North (and South) to the Poles from Aquila Books
Polar Exploration from Aquila Books.
By Michael Stillman
Aquila Books of Calgary has issued its second catalogue of the year, Catalogue 208. Aquila specializes in books and ephemera relating to the Polar Regions or other territories so far north or south that few of us who are neither polar bears nor penguins could survive. Nonetheless, many intrepid humans have ventured to explore these barren lands, even in the era when such journeys were not even remotely safe or comfortable. Many of these brave souls never returned. We can only wonder at the courage and sense of adventure they possessed, and perhaps question their sanity. Whatever their motivation, they have left us with adventures to relive from the warmth and safety of our homes. Here are a few of their amazing tales.
Item 14 is the all-time classic polar horror story: The Worst Journey in the World. Antarctic 1910-1913, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. It wasn't that nice. Cherry-Garrard writes, "Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised." Cleanest because you never change your clothes, but still don't get dirty. Cherry-Garrard was an assistant zoologist on the Robert Scott expedition to the South Pole. Scott hoped to be the first to reach the pole, but when he arrived in January of 1912, he discovered that Roald Amundsen had beat him by a few weeks. It got much worse from there, as terrible blizzard conditions prevented Scott and his three companions from returning to base camp. They died in the ice and snow. Cherry-Garrard was one of those who found their bodies. However, the author had his own terrible personal adventure as he and two others set out on a side trip to observe emperor penguins. He was the only one of those three to make it back alive. Offered is a first edition, published in 1922, of what Aquila notes has been described as "the best polar book ever written." Priced at $7,500.
Item 77 is a promotional piece with a polar connection: Gabardine In Peace and War. This circa 1911 publication promoted gabardine, a fabric created by Burberrys for outdoor use. One of the chapters features testimonials from some of the great polar explorers, Scott, Shackleton and Nansen. Of course, as previously noted, Scott froze to death, which probably wouldn't be too helpful for sales, but perhaps he wasn't wearing his gabardine underwear at the time. $100.
The man who beat Scott to the South Pole, Roald Amundsen, went on a speaking tour to share his discoveries. Item 3 is a small broadside promoting his stop in Toronto, likely from 1913. It is headed Massey Hall the Greatest Lecture Since the Days of Henry M. Stanley. Capt. Roald Amundsen Illustrated Lecture "How I Discovered the South Pole." Seats ranged from $.50 to $1. $125.
Some of the best early descriptions of Greenland come from the Moravian orders who went there to mission to the natives. Why the Moravians were so intent on Greenland is unclear. Perhaps all of the more temperate lands had been taken by the larger religions. Whatever the reason, David Crantz of The Brethren's Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel Among the Heathen produced the two-volume work The History of Greenland, Containing a Description of the Country, and Its Inhabitants: And Particularly, a Relation of the Mission... Item 17 is a first English edition, published in 1767. $1,750.
North (and South) to the Poles from Aquila Books
The Worst Journey in the World truly was the worst journey in the world.
Item 5 is A Personal Narrative of the Discovery of the North-West Passage... This book was written by Alexander Armstrong, surgeon on board HMS Investigator during the expedition headed by Robert M'Clure (or McClure). M'Clure headed one of the many expeditions to find the missing Sir John Franklin, and while he didn't find Franklin, he did find a Northwest Passage, at least in a manner of speaking. M'Clure, who entered the Arctic Sea from the Pacific side, spotted what many consider to be the connecting passageway to the Atlantic. However, M'Clure's ship was trapped in the ice and had to be abandoned. The crew was forced to hike across the ice of M'Clure Strait to two other ships, which in turn had to be abandoned to the ice. Eventually, they all hiked to another boat that was able to bring them home to England. Considering that their passageway was impassible, some people instead give credit for the discovery of the Northwest Passage to Roald Amundsen, who completed the journey from one ocean to the other, albeit after a few winters frozen in place. However, recent global warming has melted much of the permanent ice in this area and M'Clure's passageway may yet become navigable to shipping. Offered is a first edition of Armstrong's book from 1857. $4,000.
Aquila Books may be reached at 403-282-5832 or Aquila@Aquilabooks.com. The wesbite is www.aquilabooks.com.