What is a Part Number on an Audubon Print?

A guide to part numbers and plate numbers

David Oppenheimer
  • All original Audubon prints were issued by subscription.

  • A part number is different than a plate number.

    • Each group of prints issued was given a part number.

    • Each print in that group has an individual plate number.

  • Audubon Havell prints were issued 5 at a time (435 plates in 87 parts).

  • Audubon royal octavo prints were issued 5 at a time (500 plates in 100 parts).

  • Audubon Bien prints were issued 10 at a time on 7 sheets of paper (150 plates on 105 sheets in 15 parts).

Produced between 1827 and 1838, John James Audubon's Birds of America was originally sold by subscription for the princely substantial sum of $1,000 (roughly the cost of a large home in the early 1800's). If you had been one of the fortunate 186 original subscribers, you would have received your Audubon bird prints in groups of 5 called parts.  The complete Birds of America was 435 plates which were divided into 87 parts. These parts would be delivered to you periodically over the 11 years the Birds of America was in production. Of the 5 prints delivered to you in each part, you would receive 1 large plate, 1 medium-sized plate, and 3 small plates, all on double elephant folio sized paper (26 1/2" x 39 1/2").  After completing your set, it was common practice to bind you set into 4 large volumes.  Audubon intended this, and issued title sheets for each of the 4 volumes. Typically, the volumes were arranged like so:

  1. Volume 1: Plates 1 - 100

  2. Volume 2: Plates 101 - 200

  3. Volume 3: Plates 201 - 300

  4. Volume 4: plates 301 - 435

In fact, all of Audubon's works were sold by subscription.  Every print from the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, the royal octavo edition of the Birds of America, the Havell edition of Birds of America, and the Bien edition of Birds of America was issued in parts.  The part number is always the number at the top left corner of the print.  

Each Audubon print also has a plate number at the top right corner.  The plate number is different than the part number.  The plate number is the individual identification number a single Audubon print, while the part number signifies the group of plates that were issued together.

Example of John James Audubon Birds of America Havell & Lizars edition part 1
In an effort to impress his clientele for the Havell edition, Audubon paced out the largest, most impressive images from the Birds of America to ensure one was included with each part, thus the prints are not presented in phylogenetic order. 

  • Part 1

    • Plate 1, Wild Turkey, Male

    • Plate 2, Black-billed Cuckoo

    • Plate 3, Prothonotary Warbler

    • Plate 4, Purple Finch

    • Plate 5, Bonaparte Fly Catcher

John James Audubon Birds of America Havell & Lizars edition part 1
Plate 1, Wild Turkey, Male
Plate 2, Black-billed Cuckoo
Plate 3, Prothonotary Warbler
Plate 4, Purple Finch
Plate 5, Bonaparte Fly Catcher

Example of John James Audubon Birds of America royal octavo edition part 1
When Audubon released the miniature Birds of America in the royal octavo edition, the birds were re-arranged into phylogentic order, so genetically similar birds were presented together. In this example, we see Vultures and Buzzards.

  • Part 1

    • Plate 1Californian Turkey Vulture

    • Plate 2Red-headed Turkey Vulture

    • Plate 3Black Vulture or Carrion Crow

    • Plate 4Caracara Eagle

    • Plate 5, Harris's Buzzard

John James Audubon Birds of America royal octavo edition part 1
 Californian Turkey Vulture
Red-headed Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture or Carrion Crow
Caracara Eagle
Harris's Buzzard

Example of John James Audubon Birds of America Bien edition part 1
In the second double elephant folio printing of the Birds of America, the plate numbers from the royal octavo edition were retained, but the parts were rearranged again to present with 2 impressive large prints, 2 medium-sized prints, and 6 small prints, printed 2 plates per sheet.  Thus, the plate numbers do not follow in the Bien edition.

  • Part 1

    • 1-1, Plate 287, Wild Turkey, Male

    • 1-2, Plate 289, Virginian Partridge

    • 1-3, Plate 386, Dusky Duck

    • 1-4, Plate 221, Purple Grackle or Common Crow Blackbird

    • 1-5, Plate 195, Towhe Bunting

    • 1-6, Plate 189, Song Sparrow

    • 1-7, Plate 88, Children's Warbler

    • 1-8, Plate 74, Kentucky Warbler

    • 1-9, Plate 172, Seaside Finch

    • 1-10, Plate 159, Grass Finch or Bay-winged Bunting

John James Audubon Birds of America Bien edition part 1
 1-1, Pl 287, Wild Turkey
1-2, Pl 289, Virginian Partridge
1-3, Pl 386, Dusky Duck
1-4, Pl 221, Purple Grackle
1-5, Pl 195 Towhe Bunting 1-6, Pl 189, Song Sparrow
1-7, Pl 88, Children's Warbler 1-8, Pl 74, Kentucky Warbler
1-9, Pl 172, Seaside Finch 1-10, Pl 159, Grass Finch or Bay-winged Bunting