Royal Octavo Birds (1840 – 1871)

1st Royal Octavo Edition

When the Havell folio was nearly complete, Audubon began work on a smaller edition which could be made more widely available, and would contain the text of his Ornithological Biography. He conceived an octavo edition, 1/8 the size of the originals at 6½ by 10½ inches, and commissioned J.T. Bowen of Philadelphia to create lithographic prints. This relatively new method of reproduction used greasy inks on a water-washed stone; the ink printed onto the paper and the stone could be used many times without wearing away as the etched lines on the engraved copper plates would do. These single-color lithographs were also hand painted, like the aquatints. Bowen used the camera lucida process to project a smaller, reversed image of the full-sized prints onto the stone for copying. Audubon increased the number of plates from 435 to 500, separating into individual images some birds which were originally portrayed together on a single plate. The first edition was published in 1840-1844 and numbered 1,198 copies.

Publication data on the first edition:

Volume Parts Plates Date
I 1-14 1-70 1840
II 15-28 71-140 1841
III 29-42 141-210 1841
IV 43-56 211-280 1842
V 57-70 281-350 1842
VI 71-84 351-420 1843
VII 85-100 421-500 1844
This chart is from:
Handbook of Audubon Prints
by Lois Elmer Bannon and Taylor Clark
Fourth Edition, 1998
ISBN 1-56554-428-5


2nd and Subsequent Editions

Second and subsequent editions are similar to the first edition except that the prints have tinted lithographic-wash backgrounds. While several prints in the first edition have colored backgrounds, they were hand-colored. These editions are difficult to identify once they have been removed from their bindings, as there are no edition-indicators on the prints.

Edition Year of Publication Publisher
First 1840-1844 J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier
Second 1856 J.W. Audubon & V.C. Audubon
Third 1859 J.W. Audubon & V.C. Audubon
Fourth 1860 Roe Lockwood
Fifth 1861 Roe Lockwood
Sixth 1865 Roe Lockwood
Seventh 1870-1871 George Lockwood

For an exhaustive discussion of these various editions, you may wish to read Audubon Art Prints: A Collector’s Guide To Every Edition by Bill Steiner, ISBN 1-57003-503-2.

Audubon Triptych from the collection of C. Zura & B. Cirrinone
This triptych, from the collection of C. Zura & B. Cirrinone, shows an
uncolored proof of a 1st Royal Octavo Edition print circa 1840,
a 1st Royal Octavo Edition circa 1841,
and a 2nd Edition circa 1856 of Plate 79, Yellow-throated Wood Warbler.

A complete set of all 500 images from the 1st Royal Octavo edition is available in the Bowen Royal Octavo Gallery.

A complete listing of the Royal Octavo bird prints, by family and genus, is available here, along with Audubon’s field notes.