A Winter Catalogue from Sotheran's
By Michael Stillman
Sotheran's, the British bookseller now almost 250 years old, has released a brand new catalogue, A Winter Miscellany 2009/2010. Over the years, Sotheran's has undoubtedly sold just about every type of book, so we should not be surprised by the wide range of material offered. There are books several centuries old, others published in the year just completed. You will find science, travel, art, architecture, politics, exploration, medicine, literature, sports, music, etc., etc., all with numerous children's books interspersed among the 600 items offered. Though Sotheran's is British based, there are many American books here, even biographies for children of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. This is an outstanding catalogue, including thorough descriptions and color photographs of most items. Here are just a few.
Item 362 is one which reveals the other side of Isaac Newton, the occultist and religious inquirer rather than the scientific master for which he is remembered. Newton was fascinated by antiquities, believing there was much to be learned from them, though perhaps not in a way we would see as science today. Offered is a 1728 first edition (published the year after he died) of The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms. In it, Newton attempts to use astronomical observations to create a chronology of the ancient world up to the time of the early Greeks. He also devotes a chapter to the Temple of Solomon whose design he believed had particular meaning. However, in trying to establish his beliefs he created a timeline that has not held up to scrutiny as well as his scientific theories. Priced at £1,798 (British pounds, or roughly $2,874 in U.S. dollars).
Item 291 is an account of a journey that finally laid to rest one of the most baffling geographical questions for Europeans. In a reverse of the normal order, European explorers found the source of the Niger River, about 150 miles inland from the west coast of Africa, early on, but could not figure out where it terminated. Most believed it emptied into some inland lake, or connected up with the Nile. The reason for the befuddlement is that the Niger, from its headwaters, travels northeast for a thousand miles, into the Sahara desert, an area not yet explored by Europeans. However, it then makes a sharp right turn, and eventually exits the continent far to the east of its headwaters, in a marshy delta, and having made a 180 degree turn, now travels in a southwesterly direction. Offered is a copy of Journal of an Expedition to Explore the Course and Termination of the Niger; with a Narrative of a Voyage down that River to its Termination, by Richard and John Lander. The Lander brothers endured great hardships, including robbery, imprisonment, and almost death to complete the arduous journey that answered the longstanding question. They were awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Gold Medal for their accomplishment. £795 (US $1,271).
Now for a far less serious, though surprising in its own way book: Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Sky-High. This rodent tale was published in London in 1937. It tells of Mickey's adventures in airplanes, gliders, and other aeronautical devices. What is surprising about this Disney book is it was never issued in the United States. American fans of the mouse may be unaware of this one. Item 160. £298 (US $477).