This is the first book that focuses on the actual books and prints. It includes the first real census of the complete sets of the Double Elephant Folio.
|The six Alecto restrikes and the complete Abbeville set are printed in honor of the bicentennial of Audubon's birth.
|The Gilmore set owned by Johns Hopkins University is broken up and auctioned at Sotheby's as individual prints. A total of $1,898,530 is realized for 369 prints. The remaining 66 prints (most of them minor) are sold later. This is the last (I hope) set of the Double Elephant Folio to be broken up.
|Index and Guide to Audubon's "Birds of America" by Susanne M. Low is published.
|A single Havell Print—Flamingo, #431—sells for $151,900 at auction.
|The Fox-Bute set of the Double Elephant Folio sells for $8,802,500 at Christie's. A complete, first-edition set of the Imperial Folio Quadrupeds brings $464,500 at the same auction. A Havell print of Roseate Spoonbill, #321, is purchased for $125,000 in an over-the-counter sale.
|In March, a trimmed print of Gold Finch, #33, from the Lord Caernarvon collection sells at a Christie's auction for $11,163. In early November, the Museum at Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky, purchases the original Havell copper plate for Tell-tale Godwit (Greater Yellowlegs), #308, for $142,500. In late November, two original Audubon watercolor bird paintings are auctioned by Christie's in New York: the painting of Great Crow Blackbirds (Boat-tailed Grackles) that had been commissioned by Charles Lucien Bonaparte for $226,000; and the three British Finches that Audubon had given to British ornithologist and illustrator Prideaux John Selby of Twizel House, Belford, in April,1827, for $248,000. On the same day, Christie's offers one of Audubon's several oil paintings of Otter in a Trap, this one owned by Audubon's good friend and patron, Edward Harris. No bids are offered above the reserve, which is slightly less than $200,000.
|A complete Bien set is auctioned for $310,00. An Amsterdam Flamingo, #431, brings $2,850 on an Internet auction.