AASLH Member Since 2010

Audubon dealer makes discovery upon visiting nationally acclaimed exhibition

HistoryMiami is excited to announce a rare discovery that was made during its nationally acclaimed exhibition, The Complete Audubon: The Birds of America, which is currently on view.  An Audubon and natural history prints dealer from Alexandria, Virginia, discovered that the museum’s signed edition of the Ornithological Biography was a personal gift from John James Audubon to Dr. John Argyle Robertson of Scotland. The book, which is personally inscribed by Audubon and signed by his wife, Lucy, has been part of the HistoryMiami collection since 1984, but has not been on display since 1988.

“It is very rare to see a volume of Ornithological Biography signed by John James Audubon or another family member; it is even more remarkable to see one signed by both John James Audubon and his wife Lucy,” said Leslie Kostrich, who made the discovery and documented her visit to the museum on her blog.

This discovery helps further piece together the history of this particular copy. It is now known that the book was gift from John James and his wife after the doctor treated Lucy when she fell ill while the couple was in Scotland, completing the writing and printing of Ornithological Biography. The book eventually made its way to South Florida and was part of the rare book collection owned by businessman, art collector, and philanthropist Charles Deering.

“We really weren’t expecting this story. While we knew it was autographed, we didn’t know the story behind the autograph or who Dr. Robertson was or how he came to know the Audubons,” said Rebecca Smith, head of special collections at HistoryMiami, who curated The Complete Audubon: The Birds of America. “I had wondered over the years why Lucy and John James had signed this and it’s neat to know that it’s more than just a fan seeking an audience; it was a gift for good medical work.”

Although the museum does not have documentation as to how the book passed from Dr. Robertson to Deering, it is known that Deering avidly collected rare books and was also a bird watcher, so this was a natural fit for him. When the Deering family sold the estate to Dade Country in 1984, HisortyMiami (then the Historical Museum of Southern Florida) received several items; one being the signed, five-volume set of the Ornithological Biography,  published in Edinburgh from 1831 to 1839; two volumes of which are now on display.

“This is very exciting for us,” said President / Chief Executive Officer of HistoryMiami, Stuart Chase. “A good exhibition usually involves some discovery about the collection, and our staff always gets excited when this happens.”

The nationally acclaimed exhibition, The Complete Audubon: The Birds of America, is currently showing at HistoryMiami through May 31, 2015.

For more information on Kostrich and this discovery, please visit http://minniesland.com.

About HistoryMiami

HistoryMiami, a Smithsonian affiliate, is the premier cultural institution committed to gathering, organizing, preserving and celebrating Miami’s history as the unique crossroads of the Americas. We accomplish this through education, collections, research, exhibitions, publications and city tours.

HistoryMiami is open Monday through Saturday 10 – 5 p.m. and Sunday 12 – 5 p.m. General museum admission is free for HistoryMiami members and children under 6. Admission for adults is $8, seniors and students are $7, and children 6 – 12 years old are $5.