Archives for category: Book manufacturing

Here’s a trip down memory lane for anyone who made their living Xacto knife in hand. The London Review of Books describe this as the “lost art” of paste-up. But I insist it’s not lost as long as it lives in my muscle memory. This sort of correction making was so satisfying — for reprint corrections we’d do it on a set of unbound sheets which I’d always insist we retained for every book we printed, for exactly this reason — so we could cheaply cut in corrections on a reprint. I’d put the tape on the back using it to adhere the bits of type to. I always thought tape over the top would darken up the image below it and make the corrected lines stand proud. (Of course I could suggest that we book people had to maintain a higher standard! But would that be too contentious? Maybe it’s just that the printers used by academic presses could be relied on to be more careful with fragile copy.)

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. This LRB paste-up video comes from Open Culture via Shelf Awareness for Readers.

I guess I always loved this part of the job because variety is what I always craved. You’re sitting there figuring out whether it’s going to be 10/12 Bembo x 26 picas or maybe 11/13 Ehrhardt x 27 picas, then suddenly you’re trying to get the printer to drop their price by a couple of hundred dollars so you can make your budget, and then you’re putting together a jacket design, now bitching at the editor that the ms is late, next a schedule needs tightening, then the total physical bliss-out of cutting in a few lines of corrections just as we see in this video. Variety: spice.

Anyone who likes this blog will love Emma Smith’s Portable Magic: The History of Books and their Readers, Allen Lane, 2022; to be published in USA by Knopf in November with an appalling cover design.

Readers of this blog will find that almost all the subjects touched on in Dr Smith’s book have already been covered here, so they’ll be welcoming familiar tropes. I approached Portable Magic with considerable enthusiasm, assuming I’d find myriad topics to expand upon in this blog. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that not only were almost all the topics touched on by Dr Smith subjects which had already been discussed in Making Book, but Dr Smith had in fact covered them all in greater detail, at greater length, and much more skillfully than I had. If two people talk about the physical side of the book business inevitably they will end up talking about the same thing sooner or later.

As the author herself puts it “Portable Magic is an alternative, sometimes sideways, history of the book in human hands”. The title apparently originates from a memoir by Stephen King where he refers to the book as “a uniquely portable magic”. She adds, perhaps a bit contentiously, “And a book’s magic always inheres in its form, including that portability, as much as in its content”. She is not however in any way an enemy of ebooks and audiobooks.

The book has no illustrations; something which I regretted at several junctures.

Nevertheless I recommend the book unreservedly — it might turn out to be the sort of book which you will dip into from time to time, reading a chapter here and a chapter there. This disconnected connectedness is ultimately what appeals to me in the blog form. There’s no logical development required to take us from pixels to libraries, from book sales to paper supply; every day’s a fresh slate depending on little more than personal preference, even whim. Dr Smith’s book bounces about with a similar elan.

The word pixel is a contraction of “picture element”. Apparently it replaced the earlier “pel”, perhaps understandably. It describes the way a picture is rendered on your computer screen — with enough magnification you’d see the dots — without it you’re looking at a picture made up of lots of tiny invisible separate bits. I always think of pixels as the work of pixies who have magically brought me this picture over the ether. The system is analogous to, but different from, the halftone dot process we use in printing to achieve the same effect.

The size of each dot is defined by the resolution setting of your screen. Whatis will give you the details. Aeon‘s story, (sent by Jeremy Mynott) gives you the science behind pixels, and tells us that pixels are really just a point with no dimension: not a dot, not a little box, just a location defined by computer code. What we see are in fact pixel spreaders in action, perhaps a distinction which the non-specialist can disregard though!

However tempting the analogies, we have to keep in mind that computer (and LED television) screens and halftone screens are different. Computer screens use additive color while printing on paper uses subtractive color: a computer screen with no colors will be black: a sheet of paper with no color is white. (Knowledge of this distinction, I always feel, should help in remembering which is subtractive and which additive, but I can’t say that I find that it really does.) Computer screens form their pixels from RGB colors (red, green, blue), while printed color images employ dots of CMYK, (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to render the scene. In a halftone CMYK image each dot is just one of the four colors: their combination creates the illusion of a colored original. On the computer screen each pixel contains a defined amount of red, green and blue, creating the color in itself, and with its neighbor providing the shading and color variation in the image.

The dots on a printed page should not be referred to as pixels, nor now we are more familiar with them do we spend as much time worrying about them as we used to. Dots per inch (DPI) is a term we used to bandy about. Dots per inch sounds like it’s telling you something. The knowledge never seemed to do us much good though when it came to looking at typesetting output. It’s really just a measure of the fineness of the screen* on a halftone.


* At the most basic level the word screen is being used differently when we talk about computers and televisions as opposed to books or other printed images. A screen used to create a halftone for printing can be thought of as something like a metal sieve, or the wire mesh screens you have on your windows to keep out bugs. Hold this up in front of a picture and take a photograph through it and it’ll appear as a series of little separate dots. Using color filters you can get one for only yellow bits, one for only red, one for only blue, and one for black. Slightly rotating each one you can create the illusion of a color picture.

Less book paper is being made — capacity reduction in free sheet, represents mainly capacity gain in packaging grades which are easier to make and thus more profitable. (Yet, chaotically, printers have difficulty sourcing cartons too.)

But even if, paper having been made, you can find it and buy it, it’s still hard to find a truck to get it where you might use it. “Last date for change” used to be a consideration: it really no longer really exists — the last date on which you can now change your quantity is the day you place your order, or even before, because you’re probably ordering what your supplier has told you you can have.

These graphics come from the recent New York Book Forum discussion “The Paper Pause”. Matt Baehr of BMI moderates a panel of Dirk Hiler from Lakeside Book, Meg Reid from Hub City Press, Jane Searle from W. W. Norton, and PRH paper buyer David Hammond.

If you don’t see a video here, please click of the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. The video takes a while to get going so you may want to drag along a couple of minutes to miss out of the generic “music” which fills the start.

I’m always a believer in the market’s ability to self correct. If there’s a shortage of x, the price of x will rise till such time as businesses that can provide x will flood the market in order to capture the surplus profit swilling about. That’s no doubt how it works, but it takes years to change direction for a business as capital intensive as paper making. Adding capacity takes time (and money) — as the Mr Baehr tells us “To greenfield a new paper millI today would take five years and $2 billion” so even if someone thought that the book paper market was worth going after, it wouldn’t help for a while. Doubtless truckers will rally to the flag before that as wages rise and the need to get out of the house becomes salient — the American Trucking Association’s chart just seems to me a far from disinterested forecast. But of course prices will rise.

Maybe we will have to be content with a world in which there is only one or two different book papers. A large publishing house today may use a thousand different papers: different shades, different finishes, different ppi counts, different roll sizes and so on. Rationalization and standardization is a-coming: I’ve expatiated before on the silliness of insisting of trim size variations of ⅛” here and ⅛” there. The supply chain will enforce such self-discipline.

And of course it’s not just books. Here is Printing Impressions showing us that the same difficulties face commercial printers where price increases tell the story. In another piece they point out a classic antidote to supply problems: pay your bills on time. How many publishers have failed to pull that arrow out of the quiver? Nobody want to discuss it, but you know that for years publishers who payed their bills late always had difficulty getting decent schedules: why not go further and offer earlier payment as an incentive for better schedules?

Freightwaves assures us that supply chains are never going to return to normal. (Link via Technology • Innovation • Publishing.) Well of course they are right — yesterday’s normal can never be tomorrow’s too; change is constant and unavoidable. They do allow however that with all the labor and logistics problems automation will ultimately ride to the rescue. Can we expect to see goods being whisked along conveyor belts running beside our rail and highways?

In 1581 Francisco Sanchez (c.1550–1623) estimated in Quod nihil scitur that it would take ten million years to read all the books in the world. Maybe a speed-reading course might knock a couple of tens of thousands of years off that — who’d know? Obviously since then things have just gotten worse. Wondering when was the last moment at which someone might have been able in a normal lifetime to read every book in the world is probably less interesting than wondering at what point it might have been worth anyone’s while to try. Surely anyone who has read more than a couple of books will be aware that lots of them aren’t worth opening.

In 2010, when they cared, Google told us there were 129,864,880 books in the world. Hernando Colon (1488–1539), Christopher Columbus’ second son conceived the ambition to read all the books in existence at the time — clearly a number well south of 130 million or even 1581’s more modest total. He amassed a huge library (he must have been rather well off) and set to. Only 3,000 books from the Biblioteca Hernandina survive, and nobody seems sure just how many books he did actually manage to consume, summarize, and index. His biographer, Edward Wilson-Lee tells us, “It simply became impossible for one man to read everything. Maybe in his youth, it would have been possible — there would have been few enough printed books. But as his library grew, he realised he needed to employ readers to work through each book and provide him with a summary – in effect the forerunner of the Reader’s Digest.” Dr Wilson-Lee would seem to have been giving Mr Colon a running start by restricting his reading to printed books only, but he seems overly optimistic even in that restricted category. Almost every early book, printed or not, has failed to survive. The earliest dated book is The Diamond Sutra, dated to 868 CE. The first firmly dated book printed from movable type, Jikji, comes from Korea and dates to 1377, but we know that they were using movable types in China two or three hundred years earlier. There’s just no measuring in a hazy category like this.

JikjiSelected Teachings of Buddhist Sages and Seon Masters, the earliest known book printed with movable type, 1377. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

What keeps jumping out at me in all this is that Gutenberg’s innovation was less a technical one than a business one. He didn’t “invent printing”; he didn’t even “invent” moveable type, though there’s no evidence that he picked up the idea from Chinese and Korean precursors, so he probably did come up with the idea himself. His working in the gold-smithing and wine trades could be seen as having prepared his mind. But what he really did invent was the mass-market book business.

As if supply chain problems weren’t enough, Sheridan Press succumbed in early April to a computer malware attack which pretty much paralyzed their operations, taking a hefty chunk out of the already reduced industry-wide capacity for the manufacture of short-to-moderate run books.

Here’s Publishers Weekly telling us that Sheridan has recovered from the attack. Pretty much — the cynic might interject. Sheridan’s spokesperson is quoted as saying “most of our systems are up and running, with just a few adjustments still in process.” Maybe. But disruption continues. Even when the trouble has been cured there’s the problem of working through four weeks’ worth of lost production. During the disarray their communication with customers sort of broke down: they were taking the line more or less of “We can’t tell you anything. Please be sorry for us”. They seemed unable to report on just where a job might be in the production process. Plated: who knows? Printed? you must be joking! Made me reflect that BC (before computers) we were nonetheless able to schedule jobs. People had huge boards often with stick-on letters, often with a piece of chalk, and the discipline to update these information hubs every day. Seems Sheridan schedulers couldn’t even walk out into one of their operating plants and ask what was happening. They sought sympathy by alluding to the case of a “large customer” with lots of jobs in production — when the customer finally insisted on a status report it took a week to generate! If that’s how they were treating big customers, just imagine the shrift afforded to the sprats.

Still, given the way the world of book supply is these days, nobody can afford to bitch at any supplier, no matter how badly you may have been treated. The boot is on the upstream foot — for now!

Roger Tory Peterson masterminded a revolution in bird-watching by producing a series of field guides with clear, easy-to-use illustrations printed in accurate color with a consistent orientation of his subjects.

Now of course there had been excellent books of color illustrations of birds before Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, written with Guy Mountfort and P. A. D. Hollom. But like John James Audubon’s they tended to be huge, expensive, and definitely non-portable: the sort of thing men who’d go out and shoot their bird in order to identify it might use. (Audubon himself would work from dead birds he had shot — he once claimed that it was a bad day if he didn’t get at least 100!)

My copy of the British Peterson guide, which I got while I was at still at school, probably in 1956 or 1957, is showing its age, though the damage is pretty much restricted to the jacket, which miraculously survives. The binding, of bright blue linen cloth is still tight, though, as you can see below, the front endpaper has split down the spine fold.

Paradoxically the jacket scarcely fits the book — in the top photo see the type on the back flap almost rolling over onto the back panel. After so many printings this cannot be because the publisher just measured wrong: it has to mean that for this printing a bulkier sheet had to be used. Probably the paper used on the previous printings became unavailable at the last minute, and the nearest substitute was grabbed at.

As you can see the book was printed by Collins, the British publisher, at their own works, doubtless in Glasgow. Unusually, but justifiably in this case, the company who engraved the halftone blocks is credited. Gilchrist Bros., founded in 1893, continues trading in Leeds, now under the name Sun Strategy.

You can see a video about engraving blocks at Engraving a halftone block. I assume that “reproductions” here refers to the line illustrations, including maps as well as the halftones. In a letterpress job you had to have a block (a cut) made for every picture you wanted to print, which would then have to be fitted in with the type. There had to be some raised image for the ink to be carried on.

The color plates are indeed plates, printed separately on different (coated) paper and combined with the black and white text pages in the bindery/folding department. Given its age, unsurprisingly, the book is smyth sewn. The book is 352 pages long, xxxiv of front matter plus 318 text, and has an additional 64 pages of plates, 42 of them in color. It is bound in eleven 32-page sections each of which (after the first and last) is made up of smaller units around which a four-pager of plates is wrapped. These smaller sections are inserted into their neighboring section, resulting in the plates being distributed evenly throughout the book, each separated by 4, 8, or 16 pages of text. Clever book make-up requiring a clear mind in planning, as facing every plate we find its detailed description of it printed on text paper. More modern books in the stable don’t go in for this elaboration — they just print a chunk of the book on coated paper, binding it all together, leaving you to flick back or forward to the related text pages which end up further away from the color plates than in my early edition. Hand work like that clever inserting plan now costs so much more than it used to that we have devised means of avoiding any such elaboration at every turn. The trim size is 4½” x 7¼” — small enough I guess to fit in a pocket, though I have never carried my copy into the wild. The book cost 25 shillings, £1¼.

Roger Tory Peterson ultimately became a sort of mini-franchise, with guides to all sorts of things, trees, butterflies, and so on, plus of course regional bird guides Eastern USA, Western USA, Mexican Birds, just to name ones I own. In the USA these are published by Houghton Mifflin. Peterson was born in Jamestown, New York in 1908 and studied briefly at The Art Students League on 57th Street in Manhattan, before transferring to the more traditional National Academy of Design in the same building. While he was teaching at River’s School in Brookline, Mass. in the early 1920s he decided to create an illustrated guide to birds of the eastern United States. Publishers turned down the obviously too-expensive book till in 1934 the first edition of A Field Guide to the Birds was published by Houghton Mifflin, who printed 2,000 copies. By now of course they have sold millions. Peterson’s “system” was to show all the birds in a similar pose, with emphasis on key identification features indicated by arrows.

Back in the eighties I was an observer in the production of a two-volume Easton Press edition of Mr Peterson’s American bird paintings in their original size, The Field Guide Art of Roger Tory Peterson — I just happened to be there at the right time. These leather-bound books are huge, 11″ x 17″,* printed by John D. Lucas, Baltimore, on S. D. Warren’s 100# Lustro Dull with color separations by Red Rose Graphics of Lancaster, PA, and bound in Nashville at the Nicholstone Bindery where they’ve added fancy moiré endsheets. Here Mr Peterson’s paintings are presented as art, not as an identification tool.

He describes his “conversion experience” which occurred on 8 April 1920: “It was one of the first warm days of spring, when my friend Carl Hammerstrom, who lived up the street, and I crossed the railway tracks and climbed Swede Hill to explore new terrain south of town. As we entered a wood lot on the crest of the hill near the reservoir, I spotted a bundle of brown feathers clinging to the trunk of a tree. It was a flicker, probably exhausted from migration. The bird was sleeping, with its face buried in the fluffed feathers of its scapulars, but I thought it was dead. Gingerly, I touched it on the back. Instantly, this inert thing jerked its head around, looked at me with wild eyes, then exploded in a flash of golden wings and fled into the woods. What had appeared to be dead was very much alive. Ever since, birds have seemed to me the most vivid expression of life.”


* Audubon’s original paintings were somewhat larger than Peterson’s and were executed on double elephant paper the largest sheet available at 40″ x 27″. They were principally executed in water color but Audubon employed other media such as pencil, pastel and ink. They were definitely not all posed in the same position as an aid to identification as were Peterson’s. English engraver Robert Havell Jr. printed them on the same double elephant size sheet — they measure 29½” x 39½”: probably they got a little trim on all four sides. Printing by a combination of aquatint and etching, was of the outlines only. The colors were added by hand: at one time Havell had fifty men and women working on the job. The prints were offered for sale loose as folios of prints

Mr & Mrs Godine (book designer Sara Eisenman) at home. Photo: Tony Luong for The New York Times

In explanation of the joys of embarking on printing and publishing in the sixties and seventies of the last century, David Godine is quoted in a nice New York Times article as saying “This was right after Sputnik and for some reason the government thought the way to pull us even with the Russians was to give the libraries a lot of money. So we could publish anything, even the worst poetry in the world, and still sell 500 copies.” (Quite sure Godine never published anything approaching “the worst poetry in the world”.)

This demand for books was a world-wide phenomenon, not just a US-Russian scare item. World War II was incredibly efficient at destroying libraries and books, and as soon as the rubble had been cleared away people began to look for reading material. Quite abstruse academic monographs could for a while sell in impressive quantities to libraries around the world. Magically technology has kept pace with business changes and has enabled us economically to print fewer and fewer books in lockstep with the gradual overfilling of our library shelves.

David Godine was always a maker of good books. He started out as a letterpress printer and always kept the physical qualities of his publications at the front of his mind. I always used to shout that it was no more expensive to make a handsome book than an ugly one, but this of course is a claim in need of some hedging. Obviously better materials are likely to be more expensive than cheaper, and giving the page more air by reducing line count and measure will lead to a longer book with more pages to print, but where I worked we had minimum standards which, measured against the world’s standards, were pretty luxurious, so to some extent the battle cry was justifiable. And when you are printing just 1,500 of a book how much more can something extra really amount to?

The occasion for the Times‘ piece is the publication of Godine at Fifty “an illustrated album or catalog of some 300 of his favorite books, the ones he is proudest of or most enjoyed publishing”. What fun it must have been to write this book, revisiting all your proudest moments and most satisfying aesthetic achievements.

The publishers, whose name is changing with this book from David R. Godine to Godine, describe the book thus: “As publishing history, Godine at Fifty presents a record of an era that began in 1970 as the reign of hot metal type that had endured for almost 500 years was coming to an end, when retailers were mostly brick-and-mortar stores, when small publishers thrived, when library purchases were primarily books, and when correspondence was carried on through letters and the telephone. It was an industry that had not substantially changed for a century.” Sounds embarrassingly like the basso continuo of this blog. David Godine just did so much more to stem the floods of change than I ever managed. Congratulations.

I thank Dan Early for the NY Times link, which I fear you’ll find behind a paywall.

Here is Publishers Weekly‘s March 15 story by Jim Milliot.

It is not even spring yet, but the expected printing crunch already appears to be in full swing. A lack of both workers and paper continues to hamstring printers, and a number of independent publishers have already reported finding it extremely difficult—if not next to impossible—to find printing time as far ahead as July and October. 

To help all parts of the book business’s supply chain get a better handle on what is going on in in the printing world, the Book Manufacturers’ Institute has begun a new monthly survey of its manufacturing members in order to assess capacity and lead times for softcover and hardcover books. The results of BMI’s first survey were released yesterday, and did indeed indicate that press availability is at a premium.

The survey is divided between printers of hardcover and softcover books, with responses finding that printing capacity is currently running at more than 80% for both formats. For the 17 hardcover printers, the average manufacturer was running at 85% of their capacity. (Capacity was defined as what you could manufacture today based on all variables.) The average lead time for completed hardcover books was 84 days. For soft cover books, capacity was at 89% and the average lead time 70 days, based on the 15 responses received by the BMI.

“Labor and paper are still the two biggest factors we are seeing in book manufacturing today,” BMI executive director Matt Baehr said in a statement.” Both can be very difficult to come by and that is affecting a large majority of our industry.” 

Casting yet more gloom, Printing Impressions passes on to us international concerns about printing paper supplies as expressed by the World Print and Communications Forum. Demand for print in general is recovering, but supply problems put constraints on the industry’s ability to take advantage.

Given that book sales are going so well despite all these supply-chain problems, I begin to wonder whether it’s really such an awful problem after all. If a publisher can’t get their latest book printed by July, they reschedule publication to October. If they can’t get a reprint of one of their books, then orders will accumulate, or prospective buyers will move on to some other book. It’s not like people are turning up at bookshops and finding bare shelves — there are lots of books. And as everyone kind of knows and understands about the disruptions caused by the pandemic I think there’s a great deal of patience out there in the form of a willingness to wait until this or that book finally becomes available again. The real inconvenience is to the publishing companies: they now have to work harder than they’ve had to do for forty or fifty years or so to wrest books out of printing plants. Welcome, you youngsters, to the way it was in the dim and distant. Assumptions, schedules and systems need rejigging. Annoying perhaps, but far from fatal.

One might have expected that supply-chain delays would have lead to a switch-over to ebooks, but this doesn’t seem to have been happening. Will we, the book-buying public, eventually get fed up of waiting and give up on the print book? For myself, I’m betting the problems will be over before many people make that jump.

John James Audubon was born in Haiti on 26 April 1785, illegitimate son of a French sea captain and his chambermaid. His mother having died, his father took him with him back to France where his loyal wife brought up the boy as her own. In 1803, probably to dodge conscription in Napoleon’s army, Jean Jacques shipped out to an estate of his father’s near Philadelphia. He married and set up as a trader in Kentucky, achieving bankruptcy in 1819, whereupon he was put in jail. After his release he made a precarious living as a portrait painter and teacher.

Birds were among the subjects he painted and a small showing of them in Cincinnati in 1820 was well received. Later that year he embarked on a flatboat as a working passenger with his drawing materials, his gun, a flute, the clothes he was wearing, and a letter of recommendation from Henry Clay. Audubon had met Alexander Wilson, author of American Ornithology, and believed he could do better, though he could not but recognize that Wilson knew a lot more about birds than he did. The boat took him to New Orleans which became his headquarters for the next six years. His living was made painting portraits, teaching art, music, dance, and fencing, with help from his wife who joined him in the south fourteen months after his arrival. All the time he was painting birds, and as this picture from one of his notebooks shows, kept studying ornithology.

Some insight into his working methods may be gained by his statement “The many foreshortenings unavoidable in groups like these, have been rendered attainable by means of squares of equal dimensions affixed both on my paper and immediately behind the subjects before me. . . . I have never drawn from a stuffed specimen . . . nature must be seen first alive, and well studied before attempts are made at representing it.” He did in fact end up having to use a few stuffed models or skins only. Working from dead models presented its own problems — he had to work fast before the color of the eyes and feet faded. In the spring of 1821 he had difficulty getting his image of the great white heron to come alive on the paper. “By the time he was finished the bird was putrefying, but braving the nauseating stench, Audubon opened the bird’s carcass to determine the bird’s sex and its eating habits.” Apparently either from hunger or curiosity he ate a large number of the birds he pictured, testifying that “starlings were delicate eating” while flickers he complained tasted too much of the ants they fed upon. Perish the thought, but how would you know what ants taste like?

Overall Audubon worked principally in water color, but he employed other media such as pencil, pastel and ink. Most of his earliest surviving work is in pencil and pastel color. He drew on the largest sheet available, double elephant, 40″ x 30″ and it was at this size that he commissioned reproductions from English engraver Robert Havell Jr. Havell printed the paintings on the same double elephant size sheet — they measure 29½” x 39½” (no doubt they got a little trim on all four sides, though standard sizing was probably a bit more variable back then). Printing, by a combination of aquatint and etching, was of the outlines only: the colors were added by hand. At one time Havell had fifty men and women working on the coloring of the job. The prints were offered for sale loose as folios of prints, and this I suspect is what explains the habit of referring to the paper size as “double elephant folio”. Folio, in the book paper context, implies there was one fold, which would have resulted in book with an untrimmed page size of 20″ x 30″. But of course books containing bound-up selections of Audubon’s prints are twice that size. They must have incorporated the prints by tipping them onto stubs bound in place.

Audubon worked hard at developing the business represented by the selling of prints of his paintings. The creation of The Birds of America is said to have cost $2 million at today’s values, and selling subscriptions was a never-ending process. Apart from business and birding he managed to write enough to fill a 900-page volume in the Library of America’s edition.

Towards the end of his life he was helped by his son John Woodhouse Audubon, to create a smaller format edition of The Birds of America. The art was allegedly copied by his son with the aid of a camera lucida for lithographic reproduction— presumably we are talking here of projecting the images onto litho stones and drawing them there. I may be guilty of inadequate imagination here, but to me this seems to suggest that the images would end up reversed unless they were printed by offset lithography— but allegedly offsetting wasn’t discovered till the early twentieth century. Were mirrors involved? Must be so.

He died in 1851 at his estate overlooking the Hudson, about twenty blocks south of where I sit. He’s buried in the cemetery on his estate’s southern boundary. The area is referred to as Audubon Park Historic District. On the map below it’s located at the end of the label for Hispanic Society Museum and Library. A few blocks further north, on Broadway, can be found the Audubon Ballroom — well its facade and part of the interior anyway — site of Malcolm X’s assassination.

The Audubon Ballroom facade

In 1863 Audubon’s widow, Lucy Bakewell Audubon, sold to The New-York Historical Society her husband’s preparatory watercolors for The Birds of America (published serially in London between 1827 and 1838). The Society owns all 435 known preparatory watercolors. They also have a double-elephant edition of The Birds of America, as well as the octavo edition and his Ornithological Biography

Northern Manhattan is the center of the Audubon Mural Project, where all round the neighborhood bird paintings have sprung up on public walls and doorways.

And of course, perhaps the most appropriate memorial, The Audubon Society is named after him.

Though he was a shooter, Audubon would be happy that we are now able to look out from his estate and observe almost every day peregrines, red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks and bald eagles. These last, I like to think, have been coaxed back to the city by a program a decade or more ago whereby fledglings were raised in Inwood Hill Park at the very northern tip of Manhattan. The idea was that by growing up there they’d be more likely to come back to live (and breed) as adults. Seems to be working, though I don’t think we’ve gotten to breeding yet. I’ve observed a couple eating their lunch on an ice floe floating upstream just below my window. Bald eagle populations have recovered nationwide from close to extinction to about half a million, almost their assumed numbers at the time of the arrival of that scourge, the European.

Audubon’s bald eagle