Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2019 Issue

Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach, A keen reader of travel books?

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Blackbeard and his book fragment.

Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach is one of the most iconic pirates ever. Knowing that fear was his best ally, he fed his own legend with many tricks like tying lit matches to his hat in order to frighten his enemies. A wicked man, for sure—but the perfect romantic character! He was eventually killed in North Carolina in 1718, and his life has inspired many historians and novelists. A recent discovery on the wreck of his legendary ship, the Queen Ann’s Revenge, seems to indicate that Blackbeard was not only living adventures at sea, but was also reading about others on board!

 

Edward Teach was a Bristol man born, but had sailed some time out of Jamaica, in privateers, in the late French war,” Daniel Defoe writes in A General History of the Pyrates (London, 1726). “Yet, tho’ he had often distinguished himself for his uncommon boldness and personal courage, he was never raised to any command till he went pyrating, which I think was at the later end of the year 1716 (...). After cleaning on the coast of Virginia, (he) returned to the West Indies, and (...) made prize of a large French Guiney Man. (...) Aboard this Guiney Man, Teach mounted 40 guns, and named her the Queen’s Ann Revenge.” This is the ship he blocked the port of Charles Town, S.C, with; but he was soon forced to run her aground near the city of Beaufort, N.C, a few years before the matches of his hat were snuffed during his last battle on November 22, 1718. The ship remained there for 278 years, before she was finally spotted by a group of independent searchers. It took years before she was officially recognized as being the actual Queen Ann’s Revenge. In 2018, the Queen Ann’s Revenge Conversation Lab retrieved some pieces of paper from the mouth of one of the original 40 guns—probably placed there as a protection. The searchers first deciphered two words on the very small fragments (two-centimetre large), “south” and “phantom”. Then, they read “Hilo”, the name of a city in Peru that led them to the first edition of Cooke’s Voyage To the South Sea and Round the World performed in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711 (London, 1712)! This is a very rare and valuable book, richly illustrated, about a famous travel performed under command of another iconic sailor, Woodes Rogers. It tells of a tedious circumnavigation during which they found Alexander Selkirk, who had been marooned (or abandoned) on the island of Juan Fernandez, off the coast of Chili, for four years. His incredible story inspired the novel Robinson Crusoe to Daniel Defoe—Defoe and Rogers were friends.

 

Relating the discovery of the pieces of paper on the Queen Ann’s Revenge last year, the French website of National Geographic states: “the famous Blackbeard was a keen reader of entertaining stories.” Of course, he wasn’t. Obviously, most members of the crew were illiterate—but ‘officers’ like Blackbeard had to be able to read maps, and we know Blackbeard was writing a journal while at sea. Nonetheless, he probably didn’t read Cooke’s relation to enjoy himself, but rather to get useful information about navigation around America. The pirates and privateers were very interested in these books—and not only to obstruct the mouths of their guns. In the fascinating preface of his Tour du Monde (Amsterdam, 1716 for the French edition), which relates the same Cooke’s travel, Woodes Rogers makes it clear: politics and commerce were at the heart of these expeditions. War was raging—France and England fought each other to get the better of the Spanish kingdom in America. Thus, knowledge meant power. Maps were not a mere matter of having a ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’ copy of a book, but of accessing to information that could save your life, or make you rich. Thus, the 16 pieces of paper recovered from the mouth of the Queen Ann’s Revenge’s gun are the vestiges of a book that was already valuable at the time. Of course, the condition of this ‘copy’ is not very satisfying: binding gone, title page, plates and all pages missing except a 2-centimetre piece of paper. These defects deeply affect the text, indeed—but could you dream of a more exciting and ‘prestigious’ provenance? From the personal collection of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Found on board of the Queen Ann’s Revenge. What would a bookseller add? Oh, yeah—very rare!

 

What makes this discovery extraordinary is the fact that it completes a terrible puzzle. Blackbeard reading the relation of a privateer is already quite pleasing. But the author of this book rescued the man who inspired Robinson Crusoe, a novel written by the same author who later wrote Blackbeard’s life! Furthermore, Cooke was then sailing alongside Woodes Rogers, sent to the West Indies after the Queen Ann’s, not revenge, but war (1702-1713), to eradicate piracy—which he did. Blackbeard probably read Cooke’s relation before he stuffed one of his guns with it, indeed—but it was rather to kill some Spaniards than to merely kill time.

 

 

Thibault Ehrengardt

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Sergio Trujillo Magnenat, <i>Bogotá 1938 / IV Centenario / Juegos Deportivos Bolivarianos,</i> 1938. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>McQueen Drives Porsche,</i> designer unknown, 1970. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>Joe Bridge, <i>Bignan / A Des Ailes,</i> 1921. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Graham Simmons, <i>The Army Isn’t All Work,</i> 1919. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Je ne fume que le nil,</i> 1912. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>Attack of the 50 ft. Woman,</i> designer unknown, 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Raymond Tooby, <i>Festival Guiness / Have You Tried One Yet?,</i> 1952. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Francisco Tamagno, <i>Terrot & Co. / Dijon / Cycles Motorettes,</i> 1909. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>A. Hori, Oakland / General Motors, circa 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Travel? Adventure? Answer – Join the Marines!,</i> circa 1918. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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