I realize I'm cutting in on Henry's blog time here, and he's giving me that look, you know...
But it's very gracious of him to let me have a little space.
I get really excited when old books come into the shop. There's something, in my opinion, really special about the hefty weight of them, the silky pages, often foxed with age, the musty smell of decades on the shelf. I love the way, in the old days, most publishers made books to LAST a hundred years or more, as if OF COURSE people would still be reading them, because they would still be important and pleasurable. I love the care that went into making them, and then the telltale signs of use, the written inscriptions, the turned corners, or the way a book tends to fall open to a certain illustration.
I love hearing the way our customers exclaim over them in the shop -- Look at THIS!! -- like little treasures no one would ever expect to find.
The old travelogues are a special treat, usually illustrated with early photographs, or even earlier, with fine line drawings or engravings. The accounts of early travels are delightful in their descriptions of places totally changed over time. To read them, you would never recognize Paris or London or New York as they are today without familiar place names! How much fun it would be to travel with an early travelogue, to compare notes and pictures. And of course, modern sensibilities and values are very different too, so to read the old writers can be quite a hoot!
Well, I don't travel much, but I love the old travelogues. And if you're thinking of an unusual Christmas gift... here's a few to tempt you. But keep checking, we're always getting new (old) ones in!
The Porcelain Tower – or, Nine Stories of China
By Thomas Henry Sealy
Another rare one, this one features the full story of the “Ill-fated Polaris” expedition, under Charles Francis Hall., and the attempts to rescue the castaways by the Tigress and Juniata. 175 engravings and maps, very extensive in its histories of long-forgotten expeditions across the northernmost territories of several continents. Full leather, with the binding archivally repaired and firm, with all pages intact.
Our Nation’s Capital – A complete Guide for Washington and its Environs…
With 100 “photo illustrations”, it includes extensive details on many historic buildings, as if you followed a very knowledgeable guide touring the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, the White House and even Mt. Vernon. It also contains an appendix with various important documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, and several others. In the rear pocket is a large fold-out map of Washington DC, as it looked in 1892.
The Great Metropolis: A Mirror of New York
By Junius Henri Browne
Now here’s an interesting writer. Browne was a Union soldier, captured near Vicksburg, then imprisoned for 20 months in 7 different Confederate prisons. When he finally escaped, he had to cross 400 miles of hostile territory to reach friendly Union lines. After the war he became a journalist in New York, and this is his 1869 book on that city. Great character sketches and an enjoyable on-the-street perspective. I love how he ends the book:
Eastern Legendary Tales and Oriental Romances – Being a Representation of Oriental Manners and Habits, Exhibiting a True Picture of Eastern Society
Rare 1837 Embellished with steel engravings
This wonderful travelogue deals almost exclusively with India and its society of “Hindoos and Mohammedans.” Again, the binding on this one has been archivally restored and is firm. The bright red cloth with the contrasting gilt decoration is a real eye catcher. There are very few copies of this one still available anywhere.
India Illustrated – with Pen and Pencil
By Rev. W. Urwick (who was a British historian of Protestant Nonconformity. That sounds interesting.)
An oversize book with lovely engravings throughout, it includes a section on Ceylon, which at the time was part of India. Rev. Urwick calls India the ”nurse of useful arts, of subtle thought and of epic verse. Fantastic mythologies, curious speculations and occult sciences have here had their home.” Another broad look at both the Hindu and Muslim communities, with generous insight into local customs, from a writer both generous and fascinating.
Rambles about Bath and its Neighbourhood
Published 1876 2 maps, 16 wood-cuts & 8 autotypes
This book consists of 21 “walks” around Bath and its surrounds, with thorough histories of the sites along each walk, including the Abbey of Bath, Farleigh Castle, Victoria Park, and a wide array of churches and chapels and manors. Picture yourself strolling around the English countryside with a charming gentleman-historian to point out the old and new – some of it very, very old as Bath’s history stretches back before the Roman Empire.