So what’s a Cook fan to do if he or she is attracted to original and antiquarian books about Cook’s voyages; but
- is not a diehard book collector;
- cannot afford original 18th century accounts of the voyages; and
- gets little thrill out of reading bibliographic descriptions?
There actually is an answer, and it’s the one chance those of us with more interest than income have to take advantage of the great collections of Cook material - specialized catalogs produced by auction houses and antiquarian booksellers.
Book collectors come in all types, but there is a very small group that has the means and interest to develop specialized collections of rare and valuable books. When such collections are ultimately passed on to others, it is usually by one of two pathways:
- donation to, or acquisition by, libraries; or
- the sale of individual books to others through auctions or specialized antiquarian book dealers.
While the great research libraries of the world offer amazing resources to those in search of information, they seldom produce non-scholarly listings of their specific collections that can be enjoyed by the casual collector. That’s an area where the auction houses and booksellers have an edge.
Even in the Internet age, high-end auction houses and booksellers often issue beautiful, well-researched catalogs that describe each individual book (often accompanied by high-quality color images), document each item’s history and significance, and cite other references where additional information can be obtained.
One of the best such catalogs to come along in a great while was recently published by Hordern House, 77 Victoria Street, Potts Point, NSW 2011, Australia (www.hordern.com), a Sydney-based antiquarian bookseller with a long history of handling some of the "best of the best" when it comes to early publications related to Cook. The catalog in question is the first of two volumes describing the collection of Pacific voyage books from the library of David Parsons of Atlanta, Georgia.
According to Hordern House, David Parsons, one of the foremost collectors of voyage material, has assembled what is in many ways an ideal collection: exceptional copies of rare and important books. We are delighted to have been asked by him to catalogue and sell the Pacific voyage section of his library, the most valuable collection of Pacific voyage material to have been offered by a bookseller in modern times. The collection will be sold in two stages through fully illustrated catalogues. Part I covers the period from Dampier to Cook, the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth century. The second part will continue the story of Pacific discovery and exploration from La Pérouse to Wilkes, the immediate post-Cook period to the middle of the nineteenth century. The catalogues will prove an invaluable reference for collectors, booksellers, librarians and researchers.
This article is not intended to be an advertisement for Hordern House, and few of the members of the Captain Cook Society will be in a position to acquire items from the catalog. However, most members will be able to acquire the catalog itself, and with that single addition to their libraries they will come as close as they probably can to being able to enjoy and appreciate the wealth of early published material about Cook.
The catalog is stunning and is more likely to end up as a coffee table conversation piece than tucked away on a dusty bookshelf. It is hardbound with a color dust jacket and measures approximately 8.75? by 11?. Its 128 pages detail 138 items, including full descriptions and color illustrations. Sixty of those pages describe 68 separate items related to Cook. And with its price of AU$68 delivered worldwide, it’s about as inexpensive an introduction to the richness of the Cook literature as one is likely to find.
So if you want to have your own instant collection of the most significant works on Cook without spending many hundreds of thousands of dollars you should certainly consider getting the recent Hordern House catalog of the Parsons Collection.
Is there a downside to acquiring a copy of Hordern House’s publication? Only that you’ll probably feel the need to get the second installment when it’s released in 2006.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 7, volume 29, number 1 (2006).