Pl. # 121 Arctic Fox (Vulpes Lagopus, Linn. (Linnaeus)). Winter & Summer Pelage. Original hand-colored stone lithograph by JT Bowen after painting by John Woodhouse Audubon. 1 of 300. Philadelphia, 1847. Very good+ condition. Good original color, full margins. Imperial Folio (22 x 28 inches).

The imperial folio of Vivaparous Quadrapeds of North America was the greatest illustrated natural history work to be produced in America during the nineteenth century. It was Audubon’s last work before his death in 1851. The hand-colored stone lithographs represent the work of not only John James Audubon, but also John Bachman (whose name also appears on the title page), John Bowen (lithographer) and Audubon’s sons, John Woodhouse, who helped illustrate the animals and is given credit for those entirely his own in the legends, and Victor, who painted most of the backgrounds yet did not receive credit in the legends as was customary at the time.

The original hand-colored stone lithographs measure approximately 22” x 28”. Legends read “Drawn from Nature by J. J. Audubon, F. R. S. F. L. S.” on the bottom left or “Drawn from Nature by J. W. Audubon.” The lower right legend reads “Lith. Printed & Sold by J. T. Bowen, Phila.” The folio contains no text, however a royal octavo size volume of text which also includes six color plates of nine additional species, was published as an accompaniment to the folio.

Subscribers received their plates in 30 parts of 5 plates each, totaling 150 plates, which were most commonly bound by the owners in three volumes.

Making The Prints
The prints were produced by America’s greatest lithographer, J. T. Bowen of Philadelphia. The drawings by Audubon were left with Bowen. The images were carefully copied by skilled artisans with grease pencil onto Bavarian limestone. Once complete, the stone was doused with water and then squeegeed with a special printers ink. The ink took to the grease pencil drawn lines but did not take to the wet stone.

Next, a large sheet of heavy rag paper, previously dampened, was laid over the stone and was crushed onto the surface in a large press. The paper, with the reverse transferred image was dried and sent out to the colorists for completion.

It was a painstaking process that required tremendous skill. It is suspected that less than 300 entire sets were ever completed. The stones were probably stored for a period and eventually reused for another publication. No one knows how many surviving prints exist.