- Lady Isabella Hertford received John James Audobon’s The Birds of America from her lover, King George IV
- She used 28 of book’s pictures to decorate Chinese Drawing Room of mansion, Temple Newsam House, in 1827
- There are 119 copies in the world – only six of which are owned privately – and one sold for £7m at auction in 2010
An aristocrat papered her walls with pictures ripped from one of the world’s most expensive books, which experts believe could now be worth £7m.
In 1827, Lady Isabella Hertford decorated her Chinese Drawing Room at her mansion in Leeds with 28 pictures from John James Audobon’s The Birds of America.
The book – of which there are now just 119 copies in existence – had been given to Lady Hertford by her lover the Prince of Wales, who later became King George IV.
One of the world’s rarest books could have fetched £7m at auction – but the aristocrat who owned it cut it into wallpaper instead (as shown above)
The book – of which there are now just 119 copies in existence – had been given to Lady Hertford (pictured left) by her lover the Prince of Wales, who later became King George IV
But experts believe that the book could have fetched millions at auction today if it had been kept in tact.
In 2010, one copy of the book was sold for the record price of £7m at Sotheby’s in London. The previous record was £6.9m.
Even by today’s standards, the illustrations of birds is remarkable but it was seen as a hugely pioneering publication when it was being released in the 1830s.
The publication, which depicts 435 hand-coloured lifesize illustrations of birds, was first published as a series in sections after the artist spend more than a decade on the work.
Audobon, born in Haiti and largely self-taught, developed a method of using wires and threads to hold dead birds in lifelike poses while he drew them.
Experts believe that the book could have fetched millions at auction today if it had been kept in tact. But the pictures were instead used for decoration (pictured)
The book, which depicts 435 hand-coloured lifesize illustrations of birds (left and right), was first published as a series in sections between 1827 and 1838, in Edinburgh and London
Its images now include six extinct birds. Of the copies left, 107 are believed to be in institution collections while the remainder are in private hands
THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE COLLECTORS’ BOOK: JOHN JAMES AUDOBON’S BIRDS OF AMERICA
The Birds of America is a book by naturalist and painter John James Audobon, containing illustrations of a wide range of wild birds.
Even by today’s standards, the illustrations of birds is remarkable but it was seen as a hugely pioneering publication when it was released in the 1830s.
The work consists of hand-coloured, life-size prints, made from engraved plates which were later filled in with watercolour. The largest version of the book was in what printers call double elephant folio – an enormous 39.5 by 26.5 inches (100cm by 67cm) – to allow the lifesize illustrations.
The Birds of America (right) is a book by naturalist and painter John James Audobon (left), containing illustrations of wild birds
The artist, born in Haiti and largely self-taught, spent well over a decade on the work. He developed a method of using wires and threads to hold dead birds – which he killed himself – in lifelike poses while he drew them, a method which would perhaps raise eyebrows among animal lovers today.
The book, which depicted them in motion and movement and illustrated their feeding habits, was published alongside an accompanying volume of description, detailing each of the birds. Six of those featured in the book are now extinct.
The printing of Birds of America cost an extortionate amount and Audubon published it on a subscription basis, spending much of his time trying to hobnob with potential buyers. He also went to great lengths to get printers who could achieve the right standard of reproduction.
There are now just 119 versions of the book left in circulation, of which less than 10 are owned privately.
The largest version of the book was in ‘double elephant folio’, meaning it measured 39.5inches by 26.5 inches.
Its images now include six extinct birds. Of the copies left, 107 are believed to be in institution collections while the remainder are in private hands. According to the Economist, a list of the top ten most-expensive books would include five copies of The Birds of America.
The drawing room at Temple Newsam House, along with the rest of the property, will soon be ready for re-opening.
Curator Rachel Conroy said: ‘It’s such an extraordinary room and it’s made all the more special because it’s largely been decorated by a former resident of the house. Most of the furniture which is still on display was chosen by Lady Hertford herself.’
The drawing room at Temple Newsam House (pictured) in Leeds, along with the rest of the property, will soon be ready for re-opening
WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER: THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE PUBLICATIONS
Many of the most expensive books are works of non-fiction, such as Redouté’s illustrations of flowers, Gutenberg’s Bible and the Declaration of Independence.
The Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci – a 72-page notebook filled with his handwritten musings and theories – is believed to be the most expensive book ever purchased and was bought for £21.6m by Bill Gates in 1994.
The Gospels of Henry the Lion, Order of Saint Benedict, was purchased by the German government at Sotheby’s of London in 1983 for £8.1m.
In 1987, a copy of one of the 48 Gutenberg Bibles sold for a record £3.4m at Christie’s New York.
Eleven years later, a first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales sold for £4.6m at Christie’s in London in 1998.
Another expensive book, first printed in 1794, is The First Book of Urizen by William Blake. One of only eight surviving copies was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1999 for £1.7m to a private collector.
And William Shakespeare’s First Folio, which fetched £4.2m at auction, is among the most sought-after and expensive books in the world, with just 228 left.
The seven original copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling – later mentioned in the Harry Potter books – are also in demand, selling at auction for around £2.7m
Traité des arbres fruitiers [Treatise on Fruit Trees] by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau, illustrated by Pierre Antoine Poiteau and Pierre Jean François Turpin, is also pricey, selling for £3.1m in 2006.