Modern Books & Manuscripts Collection

John James Audubon Collection

Boston! Ah! reader, my heart fails me when I think of the estimable friends whose society afforded me so much pleasure in that beautiful city, the Athens of our Western World. . . . [T]he outpouring of kindness which I experienced at Boston far exceeded all that I have ever met with. (John James Audubon, Ornithological biography . . .  1831–189, v.2, p. xvii)

While the great American naturalist John James Audubon (1786–1851) spent only the fall and winter of 1832–1833 in the Boston area, strong ties to Boston, and in particular to Harvard, persist to the present day.  A group of Harvard alumni and officers took an early subscription to the monumental Birds of America for the College Library, and subsequent Harvard benefactors enriched the collection with gifts of drawings, letters, manuscripts, and specimens.

  Image of Ivory Billed Wood Peckers by John James Audubon.     Image of Turdus Lividus (Gray Catbird) by John James Audubon.  

Ivory Billed Wood Peckers. [Henderson, Kentucky]
1812 Nov. 28. 1 drawing : pastel, wet media, graphite,
and ink on paper ; 59 x 50 cm.  MS Am 21 (31)
Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Larger image available.

 

Turdus Lividus [Gray Catbird, (Dumatella
carolinensis)]
Red Banks, Ohio River,
1810 June 4-5. 1 drawing : pastel, graphite, and
ink on paper ; 43 x 28 cm.  MS Am 21 (18)
Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Larger image available.

The greatest of these benefactors to the College Library was Joseph Y. Jeanes (1859–1928), a Philadelphia collector who bequeathed his Audubon collection to the College Library in 1928.  Jeanes purchased many Audubon treasures from the naturalist’s friend, and fellow ornithologist, Edward Harris.  These include more than a hundred of Audubon's earliest surviving drawings; extensive correspondence with Edward Harris; Audubon's annotated copy of Charles Lucian Bonaparte's The genera of North American birds (New York : J. Seymour, 1828); and letters of Audubon’s family and friends.  Gifts from others includes correspondence with Robert Havell, Jr., the English engraver for The Birds of America; John Bachman, the naturalist with whom Audubon collaborated on Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America; and Thomas Mayo Brewer, the ornithologist and zoologist.  The Special Collections Department of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology includes additional drawings; ledgers and journals, including the journal and accounts relating to the Birds of America (MCZ F118); and correspondence.

Reproductions of all of Harvard’s early drawings are available through the links above, and in Audubon: Early Drawings with an introduction by Richard Rhodes, scientific commentary by Scott V. Edwards, and a history of the Harris Collection by Leslie A. Morris (Harvard University Press, 2008).

For a comprehensive list of Audubon holdings, search HOLLIS.

Image of belted kingfisher by John James Audubon.

Belted kingfisher [Megaceryle alcyon].Chute de l'Ohio, 1808 July 15. Pastel, graphite, and ink on paper ; 22 x 41 cm.  MS Am 21 (50) Houghton Library, Harvard University. Larger image available.

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