General Information About Octavo Prints
Plate 31 Burrowing Day Owl Royal Octavo Edition by John James Audubon
First edition Octavo prints are a very popular among Audubon collectors today because they were created under the direct instruction and supervision of their artistic creator, John James Audubon. Only the double elephant Havell’s can also make that claim. Sold to the public by subscription between 1840-1844, it is estimated that only 1000-1200 sets may have been made. In the 170 years since their printing, it is unknown how many copies still exist.
After the successful reception of Audubon’s “Birds of America” Havell Edition, he set out to create a smaller, less expensive edition and therefore increase its availability. Called ‘Octavo’ because they are approximately 1/8th the size of the Havell edition, Audubon retained the shop of JT Bowen of Philadelphia for most of the lithography and hand coloring of the prints. Some plates (136-150) were lithographed and colored by George Endicott of New York. This smaller sized edition was published as “The Royal Octavo Edition of Birds of America”. The designation ‘Royal’ has nothing to do with any intention to market the publication, but rather a printer’s term for the plates common dimension, 6 ½” x 10”.
Octavo first edition prints are more desirable and collectible than later editions. This octavo edition is the only edition that was fully hand colored. These first edition prints are generally identified by their lack of beige or blue-green colored backgrounds, which were used in the second and later editions. Also characteristic of first edition prints are the italic typeface used for the bottom credit line. Italics identify the first edition; bold typeface typical of the later editions. The prints themselves were printed on heavy paper stock somewhat stiff and similar to card stock. The paper is free of plate or watermarks.