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Audubon's 'Birds of America' could fetch $12 million at NY auction

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(Reuters) - A first edition of John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America,” one of the most celebrated books of natural history, is going up for auction in New York in June and could fetch up to $12 million, Christie’s said on Wednesday.

The richly illustrated 19th Century book, featuring more than 400 hand-colored illustrations of 1,037 life-size birds, is one of just 13 complete sets thought remaining in private hands, Christie’s said.

Proceeds from the June 14 sale will benefit conservation of plants, animals and natural habitats through the work of the Knobloch Family Foundation.

Christie’s said the book was “among the most superlative copies in private hands of the finest color-plate book ever produced.” It gave it a pre-sale estimate of $8 million to $12 million.

The book was owned for the last six years by the late businessman and naturist Carl W. Knobloch Jr., who established the Texas-based foundation bearing his family’s name and who died in 2016. He bought it in 2012 from the heirs of Britain’s fourth Duke of Portland for $7.9 million.

Audubon’s “The Birds of America” was first published as a series in sections between 1827-1838 and represented his years- long mission to find and paint all the known species of birds in North America.

The illustrations are full size, reflecting Audubon’s decision to depict the birds in a lifelike manner, be they flamingoes or tiny hummingbirds.

Most of the 120 complete first edition sets thought to be still existing are owned by art galleries, libraries and universities in the United States and Britain.

Prior to the June 14 auction, the book will be publicly displayed at Christie’s in Los Angeles from April 26-28, and at its London show-rooms from May 19-24.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Dan Grebler