John James Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, 1848, three volumes, Imperial folio (27" x 21½") with 150 hand-colored lithographs, $793,000.
“People love auctions,” said W. Graham Arader before he mailed out a catalog for his December 5, 2012, auction conducted by Guernsey’s at his 1016 Madison Avenue flagship gallery in New York City.
Arader had pulled together 282 lots from his vast stock of Audubon prints; books; maps; historical prints; watercolors, including some by Pierre-Joseph Redouté; and more than a dozen oil paintings by Robert Havell Jr., who worked with his father on Audubon’s elephant folio before coming to America to paint. Arader included a selection of globes and rare maps, described in the catalog as “the most significant maps in American history,” as defined by Seymour Schwartz in his book The Mapping of America. If all had sold at the estimated prices, it would have been a $20 million sale.
In the spirit of generosity, Arader offered to donate 10% of the hammer prices to support any institution, school, hospital, foundation, botanical garden, zoo, research library, or university each buyer requested. Buyers could also offer 25% to go to one of eight universities that Arader supports by donating early maps and prints and books to be used in teaching history. Arader does this in order to ignite in others the passion he has for the subject. Arader has started programs at the University of Florida, Northeastern University, Prescott College, the University of South Carolina, and others. “These are schools that don’t have the rich collections found in Ivy League libraries,” he said. “I hope to endow professorships at these schools that will use these original sources in their teaching.”
If the sale had gone the way Arader hoped, he might have had $2 million to give away, but of the 282 lots just 101 found buyers, and the sale totaled $2.3 million with buyers’ premiums. He did raise a little more than $200,000 for his cause, and some buyers made additional donations. He feels he accomplished what he set out to do—make a difference by giving students the tools that excited his passion.
“It was a win-win,” he said. “Some of my clients got great buys, and I sold a hundred and one items and raised some funds for a good cause.”
A complete first edition of John J. Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1848) sold for $793,000 (est. $600,000/700,000) to a collector who, according to Arader, had wanted to buy it when he had it priced at $1.4 million. “He was patient, and he got an exceptionally bright, fine copy at a bargain price.” (According to the catalog, Christie’s had sold another copy in March 2000 for $464,500.)
The catalog description by Kate Hunter tells how the Quadrupeds was a family project. Audubon and his two sons traveled though the eastern woodlands and through Missouri to the Rocky Mountains, collecting and drawing specimens and working with John Bachman to finish the project.
An octavo first edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, considered the first American edition, sold for $61,000 (est. $60,000/75,000). Plate 1, Wild American Cock (The Wild Turkey, Male), from Audubon’s elephant folio sold for $170,800 (est. $125,000/175,000). Other works by Audubon sold for four- and five-figure prices but none above the $48,800 paid for the Hooping Crane. That price was well below the $65,725 that one sold for at Christie’s on June 25, 2004.
Some botanical prints were bargains, selling without reserve for less than half their low estimates. The map section was patchy too, and none of the globes sold. Robert Havell’s Niagara Falls, 1830, a 29" x 40" oil on canvas, sold for $24,400 (est. $20,000/30,000); it was the highest-priced painting in the sale.
Even though the sale was not a huge success by everyday auction standards, it supported some admirable college programs, and Graham Arader showed creativity in figuring out new ways to make a difference.