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Other Audubon prints included such popular subjects as the American Turkey, the very first plate in his great Birds of America, and the Roseate Spoonbill, which sold at $150,0000 (£114,500) and $100,000 (£76,335) respectively.

However, that Heron unexpectedly outdid them all. Shown top in an image that was cleverly constructed by Audubon to ensure that his life-size illustration fitted into the confines of what were to be the 3ft 2in (97cm) high plates that made up the work, it doubled the high estimate to sell at what must surely be a record $250,000 (£190,840).

The auction record for a complete, four-volume set of the monumental, elephant folio first edition of Birds of America, issued in parts in the years 1827-38 and containing 435 etched, engraved and aquatinted colour plates in all, stands at £6.5m.

That was the sum paid at Sotheby’s in 2010 for an original, subscriber’s set from the library of the 2nd Lord Hesketh (1916-55).

Australian fliers

In an October 10 sale held by Australian auction house Mossgreen (24% buyer’s premium) to disperse works from the Martin Copley collection of natural history books, voyages and travels, a set of Gould’s Birds of Australia sold for Aus$360,000 (£211,765).

Published in eight large folio volumes in the years 1840-69 and here bound in dark green morocco gilt by Rivière, presumably for the original subscriber, Lord Braybrooke of Audley End, the work contains 681 hand coloured litho plates, one of which is reproduced above.

Copley’s five-volume set of The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands… of 1875-88, Gould’s last work and completed after his death by Richard Bowdler Sharpe, also contains “many new species recently discovered in Australia” among its 320 coloured litho plates. In a period green morocco gilt binding by Rivière, it sold at Aus$120,000 (£70,590).

British birds

Perhaps the most extraordinary work in the history of ornithological publishing, the 1789-94 first edition of William Lewin’s Birds of Great Britain was limited to just 60 sets for subscribers – and for a very good reason.

The 323 illustrations of birds and their eggs in each copy of this remarkable work are original watercolour drawings, all of which Lewin completed either by his own hand or with assistance from his sons, Thomas and William.

Bound as seven volumes in red morocco gilt of the period, a set first owned by a William Leatham sold for £30,000 in a Bonhams (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) sale of November 15. See picture top.

German rarity

Presenting just the first four of six volumes and lacking four of the 182 plates of birds, an incomplete example of Joachim Johann Nepomuk Spalowsky’s Beytrag zur Naturgeschicte de Vögel of 1790-92 led a November 20 sale held by Ketterer Kunst (23% buyer’s premium) at €60,000 (£53,240).

An exceptionally rare work with no apparent auction history, it seems to have been issued in very limited numbers. In this part set, described as a dedication copy on “strong paper”, the hand-coloured engraved plates were heightened with gold, silver and copper and the green morocco gilt bindings applied to the front boards with very large and fully coloured armorials.