The Acquisitions Table: The Birds of America

Bien, Julius, after John James Audubon. The Birds of America.New York:Roe Lockwood & Son, publishers. Chromolithography by J. Bien.Reissued by John Woodhouse Audubon, 1860.

Julius Bien (1826-1909) came to the United States from Germany in 1848 and by 1850 had opened a lithography shop in New York. The Society holds over thirty examples of his prints, including views published for the railroads, botanical prints, street scenes of Denver, Colorado, and membership certificates. In the late 1850s, Bien entered an arrangement with John Woodhouse Audubon, the son of John James Audubon, to reproduce in chromolithography the plates from The Birds of America. Transferring the designs from the engraved copperplates of the original 1838 Havell edition to lithographic stones and then creating layers of colors in multiple runs through the press occupied Bien’s firm for most of 1860. By doubling up some of the plates, they managed to complete 150 prints (on 105 sheets) of the original 400 plates before the project was interrupted by the American Civil War.

The exact number of copies Bien produced is unknown but recent estimates suggest somewhere between 75 to 100 subscribers ordered copies. Today, only 17 copies complete as issued are known to have survived.  The Bien edition marks a significant milestone in American publishing and illustration. The work for the original Havell edition was done in Britain, whereas the Bien edition is remarkable as an ambitious, if ultimately incomplete, American production using the relatively new medium of chromolithography on a grand scale.Gift of Jay Last, in honor of Georgia B. Barnhill.

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