In a September 25 sale held by Bonhams New York (25/20/12/5% buyer’s premium) an example of that remarkable production was offered as part of the Joe Fitzsimmons library on Antarctic exploration that opened an auction that focused on exploration, travel and Americana. It sold at $75,000 (£59,315).
Edited by the expedition leader Ernest Shackleton, and illustrated with 11 lithographs produced by George Marston, Aurora Australis was produced during the winter months of 1908.
To keep his men occupied during the months in which they were confined to the hut at Cape Royds, and inspired by similar work he had done on an an earlier Scott expedition, Shackleton asked his men to contribute stories, poems or humorous essays.
Then, on a small press donated to the expedition by Causton & Sons, along with paper and type, it was printed by Ernest Joyce and Frank Wild, both of whom had taken a short printing course before their departure for Antarctica.
In their chilly quarters, the ink was heated by candles and much of the printing was done when other expedition members were sleeping, so as to minimise vibration.
The boards of the binding are made from empty wooden packing cases that still bear stencilled letter evidence of their original contents – in this instance ‘Oatmeal’ – and backed in leather that had previously served as harnesses for the expedition horses.
A total of 80 copies were eventually bound up and brought back from Antarctica.
Just one copy has made more at auction – and only by a few hundred pounds in a sale held two years ago by Sotheby’s in London.
Another copy of Aurora Australis is up at auction on October 31 in the US, at Leslie Hindman’s Chicago sale of the first part of the adventure and exploration library of Steve Fossett. It is estimated at $60,000-80,000.
Another lot in the Bonhams sale that emerged from creative diversions introduced on the early Antarctic expeditions was the South Polar Times.
It was edited by Shackleton, Apsley Cherry-Garrard and others on Scott’s 1901-04 Discovery expedition but only given printed, facsimile form on the expedition’s return to England.
That four-volume set made $20,000 (£15,210), but overall only 23 of the 80 lots that made up Joe Fitzsimmons’ library on Antarctic exploration found buyers.
Indeed, this US sale overall produced an unsold rate in excess of 40%, with a number of the higher valued lots, among them a 1513 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia estimated at up to $350,000, left unsold. There were, however, lots that enjoyed greater success and to which I will return in a future issue.