Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - June - 2009 Issue

The Laurence Urdang Collection of Maritime Books from the Ten Pound Island Book Co.

Tenpound183

Maritime books from Laurence Urdang's collection.


By Michael Stillman

This month we have received our first catalogue from the Ten Pound Island Book Company of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The title could not be more appropriate for Gloucester: Maritime List 183. The Laurence Urdang Collection. Technology, Terminology and Folkways of the Sea. Gloucester is known as America's first port. Its connection to the sea goes back almost four centuries, with it being a home for seafarers, shipbuilding, and most notably, fishing. It is home base for Gorton's of Gloucester seafood and port of departure for the ill-fated Andrea Gail of The Perfect Storm. It is the perfect home for a specialist in maritime books.

This collection consists of 222 books related to the sea, though it might seem a bit unfocused for the typical maritime collection. The apparent wide focus is explained by the collector's purpose. Laurence Urdang was a lexicographer, not a fisherman. He undoubtedly felt more at home dissecting words than fish. He is noted for being the managing editor for the 1966 Random House dictionary, the first to be compiled with the aid of a computer. It ran to over 2,000 pages and 260,000 terms. He also wrote many specialty dictionaries, both serious and whimsical, including ones on slang, confusable words, synonyms and antonyms, medical and nursing. The explanation for this collection is that, at the time he died, Urdang was working on a nautical dictionary. He had gathered this extensive collection (and there is yet another Urdang catalogue to come) to write his dictionary. This must be a testament to his determination and focus, as Mr. Urdang was 81 years old when he died. Ten Pound Island notes that it is not known how close he came to completing the project, though he did leave a substantial number of computer files. Mr. Urdang could hardly be described as a man of few words, but here are a few to describe some of the many nautical works in his collection.

If you would like to build your own ship, and learn how to sail it, here is a useful guide: A Treatise on Ship-Building and Navigation. The author was Mungo Murray and this is the second edition, published in 1765. The second edition was expanded from the first by adding a translation of a supplement from a French writer. This book has been described as the most comprehensive work on naval architecture in English prior to the end of the 18th century. Item 163. $2,000.

Item 12 is an account of a terrible voyage with a happy ending, at least for the Captain. Most of his men did not fare so well. This is a first edition of George Anson's A Voyage Round the World... published in 1748. Anson set out for South America in 1740 with a flotilla of six ships, the purpose to harass Spanish shipping, or to put it less politely, legalized piracy. It is not easy to make it around the Horn. All but one of the ships were either wrecked or forced to return. Most of his men died, primarily from disease, though others from shipwrecks. Some underwent terrible hardships after making their way to land and being captured by Spaniards who would not have appreciated their mission. Nonetheless, Anson, with his one remaining ship, pushed on. He rounded the Horn and headed back home via the Pacific. On his way, he captured a Spanish vessel, which proved to be loaded with treasure. Anson made it back home, and with his treasure in hand, became a wealthy man. $3,500.

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