Museum's first book for iPad, Birds of America, is launched

18 September 2011

The Natural History Museum's first book for the iPad, the 19th-century masterpiece The Birds of America by John James Audubon, is launched today.

Book cover for The Birds of America eBook

Book cover for The Birds of America eBook

The Birds of America is one of the most valuable natural history books ever published

The huge 1-metre-tall book beautifully illustrates American birds in their natural habitats through 435 hand-painted plates

To make the new eBook, each plate had to be separated and digitally photographed. The whole process took 3 months and the eBook is now available for the iPad on iTunes.

eBook Treasures

Developed with Armadillo Systems, it forms part of the eBook Treasures collection, created in partnership with the British Library and other museums across the UK.

Exceptional artwork

It took John Audubon over 30 years to fully complete The Birds of America. The illustrations are of the highest artistic quality and were exceptional in that they portrayed the birds life-size, in natural positions and in their native habitats. 

A world record at auction

The Birds of America is one of the best known and most valuable natural history books ever published. A complete set sold at auction in December 2010 for £7.3 million, which is the world record for a book.

A complete set is classed as one book because of the unique way it was created, as Colin Ziegler, Museum Head of Publishing and Image Resources explains. 'The plates were issued in sets of 5 over a period of 11 years and in total there were 435. 

'In most cases these were then bound into books and the most common was 4 volumes, each containing slightly more than 100 plates.'  

It is thought that less than 200 complete sets were produced. Only 119 of these are known to survive today. The Museum looks after 2 editions.

Buy the eBook
Pink flamingo artwork from Audubon's The Birds of America

Pink flamingo artwork from Audubon's The Birds of America

The Birds of America book is available to download in the UK and Europe from the Apple iBookstore in iTunes. Introductory prices are £9.99 for the complete edition featuring all 435 plates, and £3.99 for the highlights edition (85 plates).

'This is a great way of making one of the Museum’s most treasured possessions more accessible, complementing the physical edition we are publishing later in the year,' says Ziegler.

'The colours come out even better than I’d hoped on the iPad, really capturing the vibrancy of the original plates.'

Printed Birds of America edition in October

In October 2011 the Museum will be launching a resized printed edition. Bound in linen and stunningly presented in a special slipcase, it will also have an introduction by world-renowned bird artist and author, David Allen Sibley.

Museum art collection

The Museum's Library looks after one of the most exciting and comprehensive collections of natural history literature and artworks anywhere in the world. 

It holds half a million artworks, making it one of Britain’s biggest collections of art, and represents all the great natural history artists. There are also over 1 million books, including some richly illustrated volumes of great historical significance.

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