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The Royal Octavos

The seven-volume set, Birds of America; and the three-volume set, Quadrupeds of North America, were published by John James Audubon and his family between 1839 and 1856. They are a manageable one-eighth the dimension of the great double elephant folios.

A matched 10-volume set, published in 1856 and bought by my father, Lewis A. Eldridge, Jr., when in college, stood invitingly in our living room bookcase as I was growing up. The 650 hand-colored prints were special, but what turned me on to Audubon, and, as I learned later, set the volumes apart from any other work by him, was inclusion of his written descriptions of each bird and animal – more than 3,000 pages of scientific observation and personal commentary.

Today, few are aware that Audubon made major contributions to natural history and ornithology. Even fewer know that, in colorful prose, he captured scenes from daily life on the American frontier over a tumultuous 15-year period.

Only in the Audubon Octavos themselves can one find Audubon the artists and writer. But less than 200 sets could be identified in institutions and libraries in September 2006. Complete sets still in private hands are being acquired by a few dealers who ‘break’ the sets, remove individual hand-colored prints and discard the text.

Audubon Octavos may not survive this pressure from the market place – pressure that will only increase once an American Masters/PBS documentary, John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature, produced in 2006 by Larry Hott and Diane Garey, is broadcast to an audience projected to be over 12 million.

The Lewis A. Eldridge, Jr. in situ Reproductions are now available to help raise awareness of the Audubon Octavos and offer an alternative to destroying remaining sets. - Roswell Eldridge M.D.

CLICK HERE for an animated tour through the history of the Royal Octavos and the subsequent mission of the Eldridge-Audubon Initiative...