2011 Update on the Audubon Market

February 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Record-breaking Sale of Audubon’s The Birds of America Folio to Affect Individual Print Prices.

There have been a few milestones in the world of collecting Audubon prints that have precipitated a re-evaluation of the market and prompted me to write to collectors about how and why these events affect that market. On December 7, 2010, a rare complete Audubon double-elephant folio made history when it sold at a record price for a printed book. The set realized $11,500,000 (including the buyer’s premium) at Sotheby’s auction house in London, making The Birds of America by far the most valuable book in the world, and propelling the per-plate price average to $26,500. This sale was notable for other reasons as well from which we can extrapolate how this will impact the market for collectors of Audubon’s work. For over a decade, the Audubon folio has maintained its supremacy in the marketplace. One can easily re-trace the historic relationship of the folio price and how it affects the value of individual good-quality hand-colored engravings that find their way to market.

Since 1989, when the Bradley Martin set sold for a record price of $3,900,000, the value of a complete Audubon folio has exceeded the total individual retail value of all the prints added together ensuring that a complete Audubon folio would never again be taken apart and sold print by print. In 2000, a complete folio sold for $8,800,000, also at auction. The recent sale is remarkable not only because it represents a 35% increase in value, but also because it realized such a high price during one of the weakest economic times since the great depression. Another interesting point is that there was strong competitive bidding at auction – not merely two rivals running the price up. There were five active bidders vying for this prize.

Rarity of complete folios and individual prints is defined not by how many were produced originally, although there were few, but by how many are available or potentially available on the market at any given time. In the early nineteenth century, Audubon produced and sold approximately 180 complete sets. Despite high demand for individual prints, and because this book has always been highly valued, the majority of those sets are preserved and intact today. Moreover, most of these complete sets reside in institutional collections. In the 1980s, there was a period when a number of financially strapped institutions sold their Audubon folios, but that resource has been depleted. Audubon sets remaining in institutional collections are not in jeopardy of being de-accessioned. Approximately 12 complete sets are still in private hands today. However, due to inheritance taxes those may come to market over a protracted period of time as they are handed down by generations of family members. Some of these sets may slowly migrate into museum collections by donation, further reducing the number of complete sets in private hands.

Even though they do circulate over long spans of time in the same ways that the complete folios do, individual good quality prints further increase in rarity because they are subject to attrition through loss, damage, and donation to institutions. Along with the rise of complete folio prices, increased rarity of individual prints also consistently impacts the price of these treasures of American art so dearly sought by collectors for almost two centuries. In 1989, when a complete folio was valued at $3,900,000, the top price for the most desirable Audubon engravings, say the Great Blue Heron, Flamingo, or Roseate Spoonbill, was $75,000. In 2000, after the sale of a complete folio for $8,800,000, the top price for an individual print rose to $150,000. Over the last decade and prior to the most recent record-breaking sale, prices have gradually increased to crest the $200,000 level. During the recent economic downturn, prices have been fairly stable. Again, this is an historic pattern dating back to the early twentieth century. Also, it has been proven over time that as the top prints increase in value, all of the other prints of varying desirability increase in price, although at less predictable rates. Therefore, it is safe to assume that as a result of the recent record-breaking sale of a complete folio that individual Audubon prints will increase significantly in value over time.

Joel Oppenheimer, President
Joel Oppenheimer, Inc.

March is Newberry Library Month at JOI Chicago

February 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

As part of our year-long celebration of Chicago’s great cultural

institutions, during the month of March a percentage of sales from Joel Oppenheimer Gallery will be donated to the Newberry Library. Founded in 1887 as an independent research library, the Newberry Library is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, especially the humanities. Housing an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, maps, music, manuscripts, and other printed material, the Library is free and open to the public. Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. is proud to introduce The Oppenheimer Newberry Library Edition of Karl Bodmer’s Illustrations to Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-34 which will be on exhibit at the Chicago gallery.

From 1832 to 1834, Karl Bodmer (1809 – 1893), a talented young Swiss artist, journeyed with Prince Maximilian, a German scientist, on an expedition to record the daily life of America Indians and the landscape of the western frontier in preparation for publication of Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-34. Covering the territory between Boston and present-day central Montana, Maximilian collected specimens and documented his scientific observations of the flora and fauna and the tribal life they met in their travels and Bodmer visually recorded their findings in beautifully detailed watercolor paintings. Their nearly ten year collaboration continued when they returned to Europe in 1834. Maximilian completed writing the text from his copious notes in Germany while Bodmer focused on the subtleties of printing 81 hand-colored aquatint engravings for their lavish folio in Paris. The Oppenheimer Newberry Library Edition of Karl Bodmer’s Illustrations to Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-34 features the complete work: 81 prints comprised of 48 folio-sized prints and 33 vignettes from the Newberry Library’s rare folio. The edition is strictly limited to 200 sets.

March 1- March 31 at Joel Oppenheimer, Inc., 410 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

The Audubon Gallery Presents a Trio of World Class Carvers

February 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Three world class carvers will once again wow sewe patrons with their artistry at The Audubon Gallery, 190 King Street. The Audubon Gallery will be hosting this event in conjunction with the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition from February 18th through the 20th. There will also be a Friday evening artists’ reception with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Mark McNair in Studio

Renowned carver Mark McNair at work in his studio

The Audubon Gallery Director, Burton E. Moore III, said, “We’re delighted to bring the work of these three artisans to our patrons. Mark McNair’s show In Black & White will feature new works by the famed master Virginia carver. McNair is a nationally renowned carver whose works are in many private and public decoy collections throughout the country.

The gallery’s 12th annual carving exhibition on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will feature famed local carvers Tom Boozer and Ronnie Riddle. Boozer is South Carolina’s most recognized decoy carver and museum quality boat model builder. Riddle’s iconic, streamlined bird carvings give a contemporary alternative to the gallery’s offerings.  These two local craftsmen will be creating examples of their work in front of the gallery for all to enjoy the entire weekend.

All weekend events are free and open to the public. For more information about “Mark McNair in Black & White” or the 12th annual carving exhibition, please contact Burton E. Moore III, The Audubon Gallery Director, at 843-853-1100 or bmoore@audubonart.com.

February 18 – 20 at The Audubon Gallery, 190 King Street, Charleston, SC 29401

Audubon Watercolor Edition Exhibited at Nevada Museum of Art

February 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Nevada Museum of Art has acquired a complete set of the New-York Historical Society Edition of Audubon’s Fifty Best Watercolors

Audubon Watercolor Plate 211 - Great Blue Heron

Plate 211, Great Blue Heron, Audubon's Fifty Best Watercolors•, New-York Historical Society Edition

for their permanent collection. This work was recently on view at the Museum in an exhibition entitled “Explorer, Naturalist, Artist: John James Audubon and The Birds of America”  This exhibition featured 50 of Audubon’s most dramatic life-sized watercolor depictions from the New-York Historical Society Edition published by Oppenheimer Editions, first-edition printing.

The oldest cultural institution in the state of Nevada, the Museum was originally founded in 1931 and is the only accredited museum in the state. The Nevada Museum of Art features works from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries with a primary focus on art and the environment. Housed within one of northern Nevada’s most architecturally noteworthy buildings, the Museum offers a broad range of art exhibitions to the public.


February 8th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Welcome to the Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. blog.

Here we will bring you news of the latest events and happenings at our galleries and conservation lab as well as informed articles about pertinent topics of interest.  It is our hope that this will also become an active forum for the discussion of natural history art, art conservation, and framing . We invite you to submit questions or ideas you may have and become an active member of our community.