The Indiana Historical Society has bagged $3.2 million from the auction of complete sets of valuable pictorial works by John James Audubon.
The society paid $4,000 for "The Birds of America" in 1933 and $900 for "Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America" in 1951. On Tuesday, Southeby’s New York sold “The Birds of America” for $3,525,000 and "Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America" for $245,000.
The Society will pocket $3.2 million of the larger $3.77 million total, the group said Tuesday. The proceeds from the auction will allow the society to acquire more state-specific items and increase its storage.
“We look forward to the new stewardship opportunities this sale presents for us, and wish the new owners the same joy we have shared in possessing them,” said IHS CEO John A. Herbst.
A new collections stewardship fund will be used to support acquisition of Indiana items that might otherwise slip away from the state, such as the Civil War letter from a Hoosier soldier with the 28th United States Colored Troops regiment that was sold at auction in March 2013.
Audubon established himself as the United States' dominant wildlife artist before his death in 1851. His "Birds of America" series was sold by subscription from 1827 to 1838 and featured 435 hand-painted plates depicting America's native birds. His "Viviparous Quadrupeds" was published between 1845 and 1854 and includes 150 color lithographic plates.
IHS officials said that they had been discussing selling the items for some time, because they didn’t fit the society's focus on Indiana and the old Northwest Territory, and the society isn't a place that attracts people interested in rare art books. The group held off until now because of the economy.