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Bird Hunting on Madison Avenue

Clayton Pennington | January 25th, 2014

Plate 26, Carolina Parrot,  aquatint from The Birds of America, Robert Havell, London, 1827-38, was estimated at $90,000/110,000 and sold to a phone bidder for $128,100. The listed retail price was $190,000, and the two previous auction prices listed in the catalog were $119,500 at Christie’s in 2004 and $84,000 at Sotheby’s in 2007.

The Alabama collector paid $122,000 for Great Blue Heron, plate 211. It was a good buy; the retail price in the catalog was $250,000. In his blog post “The top aquatints of birds of John James Audubon,” Arader ranked Great Blue Heron as number two, right behind “Male Turkey.”Arader wrote that the heron is the “most desirable and probably most beautiful and certainly most asked for and best icon.”

The first lot of the day was successful. Wild Turkey-Male, plate 1, aquatint from The Birds of America, first edition engraving with original hand coloring, 38¾" x 26½", sold for $91,500 to a collector, above the $60,000/70,000 estimate. The catalog listed the retail price of $235,000, as well as three previous auction prices: $170,800 at Guernsey’s on December 5, 2012; $122,000 at Guernsey’s on May 11, 2013; and $73,000 at Sotheby’s on October 5, 2007.

Guernsey’s/Arader Galleries, New York City

Photos courtesy Guernsey’s/Arader Galleries

On January 25, Arader Galleries and Guernsey’s joined forces to hold an auction titled “Plumage, Paws and Petals: Naturalism in the Time of Audubon” at Arader Galleries’ flagship location at 1016 Madison Avenue in New York City.

The small sale—about 317 lots—was a mix of first edition aquatint engravings by Robert Havell after John James Audubon’s watercolors for The Birds of America, published in London between 1827 and 1838; imperial folio lithographs from Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, published in Philadelphia by J.T. Bowen, 1839-44; ship models; 20th-century bronzes; and wildlife photographs by famed author Roger Tory Peterson.

The total of $1,614,637 was because of the Audubon prints; the ship models, bronzes, and photographs were almost all passed.

The sale catalog was unusual. Descriptions of the prints included the retail price and previous auction prices, many from other Guernsey’s/Arader auctions (this was their third collaboration) and Christie’s sale of the Sachsen-Meiningen set of The Birds of America in June 2004.

Arader used the sale to raise funds to further support the ambitious project he’s been working on for several years—donations of artwork to American colleges and universities to ignite the passion of collecting in students. Arader offered to donate 20% of the hammer price if the buyer supported one of the institutions of his choice. His altruism didn’t extend only to his projects; if the buyer preferred another cause, he’d donate 10% of the hammer price to the buyer’s choice.

At the sale, Arader announced that he had reached a deal with Coastal Carolina University, and 100 pieces of  artwork were headed to the liberal arts college in Conway, South Carolina, to provide the foundation for a teaching program.

Pamela Charlston De Grood, representing the university, said, “We’re thrilled to bring art to youth…and what [Arader] has done is to make sure nothing will ever be in a closet; it will be available for everyone to enjoy forever.” De Grood said plans were in the works for an interactive exhibition.

“Everyone talks about doing it, but I’m the only one who is actually doing something,” said Arader, several days before the sale, about inspiring the passion of collecting. “It’s better than sex; it’s better than drugs,” he said. “It’s a perfectly good addiction.”

One buyer at the sale, a private collector from Alabama, dominated the bidding. He bought 16 lots—many of them iconic Audubon images—paying $794,342 with buyers’ premiums. “I’m an instant collector,” he joked, adding that before the auction he had only two Audubons, both purchased from Arader.

For more information, contact Arader Galleries at (215) 735-8811, e-mail <>, or check the Web site (; or Guernsey’s at (212) 794-2280, e-mail <> or via the Web site (

Plate 6 of The Birds of America, a female turkey, Great American Hen & Young, engraving with original hand coloring, 26¼" x 38¾", published by William H. Lizars of Edinburgh, 1827-29, sold for $73,200 to a collector from Alabama. Arader’s retail price was listed as $150,000, with previous auction prices of $65,725 at Neal Auction Company on September 11, 2010; $47,800 at Christie’s on June 25, 2004; and $45,750 at Guernsey’s on May 11, 2013.

With a published retail price of $190,000, plate 281, Great White Heron, was a deal at less than half that price, $85,400, for the collector who won it. The previous auction prices for the aquatint from The Birds of America included $101,575 at Christie’s on June 25, 2004; $85,400 at Guernsey’s on May 11, 2013; and $83,650 at Neal Auction Company in 2010.

Estimated at $45,000/50,000, the Canvas backed Duck, plate 301 from The Birds of America, brought $54,900 from the Alabama collector. The published retail price was $150,000, and comparable auction prices were $71,700 at Christie’s on June 25, 2004, and $63,440 at Guernsey’s on May 11, 2013.

An Internet bidder paid $22,500 for the Great Auk, plate 341 from The Birds of America. That’s above the auction estimate of $12,000/15,000 but below the published retail price of $35,000. On June 25, 2004, Christie’s sold one for $15,535.

The 19th-century cased clipper ship model with carved maiden figureheads, cabins, winch, anchors, and hatch and heavily rigged brought $3355. It was the most expensive of the ship models to sell. The case measured 27" x 12" x 20".

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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