Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - August - 2003 Issue

2000: The Future has Arrived

Night

People are transferred from a crippled airship to another.


By Mike Stillman

It’s a cold winter’s night in London, December 14, 2000, when the author boards “Postal Packet 162.” 162 will be flying the overnight mail run from London to Quebec this frigid evening. The sky is mostly cloudy but calm over England, but they hit heavy turbulence over the North Atlantic. No problem. The experienced crew handles it with ease and the flight arrives a few minutes early to its destination in Quebec.

This is, of course, a flight of fantasy. There is no “Postal Packet 162.” The author had been dead for 64 years by the time of this imaginary flight. There are few things that can stir the imagination quite like a prediction of what the world will look like many years into the future. There are few things quite as entertaining as looking back at someone’s predictions once that date has arrived. The 2000 “flight” of Packet 162 is not a contemporary story, but one that was published in 1909. 2000 didn’t quite turn out this way.

The author is the well-known Rudyard Kipling. More famous for works such as the Jungle Book, Kipling also dabbled in science fiction. This lesser-known work is entitled With the Night Mail (subtitled A Story of 2000 A.D.), and it was printed in 1909. Even this date is deceiving. It was originally published as a magazine article in 1905. In other words, at the time Kipling was penning his prediction of future air travel, the Wright Brothers’ first flight was barely a year old. No wonder the future of air travel was as cloudy to Kipling as the skies over London on that imaginary night in the year 2000.

Kipling doesn’t get a lot right. His vision of high-speed air travel is correct, but he’s very wide off the mark on the details. In 1905, dirigibles were already being taken seriously, while planes were still measuring the length of their journeys in feet. Kipling bets on the dirigible. Postal Packet 162 is a dirigible, albeit one with a modern power system not even Kipling understands. There are airplanes in Kipling’s 2000, and the battle between them and the dirigible goes on, but this is a David vs. Goliath contest that Goliath, the dirigible, is handling with ease. As one of the imaginary advertisements that appear in this book explains, “It is now nearly a century since the Plane was to supersede the Dirigible for all purposes.” Instead, the ad proclaims, none of the world’s freight is carried by plane, and less than 2% of its passengers travel that way. Kipling did not foresee the “Hindenburg.” Dirigible travel would die 28 years later in that field in New Jersey. Today, dirigibles, and their cousin the blimp, are mostly confined to promoting their sponsors as they hover over football stadiums in the fall. It’s only because they are so unusual that we even bother to look.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
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    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
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    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
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    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
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