Books from the Polar Regions from Aquila Books
Winter 2009 from Aquila Books.
By Michael Stillman
Aquila Books has offered their Catalogue 109, Winter 2009, specializing in books about places where the sun doesn't shine. Or, it shines all of the time. Take your pick. These are books about the polar regions, or at least places very close to those two ends of the earth. These are places with lots of ice and snow, endless cold weather, and truly amazing adventures. Whether it's trying to be the first to reach one of the poles, attempting to discover a Northwest Passage, or make your riches in Alaskan gold, these are adventures only for the hardiest among us. The rest of us should just read about them. Here is your opportunity.
Item 23 is Henry Ellis' account of one of the many unsuccessful attempts to discover that elusive Northwest Passage. Published in 1748, the title is A Voyage to Hudson's-Bay, by the Dobb's Galley and California, in the Years 1746 and 1747, for Discovering a Northwest Passage. In the 18th century, explorers were still hopeful of finding a route through Hudson Bay. Ellis, who worked for Arthur Dobbs, naturally failed to find such a passage, but he and Dobbs continued in a debate with Captain Middleton over its existence. Middleton, who made a similar voyage, correctly concluded there was no such route through Hudson Bay, but Dobbs and Ellis maintained hope despite their failure. Priced at $1,850.
It would take almost two more centuries before the passage was finally located, though it would hardly prove to be a practical shipping route. Roald Amundsen would lead an expedition in the first decade of the 20th century that would finally complete a route to the north of the Canadian mainland. Amundsen recounts his trip in The "North West Passage" Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship "Gjoa" 1903-1907... published in 1908. As the title implies, it took Amundsen four years to make it from end to end, having to winter over in the ice several times. This would not make for speedier trips to the East. Aquila tells us something I never knew about Amundsen's voyage: "...he had to leave Norway in the dead of night to avoid creditors, who wanted to seize his ship." Fortunately, his success here enabled Amundsen to mount his successful assault on the South Pole a few years later. Item 3. $1,100.
When Amundsen did set out for the South Pole, he was in a race to be the first with Robert Falcon Scott, who was leading his own expedition. Amundsen would win that race, and unlike Scott, live to tell about it. A few years before, Scott headed an earlier expedition to the Antarctic, with the more favorable outcome of his returning alive. Item 6 is Two Years in the Antarctic Being a Narrative of the British National Antarctic Expedition. This is a scarce narrative written by Scott's second-in-command, Albert Armitage, published in 1905. $2,500.
Books from the Polar Regions from Aquila Books
A sledge from Robert Falcon Scott's final Antarctic expedition converted into two bookcases.
Here is a most unusual bibliophilic object from the Antarctic, a "survivor" of Scott's expedition. Item 69 is a sledge from Scott's ill-fated journey, brought back by Charles S. Wright. Wright was a Canadian physicist who participated in the relief party. He was the first to spot the top of the tent in which Scott died. Wright brought back one of the sledges that had been used by Scott's party (though not one taken on his final successful, but fatal, assault on the Pole). He then cut the thing in half and turned it into a pair of bookcases! As you can see from the image (click the thumbnail image left), sledges, with the addition of a few shelves, make excellent bookcases. $15,000.
Item 21 is an archive of 20 documents from the Dominion Reindeer Company, dated from 1929-1931. This was a Vancouver, B.C., based company that maintained a herd of reindeer in Alaska. We aren't sure what they did with the reindeer, but whatever it was, they believed it to be a good business. One letter states, "The present crash of the New York Stock Exchange has not affected the price of Reindeer shares one penny..." Reindeer, Inc., may have survived the crash of 1929, but something else must have gotten them as I can find no other information about the company. $475.
This is one of those obscure, tragic stories, a son kept alive by his family through the publication of a book. Item 36 is Michael's Arctic Diary May-July 1957. Michael Holland was one of four people headed by glaciologist and author Borge Fristrup of Copenhagen University who went exploring in Greenland that year. Evidently, Holland and another slipped into a crevasse and died of exposure. His diary was published by the family in 1962. This copy includes a letter from an English bookseller containing a brief biography of Holland. $125.
Aquila Books may be reached at 403-282-5832 or Aquila@Aquilabooks.com. The wesbite is www.aquilabooks.com.