PHILADELPHIAIn 1824, three years before he began to publish his famous "double elephant folio" The Birds of America, John James Audubon (1785-1851), the eminent artist of American birds and animals, created a drawing of a running grouse for use in the design for a New Jersey bank note. Although the artist mentions the drawing and the resulting engraved paper money in two separate diary entries, no one has ever been able to locate or identify such an illustration.
Now, after a decade-long search by an Audubon scholar from Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences and a numismatic historian from St. Louis, Audubon's first published illustration of a bird has been discovered.
In a forthcoming article in the Journal of the Early Republic, Robert M. Peck, curator of art and artifacts and senior fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the article's lead author, and Eric Newman, an authority on American money, reveal their discovery and explain how Audubon's fledgling entry into the visual world of commerce took place. The find is important not only for solving the puzzle of the missing engraving, but also because it illustrates Audubon's development as an artist of American subjects. It also provides a rare, contemporary view of the Heath Hen, a subspecies of running grouse that has become extinct since Audubon portrayed the bird in the early 19th century.
The search for the missing engraving
In 1955, Audubon biographer Alice Ford began a decade-long search for the lost engraving in both the U.S. and Great Britain, but without success. In 1960, William H. Dillistin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a noted numismatic scholar, made his own systematic search for the Audubon bank note. Dillistin was no more successful than Ford.
Several of Audubon's more recent biographers also have searched in vain for the bank note Audubon mentioned. Unable to find the evidence of Audubon's claim, some scholars h
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The Academy of Natural Sciences