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Before journalists reported live from halfway around the world, and before Instagram and Facebook made travel photos into an everyday triviality, the thought of globe-trotting ruled the Western imagination. All we knew of prominent journeymen’s travels were the words they wrote upon returning, months and years after their adventures. At Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, the largest used bookstore in the US, we cracked open a few of the rarest travel books — field notes and chronicles, filled with tales of adventure, exploration and gumption — from the Age of Discovery to the present day.
The Life of Captain James Cook
by Andrew Kippis
For the Anglophile: Famed for making the first European contact with Australia and Hawaii, as well as circumnavigating New Zealand, James Cook is one of history’s most beloved explorers. The first edition of his two-volume biography, written by an English clergyman and published in 1788, was bound in calfskin. For the oldest book on our list, it’s surprisingly well preserved, with only light wearing of the bindings and little damage to the pages.
A Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery
by Patrick Gass
For the Historian: Early Americans met news of the Lewis & Clark expedition with the same wonder that discoveries on Mars inspire in us today. The first word from that landmark journey came from Patrick Gass, a sergeant in the Corps of Discovery, in 1807, seven years before the titular explorers’ accounts. This volume shows its years in a number of marks and overall age-toning.
Into Thin Air
by Jon Krakauer
For the Outdoorsman: A more recent selection, Jon Krakauer’s seminal account of the disastrous descent of Everest that claimed eight lives on May 10, 1996 is a landmark entry in outdoors writing, taking on the commercialization of mountains like Everest and the dangers therein. This signed collector’s edition is bound in dark blue leather with gilt accents and includes a certificate of authenticity.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
For the Literary Buff: Before railways and airlines, the opposite ends of the United States hardly knew each other; Mark Twain’s masterpiece, inasmuch as it was a scathing treatment of prejudice, racism and hypocrisy, also vividly detailed states up and down the Mississippi, culled from Twain’s own experience as a riverboat captain. Published by Twain’s short-lived publishing firm, this first edition features a handful of typos and imperfections.
Over the Andes
by May Crommelin
For the Romantic: Strife at home in Ulster, Ireland led May Crommelin’s family to travel often throughout the second half of the 19th century. What began as necessity became her forte: as an adult, she channeled her travel experience into her novels and nonfiction, and used her income to finance further expeditions. Over the Andes details one such journey; this first edition contains the publisher’s original blue cover boards and illustrations.
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This story first appeared in Issue One of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 280 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from seven distinct locations around the world. Subscribe now and receive free shipping on the biannual magazine. Offer expires soon.