Voyages: A Catalogue from Australia
By Michael Stillman
Once in awhile, a catalogue comes along that deserves to be a collectible itself, and certainly at least a coffee table book (although you should be sure to read this one first). The latest offering from Hordern House, entitled “Voyages,” is just such a catalogue. With 108 pages to describe 158 items, this is not only a work of art in itself, but a most informative catalogue as well. Descriptions are thorough, covering both the book and the history behind its subject matter, and each one comes with an image from the book.
Hordern House is an Australian bookseller, but this doesn’t mean European and American collectors should stop reading now. To the contrary, “Voyages” is filled with narratives of early travels to the Pacific, almost all of which began in Europe and many of which visited the Americas. Anyone with an interest in the early voyages that “discovered” the world will appreciate this catalogue.
As might be expected from an Australian shop, the largest number of items relate to the voyages of Captain James Cook. Cook undertook three voyages on behalf of the British crown between 1768 and 1776. His first voyage was partly for astronomical observation but also to locate the presumed but unproven existence of a southern continent. He found New Zealand and claimed the eastern coast of New Holland (now known as “Australia”) for Great Britain. Shortly after his return, Cook set out on his second voyage, this to find that elusive southern continent. Twice Cook penetrated the Antarctic Circle but huge ice flows prevented him from ever confirming the existence of Antarctica. On his third voyage, Cook set out to discover the Northwest Passage, but unlike most explorers, he approached from the Pacific side. First discovering the Hawaiian Islands, Cook proceeded to the coast of North America, sailing from what is now Oregon up to Alaska, eventually concluding there was no navigable passage. The explorers returned to Hawaii, but relations between the visitors and natives were strained, and a dispute led to Cook being stabbed to death by hostile Hawaiians.
Items 30-57 of the Hordern House catalogue pertain to Captain Cook. For example, item 30 is the complete 8-volume official set of Cook’s three voyages. Published separately in 1773, 1777, and 1785, the first under writer John Hawkesworth’s name, the second by just Cook, and the third by Cook and James King, the set includes 219 engraved maps and plates. Priced in Austalian dollars at AU$62,500, or using an exchange rate estimate of AU$100 equaling US$70.55, a U.S. dollar equivalent of US$44,094.