Travels and Voyages from the William Reese Company

- by Michael Stillman


Travels and Voyages from the William Reese Company

Catalogue number 301 from the William Reese Company invites us to participate in Travels & Voyages. These will not be rapid trips. There are no airplanes to rush you across the sea. Most crossed the ocean on ships powered by sails. When the travelers arrived, they were generally not welcomed by the local tourist bureau. With but a few exceptions, these are travels that occurred in the first half of the 19th century or earlier, occasionally much earlier. They were challenging, difficult, sometimes awful. Somehow, our ancestors persevered, setting up the age of rapid travel we now enjoy. Here are some samples of what used to be.

Item 18 is one of the rarest voyage accounts to the Northwest coast of America, though the four-year journey covered a much wider range of the Pacific Basin. William Broughton had served under George Vancouver during his earlier voyage, but returned in command of a ship himself in A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean... performed in His Majesty's sloop Providence, and her tender, in the years 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, published in 1804. His travels involved surveying vast areas, from the coast of Asia and Japan to Australia, Hawaii, and the northwest coast of America. Of particular note, he sailed part of the way up the Columbia River, and it was his visit that formed the basis of Britain's claim to the Oregon Territory. This would not be resolved with America until 1846 as part of settling the U.S.-Canadian border. Priced at $35,000.

Broughton's journey is recent history compared to the next one. Antonio Pigafetta sailed around the world in the early 16th century. If his name is not well known, the name of the Captain he served as an assistant certainly is – Magellan. Actually, contrary to legend, Magellan was not among the first to circumnavigate the globe, but Pigafetta was. Pigafetta was not typical of the crew of around 240 that manned Magellan's ships. He was a Venetian scholar, come along to study the new lands. As such, he kept one of only two accounts of the journey of 1519-1522. This was not an easy trip, and by the time they reached the Philippines, they were down to around 150 men. They then became involved in some native wars, many more dying. Among them was Magellan, explaining why he did not personally circumnavigate the globe. Various other problems, including leaky boats and starvation, resulted in most of the rest of the men not completing the journey. When the lone surviving ship limped home, there were only 18 men left, one of them being Pigafetta. A limited portion of his account was published contemporaneously, but it was not until 1800 that the first edition of his full account was printed. Item 122 is such a first edition, Primo Viaggio Intorno al Globo Terracqueo... $12,500.

This was certainly a voyage of discovery, though not in the typical sense: Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, Between the Years 1826 and 1836... published in four volumes in 1839. The work was edited by Robert Fitzroy, who commanded both of the two voyages. The first trip from 1826-1830 visited Patagonia, while the second returned to South America but also completed a circumnavigation. While the entire account is an interesting history, it is the second voyage on the Beagle, and the third volume of this set that created the greatest interest. That volume was written by the naturalist on the second voyage, Charles Darwin. Darwin studied the wildlife and fossil records, being particularly intrigued by similarities, yet differences between the wildlife on the mainland and outer islands. He didn't quite understand what it all meant at the time, but later on it would all come together, and that was the real discovery this mission – evolution. Item 52. $47,500.

Item 45 is an unsigned manuscript circa 1904 describing a trip to the Philippines by the indefatigable “Libby” Custer. Elizabeth Custer was the widow of famed Indian fighter General George Armstrong Custer. He lost his final battle at Little Big Horn in 1876. One imagines that if Libby had been there, the Indians wouldn't have dared to touch her man. She was loyal beyond all calling. She devoted the remainder of her life, over 50 years, to rebuilding her husband's reputation, seriously damaged by the freelancing that didn't work out so well in his last fight. She was such a vociferous and compelling advocate that she was able to rehabilitate that reputation, at least during her lifetime. She wrote three books about her husband and hit the lecture circuit. Her work was so well received that she ended up making a substantial income, and was able to travel the world and live well, something not achieved while chasing her husband around the plains. Through it all, Mrs. Custer remained steadfastly loyal, never remarrying, never forgetting her mission of promoting her husband's legacy. In this document, she laments the loss of life in the Spanish American War and in attaining possession of the Philippines, and goes on to describe life on the islands and in the American barracks. $4,500.