How do you tell if an Audubon print is an original?

Answered by Frank Schwing

To determine if an Audubon print is an original, there are several key factors to consider. Here, I will walk you through the process step by step, sharing my knowledge and expertise on this subject.

1. Paper: One of the first things to examine is the paper on which the print is made. Original Audubon prints were typically produced on a type of hand-made paper known as “J Whatman” paper, which was highly regarded for its quality. Look for a countermark on the paper, which usually reads “J Whatman/Turkey Mill” or simply “J Whatman” with a date following, ranging from 1825 to 1838. This countermark indicates that the print is likely an original.

2. Size: Original Audubon prints were produced in large folio size, measuring around 26.5 x 39.5 inches. Smaller versions, known as octavo prints, were also produced but are less common and generally less valuable. So, check the dimensions of the print to see if it matches the typical size of an original Audubon print.

3. Coloring: The coloring on an Audubon print can also provide clues about its authenticity. Original prints were typically hand-colored by skilled artists using watercolors, resulting in vibrant and detailed illustrations. Look for evidence of brushstrokes, subtle variations in color, and intricate detailing. If the coloring appears too uniform or mechanical, it may indicate a reproduction.

4. Plate Mark: Another characteristic to consider is the presence of a plate mark. Original Audubon prints were made using a copperplate engraving technique, leaving a slight indentation or plate mark around the image. This is a good indicator of authenticity, as reproductions often lack this feature.

5. Condition: The condition of the print can also provide insights into its authenticity. Original Audubon prints are now over a century old and may show signs of age, such as foxing (brown spots caused by mold), toning, or minor tears. These imperfections, when present, can actually enhance the value of the print as they demonstrate its age and originality. However, be cautious of prints in pristine condition, as they may be modern reproductions.

6. Provenance: The history and documentation of the print’s ownership, known as provenance, can add credibility to its authenticity. If there is a clear record of the print’s ownership and it can be traced back to a reputable source, it increases the likelihood of it being an original. Look for any accompanying paperwork, certificates, or previous sale records that can shed light on the print’s provenance.

7. Expert Opinion: When in doubt, seek the opinion of experts or appraisers specializing in Audubon prints. These professionals have extensive knowledge and experience in identifying original prints and can provide a more definitive assessment. They may examine the print in person, analyze the paper, coloring, and other characteristics, and compare it to known originals to make an accurate determination.

Remember, identifying an original Audubon print can be a complex process, requiring a combination of visual inspection, historical knowledge, and expert opinions. It is always recommended to consult with professionals or collectors who have expertise in Audubon prints to ensure an accurate assessment.

While I’ve provided a detailed guide, it is important to note that determining the authenticity of an Audubon print can sometimes be challenging, and there may be instances where further research or analysis is required.