For His Prized Set, Collector Stumbled Upon
Rare Printers’ Sheets
(January 24, 2002)
to Aldus Society In the News
Bill Eichenberger, Dispatch Book Critic
his 1952 essay “Collecting Captain Cook,” Sir Maurice Holmes described the
three types of thrills he felt when on the trail of a book by or about the
18th-century navigator and explorer:
there is the excitement of paying more than one can afford for a much-desired
book,” he wrote. “At the opposite pole is the almost unbearable excitement
of acquiring a real rarity for next to nothing.
there is the excitement of getting a book which one has come to regard as an
trio resonates with Columbus collector Ron Ravneberg, who will speak this
evening to the Aldus Society, A Columbus Book Club, on the subject “Searching
for Captain Cook: A Serendipitous Journey.”
pretty much experienced all three things on Holmes’ list since I began
collecting Cook in 1992,” Ravneberg said in a recent interview.
Cook collectors eventually purchase an original “set of Cook,” which
includes John Hawkesworth’s 1773 account of Cook’s first voyage; Cook’s
account of his second voyage (published in three editions, in 1777, 1779 and
1784); and Cook and James King’s account of the third voyage (1784 and 1785).
set also might have The Life of Captain James Cook, a 1788 biography by Andrew
has his set of Cook, a little tattered when purchased but beautifully re-bound
by conservator Don Etherington -- and “safe now for another 250 years, when
some other collector can have it re-bound again.”
advertisement for another Hawkesworth piqued his curiosity last year.
the surface, the ad was discouraging: Volume I was missing, and volumes II and
III were “rubbed and soiled.” Volume II was “bound without a title
bits of information in the ad, though, made his pulse quicken: With “extensive
ink corrections” but “no maps or plates,” the set seemed to be a
bit, sending money to England and receiving the second and third volumes.
he went to school: His research took him to the libraries at Northwestern
University in Evanston, Ill., and the University of California, Berkeley.
all the snooping he could do in the United States, he bravely mailed his books
to the Hodern House in Sydney, Australia, where Capt. Cook expert Derek
McDonnell examined them and declared them the
sheets for the resetting of the second and third volumes of the second
other words, the books are one-of-a-kind. (“Rubbed” and “soiled”
actually referred to the thumbprints, which stained many of the pages that the
had his “impossible” find.
three Cook voyages in the Pacific became models for exploration and the
gathering of scientific information.
second voyage, the first circumnavigation and penetration of the Antarctic,
remains one of the greatest sailing feats in human history.
think I’m drawn to Capt. Cook,” Ravneberg said, “because I’d much rather
stand in a brisk wind on Point Barrow, Alaska, than walk the Champs Elysees.
Cook lived in a world of edges. He sailed utterly away from civilization for
years at a time.”
to his subject, he continued: “Today the Caribbean is like Broad and High.
It’s a busy intersection. Ships are 56,000 tons. They all have GPS (global
positioning systems). When Cook sailed, he sailed out there .”
bought his first Cook, a Heritage Press volume, for $20 at Jeffrey’s Antiques
he owns more than 400 volumes relating to Cook.
described a recent Martin Dugard book, Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall
of Captain James Cook, as “the worst piece of Cook scholarship in recent
Farther Than Any Man has a place on his shelf.
book about Cook,” he explained, “is 100 percent tripe.”
purchased his “set of Cook” from a book dealer in Daytona Beach, Fla. --
where he often traveled on business -- “after about a year of looking at them
the set did not include the original maps and plates, which he bought separately
from a rare-book dealer in Australia.
buy my books like some folks buy houses,” Ravneberg said. “I buy the
cheapest house I can find in the most expensive neighborhood. You could buy a
set of Cook for $115,000. I’m not a high-end collector by any means.”
book collectors are eccentrics, but not all are readers.
have read all of the first and second voyages,” he said, “and I’m working
my way through the third voyage.”
surprises that Ravneberg routinely uncovers as he examines his collection seem
at the bottom of that plate,” he said excitedly, pointing to a painting of the
third voyage. “Do you see that man on the surfboard? The first description of
someone using a surfboard comes from Cook’s voyages.”
he speaks tonight, he’ll have his books, some of which are more than 225 years
old, on hand for inspection.
Etherington is quoted in The Island of Lost Maps,” Ravneberg said of the
conservator. “He says: ‘I don’t think we should be restoring things to put
in a glass case, never to be handled. Books were never designed to not be
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