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US history group to auction Audubon collections

December 18, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana group devoted to telling the state’s story will auction works by John James Audubon next spring to raise money to acquire and store items more relevant to its mission.

The Indiana Historical Society paid $4,000 for “The Birds of America” in 1933 and $900 for “Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America” in 1951. The two sets together are expected to fetch at least $3.3 million at the Sotheby’s auction in April.

“That’s a pretty good rate of return,” society President and CEO John Herbst said Wednesday.

Audubon established himself as America’s dominant wildlife artist before his death in 1851. His “Birds of America” series was sold by subscription from 1827 to 1838 and featured 435 hand-painted plates depicting America’s native birds. His “Viviparous Quadrupeds” was published between 1845 and 1854 and includes 150 color lithographic plates.

A rare first edition of “Birds of America” and a set of Audubon’s “Ornithological Biography” sold for $7.9 million in 2012. Another complete first edition sold in 2010 for $11.5 million.

Historical society spokeswoman Amy Lamb said the condition of the Indiana collection isn’t as good as those recently sold, which affects the price Sotheby’s estimates it will fetch.

Herbst said auctions are the preferred way to dispose of items of value for organizations like the society because they have more transparency than arrangements with private buyers.

Proceeds from the auction will be used to establish an acquisitions fund that will allow the society to compete for items of Indiana interest, such as a Civil War letter written by a black soldier from southern Indiana that sold in March, Herbst said. The money also will pay to expand storage space to accommodate the society’s collections for the next 30 years.

“It’s a great trade-off,” he said.

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