Thursday, May 28, 2009

The accessible side of Natural History Prints, or how to buy like you have a second house in The Hamptons

May 28
Posted by Joe

(I’m glad to welcome Joe Fay back to the Heritage Blog, our Rare Books Manager here at Heritage HQ. Joe wrote for us a few months back on a rare first edition of his favorite book, The Hobbit, that appeared in the last Rare Books auction. He’s volunteered a post for today regarding the upcoming mid-June rare books auction with an amazing selection of fine Natural History prints in it. I’ve seen these things up close and they are indeed impressive specimens of art and nature. Best of all, however, they represent a very affordable opportunity _ about $500 and up – to acquire something that, as Joe points out below, seem somehow to always end up on the walls of weekend cabins in the woods or beach houses belonging to people who rarely see them, even if they walk by them every day. The prices of many things here at Heritage are, rightly, not for beginners or the faint of heart. Not so this time, however. If you’ve ever wanted something beautiful, of value and at a great price, then this is a superb opportunity. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my eye on one or two prints in the auction. – Noah Fleisher)

Every time I open Architectural Digest or Florida Design – any other interior design magazine you could name – a homeowner with much more money than myself is being featured after remodeling their country house or cabin. Invariably there hangs on the wall – some wall in this beautifully re-designed home I couldn’t afford to rent for a night – a single framed example or an artfully displayed assortment of exquisitely-colored natural history prints. Not the two butterfly prints my mom had hanging in the guest bathroom when I was a kid, but the real kind: folio-sized, hand-colored original plates featuring exotic birds, mammals, flowers, fruit, reptiles, amphibians, and more.

In the June 16-17 Heritage Rare Books Auction #6025, we’re offer to the collecting (and decorating) public a vast single-owner collection of these very desirable and vibrantly-colored natural history prints and a smaller but no less important assortment of natural history rare books and sets, some of which include thousands of brilliantly-colored fine prints within their pages.

As mentioned above, these prints are often utilized as decorative pieces by interior designers, interior decorators, and anyone else who might fancy themselves as such. In other words, these prints have come to be regarded as works of art.

Prints like Lot 37374, a brilliantly hand-colored lithograph of Edward Lear's hyacinth macaw (yes, that Edward Lear, who was an illustrator of parrots before he wrote a word of nonsense poetry), might get framed and hung on the wall of a mountain cabin by a designer looking to match the wall art to a client's blue couch or to offset a white chaise lounge.

Lot 37313, the print featured on the cover of our catalog would also be suitable as an art display. This particular print is Daniel Giraud Elliot's Pavo Cristatus, an absolutely stunning hand-colored lithograph from Elliot's famous monograph on pheasants. It could complement earth tones, black, white, blue, aqua, or any number of other combinations of colors in furniture, carpet, upholstery, etc.

Besides their obvious and consistent use as decorative objects, natural history prints and books are also historically significant for their representations of very seldom seen aspects of the natural world, or certainly scenes not easily found by the human eye in nature.

An example of this is Lot 37279, which shows a scavenging bird at a closer viewpoint than most people have ever seen or will ever see a vulture (hopefully). The print is a wonderfully imposing hand-colored aquatint engraving by Havell from the first edition of Audubon's The Birds of America (London: 1827-1838).

Another print, Lot 37329 presents a fascinating and seldom witnessed scene in nature, showing an imposing mother Eagle Owl feeding a small brown bunny to her three babies. Both of these prints show close-up views of important members of the animal kingdom from an era way before the advent of zoom lenses, and for that matter, modern photography itself. This intimate view of nature continues to be a very valuable aspect of what makes these prints special.

We've had a special opportunity to live with these elegant prints for a few months now, and the time has come for us to release them back into the wild world of collectors, dealers, designers and so on; to let them spread their wings and fly away home, preferably your home; to plant themselves in a new garden, maybe on the wall inside your house next to your garden.

OK, I'll stop there, but you shouldn't, because if you've ever even thought of acquiring ornithological prints, or you don't know what "ornithological" means but you just want something beautiful to hang on the wall behind your new Stickley chairs, this is your chance because the entire collection of natural history fine prints and rare books is being sold without reserves. That's right. Your first bid might just be the winning bid. You never know.

You can certainly know that if you don't bid you have a 100% chance of not winning one of these gorgeous hand-colored works of art. We expect spirited bidding competition during the auction in June, and hope to see you there, your bidder card soaring like the Bird of Washington.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Joe Fay

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