Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2013 Issue

The Polar Regions from Aquila Books


A winter catalogue of wintery places.

Aquila Books has issued their Catalogue 113 Winter 2013. An Aquila catalogue is perfect for winter as they focus on lands where winter never ends. “Specializing in books and ephemera related to all aspects of the polar regions” is their motto. Sometimes the books may shift to somewhat milder regions, like northern Canada, but they are never far from ice and snow. Despite the brutal conditions, these far northern and southern reaches of the globe have long fascinated us, and drawn explorers for centuries. How they undertook these explorations in an era when you could get stuck in the ice for years, and the ability to protect oneself from the cold was limited, remains a mystery, but a testimony to the sheer willpower of explorers. Here are a few of their stories.

Item 6 is one of the most important of works regarding Antarctica: Sydpolen Den Norske Sydpolsfaerd Med Fram 1910-1912. Even those not fluent in Norwegian will notice the word “South Pole” in there. This is a first edition of Roald Amundsen's account of the first journey to reach the South Pole. Amundsen had hoped to be the first to reach the North Pole, but after Peary claimed to have reached that goal, he quickly turned his eyes south. He found himself in competition with the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, but Amundsen beat him to the punch, and to the pole. He arrived at the earth's southernmost point on December 14, 1911. This copy has been inscribed by Amundsen to Christian Doxrud, the last captain of his ship, the Fram. Priced at $8,500.

You can learn even more about Amundsen in his autobiography, My Life As an Explorer. This is a first edition, published in 1927. While most known for being the first to reach the South Pole, Amundsen was involved in many other expeditions to the far north and south, including an attempt to locate a northwest passage, and the first flight over the North Pole. Item 3. $125.

Here is what Amundsen didn't find when he reached the South Pole. Item 22 is Revi-Lona a Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land, an 1879 novel by Frank Cowan. It is the story of a man from Pennsylvania who travels to the South Pole, where he discovers the place is ruled by a race of large and beautiful women. Men do as they are told. In 1879, for all we knew, this might be true, but when Amundsen finally reached the pole and found nothing but ice, this theory was put to rest. Hopefully, he was not too disappointed. $500.

Fridtjof Nansen attempted to be the first to reach the North Pole, but didn't quite make it. Nonetheless, his attempt qualified at the time for his book's title: Farthest North. Nansen's plan was to take his ship, the Fram (the same one that delivered Amundsen to Antarctica almost two decades later), all the way to the North Pole. He thought he could get stuck in the flowing ice, which he believed would take him right over the pole. It didn't quite work out that way, and after many months of floating, he realized it wouldn't work. Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen set off on foot for the pole, and while they could not make it all the way to their destination, they did travel farther north than anyone had before. Offered is a first U.S. edition (1897) of Nansen's account. Item 57. $1,250.

Item 43 is a chilling tale: A Thousand Days in the Arctic, by Frederick Jackson. It is an account of the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition to Franz Josef Land (1894-1897). They believed that Franz Josef Land extended all the way to the North Pole, which they discovered was not even close to being accurate. Nonetheless, they used the journey to make all sorts of observations about the land, weather, plant and animal life, etc. However, what is most notable about their journey is that one day, two men with long hair and beards showed up at their camp, far removed from the outer reaches of civilization. It was Nansen and Johansen. It must have been utter astonishment to both Nansen and Jackson when they first spotted each other in the middle of nowhere. It had been 15 months since Nansen and Andersen had left the Fram on foot for the North Pole, the last time they had seen anyone else. They had no idea anyone was on Franz Josef Land as they made their way back. In the midst of grave risk and struggle, suddenly and miraculously, they had stumbled across the only other humans anywhere close to them, an amazingly fortunate sighting they could easily have missed. They were saved. $1,400.

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