INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
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
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.