From 1827-1838, John James Audubon published approximately 200 sets of the the double elephant folio Birds of America. Each set contained 435 illustrative plates produced from a copperplate engraving and then colored by hand, and originally sold for $1,000. Bound into four-volume sets standing well over three feet tall, each volume weighed approximately fifty-six pounds. Of the approximately 200 sets originally printed, 134 remain intact, one of which is housed in our Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
In 1985, the Abbeville Press produced a facsimile of the double elephant folio. This limited edition consisted of just 350 copies, two of which were purchased by the Library Friends in June 1987. Each plate is twenty-six and one half by thirty-nine inches and were printed in Japan on custom-made, acid-free paper from upstate New York. Each of the 435 plates required ten to eighteen colors and as many as four attempts before perfection was achieved. One facsimile set was broken up and auctioned off to raise money to restore our original set, while the other facsimile is on display by the Reference Room, in hopes that more people will see it there than they would if it remained in the Rare Books and Manuscript Library.
Audubon Schedule: Each week RIS staff members change the plates that are on display, in an effort to show as much of the collection as possible. Here you will find the schedule for the current semester, including date, plate number, and bird.
Browse the Plates: The University of Pittsburgh has digitized their elephant folio, which is presented here together with Audubon's Ornithological Biography.
Featured Books: Want to know more about Audubon and his folio, but not sure where to start? Try looking here for a select list of books.
Library Resources: This list of resources, compiled by librarian emeritus Jo Kibbee, includes books, catalogs, films, and music about Audubon and his Birds of America.
Online Resources: A collection of websites about the Birds of America and Audubon, as well as birds in general. Also compiled by Jo Kibbee.