INDIANAPOLIS – Two sets of rare artwork by John James Audubon that spent decades in the Indiana Historical Society’s collection sold at auction Tuesday for more than $3.7 million.
John A. Herbst, the historical society’s president and CEO, said he was nervous when bidding started low at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. But then the bids started going higher on the two sets, which the Indianapolis-based society had purchased for $4,900 several decades ago.
After about 30 minutes, the volumes had sold for $3.77 million, exceeding Sotheby’s $3.2 million original estimate. After fees, the Indianapolis-based society will pocket $3.2 million.
“It’s a great day,” Herbst told The Indianapolis Star.
He said the society will use the auction’s proceeds to buy more “Indiana-specific” collections and add space for their storage at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick History Center in Indianapolis.
The society had owned “The Birds of America” for 81 years. That set features 435 hand-painted plates of eagles, owls, great blue herons and other birds that were initially sold by subscription. Those images were bound together in a four-volume set.
The $3.525 million winning bid for “The Birds” was a record for an online purchase in a live Sotheby’s auction, said Amy Lamb, a spokeswoman for the historical society. It was also the biggest return the historical society has ever received for an item it put up for sale.
The other set of images, “Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America,” had been part of the group’s collection for 63 years. It is a three-volume collection of 150 vivid color stone lithographed images of squirrels and raccoons, otters and buffalo and other four-legged creatures.
The new owners of the items weren’t identified by Sotheby’s, but Herbst said the buyer of “The Birds” was a husband and wife with the means to do the restoration needed for that set, which Sotheby’s had described as “a very good set, somewhat heedlessly handled prior to acquisition” by the historical society.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star.