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Indiana Historical Society to auction Audubon sets

December 18, 2013

Sale of two non-Indiana treasures to fund acquisition and storage of Hoosier archives for decades to come

Indianapolis—Today, with unanimous consent of its Collections Committee, Executive Committee and Board of Trustees, the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) has decided it will put its complete sets of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America up for auction by Sotheby’s in April 2014.

The volumes were purchased by IHS decades ago, when its collecting mission was broader than today’s laser focus on the Hoosier state. The price was modest: $4,000 in 1933 for The Birds of America and $900 in 1951 for the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. In today’s market, IHS conservatively expects for the sale of the two sets to bring a minimum of $3.3 million.

“While these sets are rare and valuable, they were acquired when the Indiana Historical Society’s mission was broader, more eclectic and not as focused on Indiana-related history as it is today,” said Indiana Historical Society President and CEO John Herbst.

IHS’s actions are in keeping with best practices for collecting institutions and are being taken from a position of financial strength. Proceeds from the sale will be used exclusively to fund acquisition of more Indiana-specific collections, and to build out enough archival storage space at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick History Center in Indianapolis to meet the organization’s needs for active collecting over the next 30 years.

Audubon’s Birds of America series was sold by subscription, with small sets issued every one to two months from 1827 to 1838. Its 435 hand-painted plates depict America’s native birds. Audubon developed a subsequent series featuring America’s four-legged creatures, Viviparous Quadrupeds, which was published between 1845 and 1854 in three volumes with 150 vivid color stone lithographic plates.

In addition to more archive space, proceeds from the Audubon sets will help fund a new collections stewardship endowment. Interest from the fund will be used to support acquisition of Indiana items that might otherwise slip away from the state, such as the Civil War letter from a Hoosier soldier with the 28th United States Colored Troops regiment that was sold at auction last March.

“We continually see Indiana-specific items on the market that we’d like to have, but for which we need additional archive space and acquisition funds,” Herbst said. “This decision by our Collections Committee and Board helps us focus more and better preserve what we have, as well as acquire additional Indiana-related material.”

Since 1830, the Indiana Historical Society has been Indiana’s Storyteller, connecting people to the past by collecting, preserving, interpreting and sharing the state’s history. A private, nonprofit membership organization, the Indiana Historical Society maintains the nation’s premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest.

In addition to maintaining its archival collections, the Indiana Historical Society presents a unique set of visitor exhibitions called the Indiana Experience. It also provides support and assistance to local museums and historical groups, publishes books and periodicals; sponsors teacher workshops; and provides youth, adult and family programming. The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, home of the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana Experience, is located at 450 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis. For more information, call (317) 232-1882 or visit


For more information, images and/or interviews, please contact Amy Lamb, IHS Media Relations Manager, at (317) 232-1878 or

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