The Americas from Helen Kahn Rare Books
The Americas from Helen Kahn.
By Michael Stillman
Helen R. Kahn and Associates Rare Books have issued their 68th catalogue of The Americas. This one is spectacular. It is filled with travel books, many of which I never knew existed. If you are interested in explorations, primarily in North America, but a few to the south, you need this catalogue. Being a Canadian bookseller, there are a few more journeys to the frozen far north than to southern plantations, but there is plenty of material pertaining to travels on both sides of the 49th parallel. Still, I can't help but wonder why so many people felt compelled to spend years surveying the God-forsaken cold of the Arctic. What were they hoping to find there? So many succeeded in finding little but their own mortality in the bitterly cold expanses of ice, but their adventures are riveting and make most interesting reading from the comfort of our well-heated homes.
Many of the books tie together the not always easy relationship between North America's two large nations. In the early days, the split was more between the British and French empires, much of the continent belonging to France until the end of the French and Indian War. With the American Revolution, the division became the U.S.-Canadian border, and there are numerous books concerning those skirmishes, which were for the most part resolved after the War of 1812. There are also numerous books on the Indians, frequently referred to as "savages" by those who savagely stole their land, and, of course, the requisite "Indian captivities." Here are a few of the titles within this fascinating, thoroughly described catalogue of the Americas.
Alexander Mackenzie traveled through the wilderness of Canada to the Arctic Circle in 1789. Much of the trip followed the river today known as the Mackenzie, which flows north from cold to colder. However, his trip four years later was even more significant. A dozen years before Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie was the first to cross North America by land north of Mexico. Following a series of rivers as well as overland and over mountain trails, he made it down the Bella Coola River to an inlet from the Pacific. He painted his name and date - July 22, 1793 - on a rock ("Mackenzie's Rock") to show where he arrived. While Mackenzie was an explorer, his travels were financed by the North West Company, looking to break into the fur trade dominated by the Hudson's Bay Company. Item 69 is an 1801 first edition of his Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans, in the Years 1789 and 1793.... Priced at $7,000 (all prices in U.S. dollars).
Item 3 is an important piece concerning the Louisiana Purchase, Histoire de la Lousiane et la Cession de cette Colonie... (History of Louisiana and the cession of that colony by France to the United States). It was written by Francois Barbe-Marbois, who helped negotiate the treaty for France. One point that the author makes clear is that French claims for the territory ended at the 110th meridian. This runs roughly along the Rocky Mountains. The map in this book contradicts claims the United States would later make in its territorial disputes with Great Britain, that it purchased the rights to the Oregon Territory, which is west of the 110th meridian, when it purchased Louisiana. $1,500.
The Americas from Helen Kahn Rare Books
Sebastian Cabot, the explorer.
Here is a unique book recounting the discovery of America by...Sebastian Cabot! The book is, The Remarkable Life, Adventures and Discoveries of Sebastian Cabot, of Bristol, the Founder of Great Britain's Maritime Power, Discoverer of America, and its First Colonizer. Author J.F. Nicholls might have made a more convincing case if he had picked an earlier date than 1494 for Cabot's discovery of America; say...1491. You may be wondering how the burly British actor of "Family Affair" discovered America, but we can assure you this was a different Sebastian Cabot. Not a lot is known about this one, but evidently his father, John, journeyed east from England and discovered Newfoundland, probably in 1497. Sebastian may or may not have accompanied him on that journey. John died in 1498, but Sebastian later recalled traveling east in 1496, but after his father's death, trying to find a short cut to India. Evidently, Sebastian was either confused or loose with the truth. Perhaps what one of these Cabots did find was that the North American continent continued far north from what Columbus had discovered, and Sebastian may have been the first to attempt the centuries' long obsession of finding a northwest passage. Then again, he and Nicholls may have had more glorious imaginations than anything supported by reality. Nicholls' book was published in 1869. $400. An interesting later note is that some believe that Cabot's expedition was partly financed by Bristol merchant Richard Amerik, and that America was thereby named for him, not Amerigo Vespucci.
Isaac Weld was also an American explorer, but of a very different sort. He had no ships or crew, though for awhile he had a canoe. Weld came to America from Ireland in 1795, apparently to determine whether this would be a suitable place to live should the need ever arise. For the next two years, he wandered around the United States and Canada, both the populated seaboard communities and the lonesome hinterlands. He traveled on horseback, on foot, and by canoe. Through much of the backwoods he relied on friendly Indians (and for Indians to be friendly) as guides. When he returned to Ireland in 1797, he wrote the book Travels through the States of North America, and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, during the Years 1795, 1796 and 1797. Item 127 is an inscribed copy of Weld's second edition from 1799. Evidently, Weld never returned to the States though he lived a long life. $900.
Item 27 is the rare A Particular Account of the Taking of Cape Breton from the French...the 17th of June 1745, by Philip Durell. France had built a fortress at Louisbourg on Isle Royale, as Cape Breton, an island off Nova Scotia, was then known. It was an important source of trade with New France, as much of North America was then called. However, the French and British were seemingly always at war in those days, and in 1745, the fort fell to the British. This book is an account from the victors' side. Cape Breton would be returned to the French, but was recaptured for good in 1758 during the French and Indian War. $32,000.
You may find Helen R. Kahn Rare Books online at www.hrkahnbooks.com or reach them at 514-844-5344.