Audubon Masterpiece at NM Tech Made More User-Friendly, March 9, 2005

Audobon's Birds of America Caption: Facing pages in Audubon’s Birds of America (Audubon Society Baby Folio Edition) in the reading room at NM Tech’s Joseph R. Skeen Library depict the Sandhill Crane and the Whooping Crane in color plates measuring 8-1/2” x 13”. A concordance created for the library by the Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR provides additional information about the 435 color illustrations in the Birds of America.

by John Bertrand, Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR

SOCORRO, N.M., March 7, 2005 -- A pair of key references at New Mexico Tech’s Joseph R. Skeen Library for birders and naturalists have just become more user-friendly with a document donated by the Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR. The books are also stunning works of beauty for the general public.

Nearly two centuries ago, John J. Audubon published monumental book his Birds of America with 435 color plates of birds in life size -- arguably the most influential work from nature ever published. Tech’s Skeen Library has two editions of this work, the American Heritage and the Audubon Society Baby Elephant Folio editions. One features reproductions of Audubon’s original watercolor illustrations; the other reproduces the engraved color plates from the printed original edition. There are dramatic differences between the illustrations and accompanying information in the two editions, providing valuable historical insights into ornithological scholarship and the publication of this seminal work.

This week, Friends of the Bosque vice president Jon Morrison presented a Birds of America concordance created by Friends volunteer John Bertrand expressly for Tech’s library. The concordance cross-references all the birds illustrated in both editions, and the variant common and scientific names by which the birds are identified. By comparing corresponding illustrations, additions inserted by the engraver become evident.

The Joseph R. Skeen Library is one of a select group of libraries in the nation to have in its collection both the 1966 American Heritage and the 1990 Baby Elephant Folio edition. The Baby Elephant Folio is available for viewing in the library’s second floor reading room. The American Heritage edition, along with the concordance, may be requested from the archives for viewing in the library.

Color plates in the Baby Elephant Folio edition at Skeen Library, which weighs in at sixteen pounds, measure as large as 14” x 21”. [“Baby elephant folio” is a publishing term referring to a page size of 12” x 14-1/2”.] Audubon’s original Birds of America was printed as a “double elephant folio”, with sheets measuring 29-1/2” x 39-1/2”, the largest book format ever printed. By depicting tall birds with their necks bent as in feeding, Audubon was able to represent even the largest birds, such as the Sandhill Crane, in actual life size in the Double Elephant Folio format.