Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia says the drawing of a running grouse was originally used in a private bank’s own currency.
Researchers at the Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia have found the first commercial illustration ever drawn by John James Audubon, the famous ornithologist. Audubon’s engraving of a running grouse was only mentioned in his diary, but never seen until now. The birdwatcher’s holy grail was discovered through banking records.
If you think banking regulations are bad now, in the early 19th century banks literally printed their own money. An estimated 10,000 different banknotes circulated, each with it’s own design. Audubon’s grouse was used by a bank in Trenton, New Jersey, which went out of business. All its bills were burned to deter counterfeiters.
The bill is extinct, so is the grouse. But proofing sheets used by the printers still exist, which is what Robert Peck discovered while working with a money historian. Peck says Audubon may not have been cut out for the banknote business.
Although showing off his prowess as an ornithologist and artist, a running grouse is not an image that a banker wants to put on his bank notes to instill confidence in his clients. Here is a skitterish bird running away, and what the bankers wanted to project was that their bills were good for the long haul.
The drawing is signature Audubon. The choice of the lowly grouse and its running posture reflects his unique knowledge of birds in the field.