Who would have thought that a picture book of birds would sell for $10 million. But "Birds of America" by John James Audubon, made in 1827, was just sold in auction to an anonymous collector, bidding by telephone. The new owner is now revealed to be an art dealer.
It contains 435 hand-coloured illustrations of birds, drawn to size, and is now the world's most expensive published book.
The book is big; you certainly get your money's worth. The engravings measure more than 3 feet by 3 feet each because Audubon wanted to paint the birds life-sized. The "Birds of America" plates were printed in black and white and then hand-coloured by famous artists at that time. He spent eleven years working on it.
The book has become a history of birds from that period. Now many of them are extinct, such as the passenger pigeon which until the mid-19th century migrated across the U.S. in flocks of up to two million.
Only 119 copies of the book exist, most in public collections.
John James Audubon was one of America's early naturalists. He travelled throughout the American wilderness, mainly the central and eastern United States, and painted almost 500 of the 700 North American species. He observed and catalogued and painted the birds in their natural habitat. Controversially now, he did this by shooting the birds, propping them up and painting them on the spot.
He discovered 25 species of birds and is considered to be the father of ornithology. Audubon invented a method of banding birds' legs by tying yarn to them, to see if they returned to the same nest each year.