“History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other.” So said the early 20th-century biographer Philip Guedalla, who, as something of a historian himself, knew what he was talking about. But history books are collected for more than their occasionally plagiarized contents. And when it comes to vintage and antique titles, the ever-evolving narrative of world events, from the rise and fall of the Roman empire to the settling of Australia by Westerners, can reveal how the biases of the times can affect what ends up on the printed page.

Some of the oldest history books are those that documented the numerous voyages of discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. In general, antique books from these centuries are judged by their condition and completeness rather than whether they happen to be first or subsequent printing. In addition, histories about these voyages were generally collections of numerous sailings rather than a dutiful diarist’s account of just one. One of the most famous examples of this form is Samuel Purchas’s “Purchas His Pilgrimes,” published in 1625.

Like many similar tracts, “Purchas His Pilgrimes” was reprinted hundreds of years later by the Hakluyt Society, whose original members in 1847 included Charles Darwin. Named for Richard Hakluyt, whose “The Principal Navigations Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation” was published in 1589, the society reprinted accounts of voyages undertaken by Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Captain James Cook, Vasco da Gama, Sir Francis Drake, and George Vancouver. Later, in the 20th century, Argonaut Press and other publishers did roughly the same thing.

In fact, this sea-faring genre of historical non-fiction was so popular, its titles were often remade as children’s books. The “Historical Account of the most celebrated Voyages, Travels and Discoveries,” 1796, was published by E. Newbery, who enjoyed so much success with the series aimed at younger readers that it grew to 25 volumes. Other works, such as John Josselyn’s “An Account of Two Voyages to New England,” which was published by Giles Widdows of London in 1674, are inadvertent histories (the main goal of this document was to catalog the flora and fauna of the New World).

Some voyages, and even their leaders, are genres all their own. For example, each of Captain James Cook’s three voyages in the 18th century were well documented. John Hawkesworth wrote the official account of Cook’s first voyage in the Southern Hemisphere (1773), but Sydney Parkinson’s version is more prized by collectors, mostly because as the draftsman on the HMS Endeavor, Parkinson’s includes hand-colored engravings. Books focused on expeditions in North America include “The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition” of 1803 (13 volumes were published in 1983 by the University of Nebraska Press), as well as Captain John C. Fremont’s probes into the Rocky Mountains—antique copies of these titles from the 1840s are collected in no small part for their illustrations and maps.

Then there are books about our obsession with the north and south poles. While there’s some debate about whether Dr. Frederick A. Cook or Robert E. Peary reached the north pole first in 1908 or 1909 respectively (see “True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole,” by Bruce Henderson, 2005), history-book collectors often seek out the account by Rear Admiral William Edward Parry, whose “Narrative of an Attempt to Reach the North Pole in Boats Fitted for the Purpose and Attached to His Majesty's Ship Hecla in the Year MDCCCXXVII, Under the Command of Captain William Edward Parry, RN, FRS” was published by John Murray of London in 1828. The 12-volume record of Robert Scott’s 1901-1904 expedition to Antarctica, includes color plates by Edward Wilson, while Sir Ernest Shackleton’s “Aurora Australis, (1908) was produced entirely by Shackleton and his crew.

Cookbooks and titles on enology can also be windows on history. For example, “The London Art of Cookery,” 1783, by John Farley, is a time capsule of late-18th-century tavern fare. Cyrus Redding’s “A History and Description of of Modern Wines,” 1833, was enlarged to include port in 1836. And Henry Viztelly’s “History of Champagne,” 1882, is obviously a specialized history within the broader subject of wine...

Still, for many, history books on wars remain the biggest prizes, although sometimes the most interesting titles are the ones that are the least official. For example, there are lots of books about the Civil War, including “A Stillness at Appomattox” by Bruce Catton, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954, and Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War: A Narrative,” published in three volumes between 1958 and 1974. But Civil War regimental histories are of more interest to some collectors because they were written by the actual soldiers on both sides of the conflict who witnessed battles firsthand. Originally published in the late 19th century, sometimes in limited editions, a lot of these regimentals, as they are sometimes called, have been reprinted in recent years, which has made these historical accounts more accessible to collectors.

Of course, World War I was famously documented by Winston Churchill in “The World Crisis,” a six-volume set published between 1923 and 1931. Churchill’s six-volume follow up about World War II was released between 1948 and 1954. Though not as rare as the English versions, the United States editions conjure nostalgic memories for some collectors—the checkered effect of the jacket spines was instantly recognizable in American libraries and dens throughout the 1950s and ’60s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Great War Dust Jackets

Great War Dust Jackets

Alan Hewer's comprehensive site is devoted to World War I books and dust jackets from 1914 to 1939. Most of the boo… [read review or visit site]

Google Book Search

Google Book Search

Want to do one quick search and pull up the mother lode of vintage books? Try Google Book Search, a database filled… [read review or visit site]

Bookscans.com

Bookscans.com

Bruce Black's gallery of paperback book covers from the 1940s and 50s. With help from numerous contributors, he's a… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1845*charles Darwin*journal Of Researches*naturalist's Voyage*beagle*[zulu War]*Antique Freemasonry Book 1872 Occult Rosicrucian Illuminati Free Mason HistoryObservations Made In A Journey Through The Empire Of China, 1698.1852 Antique George Washington Biography Revolutionary War U S President Memoirs1891 Antique United States American Gazetteer Atlas Maps History Tourist Guide H.g.wells-the War Of The Worlds/1898/rare 1st Edition/fantasy Science Fiction1777 Parliamentary Register Revolutionary War Reasons Results Tea Trade HessiansAntique Freemasonry Books 1924 Occult Rosicrucian Illuminati Free Mason HistoryEaston Press The History Of America Page Smith 6 Volumes Full Leather Binding 1891 General Sherman Memoirs U.s. Civil War Union Army Confederate Campaigns Csa1844 Joseph Brant Mohawk Indian Chief Revolutionary War New York Biography 2 VolCivil War Time Frame Autograph Book With Soldier Signatures 100+ Autographs Nr1737 Familiar Letters James Howell Lthr Epistolae Ho-elianae History Prison Rare1896 Civil War Antique Union Gettysburg Confederate Abraham Lincoln Rebel CsaFreemasonry Civil War Illuminati Occult Knights Templar Free Mason Antique Frat 1860 Medical Dictionary Surgery Anatomy Civil War Era Antique Instruments Tools1682 History Of The Greek Orthodox Christian Schism Byzantine Empire East-westOrange County Vermont-handwritten Manuscript Ledger-history-genealogy-rare 18521891 The Women Of The French Salons 1st Edition Vellum 55 Illus France History $Pictorial Battles Civil War General Grant Lee Lincoln Vet Slavery Union Army OldAmerican History Antique Civil War Indian Revolution Lincoln Washington Vtg Rare1699 Du Pin History Of Canon & Writers Of Old & New Testament Bible -2 Vols- 1stGilbert Burnet *1705* History Of Reformation Abridgment Church EnglandHome Guard Training Manual -+ Sten & Bren Guns Manual 1941 World War Two Booklet1887 General Custer Civil War Diary, Tenting On The Plains, Indian Wars1529 Platina Postincunable: The First Ancient History Of All Catholic Popes1926 The Chevalier De Boufflers Lthr Sangorski Bnd French Revolution Illus War $A History Of The English-speaking Peoples_churchill_folio Society_4 VolsAntique Scotland Illustrated History Scottish Celtic War Genealogy Highlander1777 Nicholson, Burns, History & Antiquities Of Westmorland & Cumbria, 2vol Maps1857 Old Us American History Revolutionary Mexican War French And Indian Wars Antique Civil War Book Printed 1865 1st Ed Abraham Lincoln Negro Slavery Us VtgJohn Speed Theatre Of The Empire Of Great Britain Atlas Plus World Maps ScarceFantastic Original Civil War Pocket Bible June 21, 1863 South Carolina S.c 4"inHillary Clinton Signed Living History Autograph Book Signature President BillAntique Cookbook Civil War Pioneer Home Recipes Cakes Pastry Beer Wine MedicalHistory Of The 304th Engineers 79th Division Usa In The World War I Rosters MapVery Rare 1866 16x12 Civil War With 505 Maps And Illustrations First Edition Usa1865 Soldiers National Cemetery Gettysburg Civil War 1st Names Lincoln Address1898 Spanish American War Santiago Cuba Porto Puerto Rico Philippines Antique Mint Condition Easton Press Collection - History Of EnglandWwii 310th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division Combat History 1920 Merchant Navy Fleet At War Seamen & Ships Of Cunard Steamship During W.w.1Rare Antique Book 1775 Political Disquisitions Revolutionary War Era!1870 George Washington Life Of Mount Vernon Revolutionary War History PresidentEaston Press The Nuremberg War Trials 3-volume Set Diary Justice Interrogations Soldier's War Diary Arthur Cook Somerset Light Infantry 1914-18 Great 1st WorldStory Of The Fourth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Lucien, Wulsin Civil War, Antique My Trip Abroad 1905 Ship Travel Personal Diary Logbook History Civil War General Signed Book To Telephone Inventor Alexander Graham Bell 1903 !A History Of The English Speaking Peoples By Winston Churchill1881 The Baldwin Genealogy 1500-1881 Ohio Family History Charles Candee Baldwin1850 Lady's Victorian Leather Antique U S History Travel Illustrated WomenHistory Of The Eighteenth Century, 5 Vols, Schlosser, Davison, 1843-45, ChapmanDavid Baron The History Of Israel: Its Spiritual Significance1826 Early History Of Plymouth Massachusetts By Morton 204 Pages GoodPilgrim Indian Thanksgiving War History England Colony Puritan Mayflower AmericaSigned By Moshe Dayan Story Of My Life 1st Ed Israeli Hero Of The Six Day WarPennsylvania German 1905 History Lehigh Co. Frankenmuth Mi Allentown BethlehemWorld War I Wwi Horrors Murders Massacres Civilians Girls Women Boys Serbia 1915