The Meadville Public Library announced today that it had received the most valuable donation of used books in its 136-year history. The donation consisted of a set of the rare octavo late second edition Birds of America by James Audubon. The seven-volume set is rare and extremely valuable, selling at recent auctions for up to $17,200.
James Audubon’s Birds of America second octavo edition is considered one of the best examples of the printer’s art of the 19th century. Interspersed with the text are 500 full-color prints of birds, based on paintings by James Audubon. “Octavo” is a word used to designate the size of the books as roughly 10 inches by 8 inches.
The prints were created using a combination of lithography and hand tinting. The resulting prints are very colorful with fine detailing. The original lithography stones were destroyed in 1871, making Audubon books printed before that date both rare and highly sought after. No one knows for sure (record keeping was very spotty in Civil War era publishing houses), but it has been estimated that fewer than 3,000 copies of the 2nd octavo edition were printed.
“When we received the Audubons, we were extremely excited by the gift,” stated John Brice, Executive Director. ”However, we have received past gifts of books that we thought were valuable which later turned out not to be. So, we kept our enthusiasm in check with the Audubons.”
Meadville Public Library invited a number of book experts to look at the Birds of America set, and they all confirmed that the books were indeed the 2nd octavo. The experts also agreed that the volumes were in extremely good condition.
Brice stated that “once we had established the books’ credentials, we endeavored to find the best home possible for them. “ Asked whether he considered including the books in the library’s collection, Brice explained, “we do not have the proper environment, space, staff or means to properly display and care for these unique books. The primary goal was to find them a good home.”
MPL investigated a number of different options, including selling the Audubons at auction, through a bookseller, or to another library. MPL received a number of offers and in the end the Board of Directors decided to sell the Audubons to the Pelletier Library of Allegheny College. Asked about the sale price, Brice said, “we received a very fair price for the Audubons and the Meadville Public Library is very happy that the books will be available for use in Meadville.”
According to MPL Executive Director Brice, “the gift was both extremely generous and fortuitous. Our 45-year-old air conditioning system still uses freon and isn’t very efficient. So to make the library more ‘green,’ we are putting the proceeds from the sale of the books towards the cost of acquiring a new air conditioning system. It seems appropriate that John Audubon, an environmentalist of the 19th -century, will help us become more environmentally friendly in the 21st century.”
The Meadville Public Library and Allegheny’s Pelletier Library are inviting the public to view the books and help celebrate their official transfer up the hill during an Open House on September 24, 2015 at 5:30 PM at the Meadville Public Library.