Audubon's Tufted Duck

John James Audubon (1785-1851). Pattern Print for Tufted Duck. Fuligula Rufitorques. 1834. Engraved, printed, and colored by Robert Havell Jr. (1793-1878). Graphic Arts collection GAX Audubon case.

Thanks to the “Adopt-a-book” benefit sponsored by the Friends of the Princeton University Library this spring, and specifically to the donations given by Ruta Smithson in honor of Andrew Smithson and by Ursus Books, one of our Audubon prints has been conserved and rehoused by Special Collections Paper Conservator Theodore Stanley.

Plate 234 Tufted Duck (common name Ring-Necked Duck). Fuligula Rufitorques was drawn in watercolors by John James Audubon (1785-1851) and then, engraved, printed, and colored by Robert Havell, Jr. (1793-1878), completed in 1834. For a view of the editioned print in the copy of Birds of America at the University of Pittsburgh see:

In 1827, Audubon approached Robert Havell, Sr. (1769-1832) to take-over the engraving of his watercolors for The Birds of America. His original printer, Edinburgh engraver W.H. Lizars dropped out of the project after his staff went on strike. Havell Sr. was joined by his son, Robert Havell, Jr. (1793-1878), who engraved the plates while his father supervised the printing and coloring. Health problems led to Havell Sr.’s retirement in 1828 and his death four years later, leaving the majority of the work to his son. Havell Jr. finished the final print in 1838 and the first edition of the book is often called the Havell Edition.

One of Audubon’s biggest complaints with Lizars’ first plates was the variation in the hand coloring between impressions. Havell solved this by creating a working proof or pattern print for each plate. Audubon marked up the trial proofs until one satisfied him and this was used by the colorists as a guide. In a modern edition, the artist’s approved print is known as the bon à tirer (BAT), which in French means good to print. Note Havell’s initials, added in ink on the center title, presumably to indicate his approval.

Howard C. Rice wrote in the catalog for a 1959 Audubon exhibit at Princeton University:

This is one of the so-called ‘Pattern Prints’ used by the workers in Havell’s studio to guide them in the coloring. Since two hundred or more impressions of each plate had to be hand-colored, it was necessary to establish a standard pattern for the workers to follow in order to maintain uniformity in the coloring … It is said that the margins of such pattern prints were often trimmed irregularly or otherwise mutilated, as a security measure, to prevent them from being stolen from the studio or surreptitiously sold.