Audubon's Birds of America complete octavo edition perches at the top of auction

We've already had one story relating to the upcoming rare books and manuscripts auction in Virginia: the intriguing case of a letter signed by Napoleon himself hidden away in a set of books - totally unknown to the owners until they offered them up for auction.

However, that is not the headline lot in the auction. That honour goes to an 1840 first edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America.

The name will be instantly recognisable to regular readers of our books section: three copies of the largest format of the book in first edition hold the top three positions in the list of most expensive books sold at auction.

This is not of that format, which lowers the price range a little, but this example is still extremely covetable.

It was a part of the Washington DC area collection of Charles Truitt and consigned by Truitt's son, who has been looking after it for some time. From the 'octavo' edition the book is complete which is unusual.

John James Audubon Birds of America Eagle
Eagle illustration from John James Audubon Birds of America

"Usually Audubon editions of this type are pilfered for their famous and decorative illustrations, which people frame and display. This one is special because it is 100 percent complete," said Waverly's specialist Anson Brown.

Here all 500 illustrations are intact and the work is estimated at $40,000-$60,000 in the March 1 auction.

(Collectors on the lookout for valuable depictions of birds - but not quite at this price - might find this to be a friendlier example.)

Also going under the hammer from the Truitt collection is a copy of Audubon and John Bachman's The Quadrupeds of North America. It is estimatedat $3,000-$6,000.

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