Travels and Other Books from Librairie Thomas-Scheler
By Michael Stillman
Librairie Thomas-Scheler recently published a List of the Books Exhibited at the recent California Antiquarian Book Fair. These are certainly works of importance, as one does not bring books all the way from Paris to San Francisco if they are not significant. Thomas-Scheler offers mostly books that more than qualify for the label "antiquarian," including some items of incunabula. As expected of very early items, most are European in origin. However, Americana collectors are not ignored as they offer books of early European Americana. Following are a few of the books that recently made the journey to the New World.
Captain Cook made the trip to America's west coast a couple of centuries before the Clavreuils of Librairie Thomas-Scheler. It was considerably more difficult and time-consuming in those days, though at least dinner in San Francisco was not yet so pricey. Unfortunately, Cook was killed by locals in Hawaii on his way back, unlikely to be the fate of current visitors to the fair who stop at those islands on their return. Item 45 is the very rare first French edition of Heinrich Zimmerman's account of Cook's third and final voyage. This book gave the world an advance look at this trip as it was published in 1782, prior to the official account. Zimmerman served on the lower deck of the Discovery, but was sufficiently literate to keep a shorthand account of what he saw. His account, which first appeared a year earlier in his native German, preceded the official account by three years. It includes descriptions of Pacific Indian tribes and an eyewitness account of the death of Cook. The title, in French, is Dernier voyage du Capitaine Cook autour du Monde... Priced at $20,000.
There was a French trip to California even earlier, though it did not make it as far north as San Francisco. Jean-Baptiste Chappe D'Auteroche led a French expedition to the Pacific to view the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769. This was the same transit that Cook set out for the Pacific to view on his first voyage. This voyage made it to Baja California just in time to achieve its goal, only to have illness hit the crew a few days later, taking many lives, including that of its leader. The book is Voyage en Californie pour l'observation du passage de Venus...published in 1772. Item 9. $12,000.
Of course, the French were active in North America long before this. They were the first to explore much of Canada and the Louisiana Territory in the 17th century. Less well known is their even earlier attempt to settle Florida. In 1564, with the support of the French King, Rene Laudonniere led three ships of French Protestants, not particularly welcome in France, on a voyage to settle Florida. It was a classic example of everything that can go wrong going wrong. It started out auspiciously. The settlers were welcomed by natives, and set up a fort and settlement.