Anyone can now get a daily look inside of one of the most valuable books in the world. Birds of America, the masterwork of 19th century naturalist John James Audubon’s, is on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Each weekday afternoon at 3:15 p.m., a white-gloved staff member turns one of the enormous 2-by-3-foot pages to reveal another of the 435 spectacular engravings of 449 avian species hand-painted onto handmade paper.
For those who can’t stop by the museum, the bird of the day is also posted online, too.
American flamingo. Click here for a larger image, and more images from Birds of America.
Last year a first edition Birds of America sold for a whopping $11.5 million, breaking the world record for any book ever sold at auction. There are fewer than 120 known copies of the elephant folio, which Audubon spent 11 years creating and completed in 1838. He depicted life-size birds (hence the stooped stance of the flamingo to the right), often in their natural habitat. While he started out killing the birds he drew, Audubon came to appreciate the importance of capturing his subjects without shooting them. In later years he wrote to a friend, “Nature must be seen first alive, and well studied before attempts are made at representing it.”
Now nearly two centuries later, Audubon’s stunning representations still captivate, and the movement he lent his name to continues to help conserve his beloved birds.
For more about John James Audubon, check out Audubon magazine’s salute to our namesake.