The Mediterranean Sea is surrounded by 21 modern countries after serving as the cradle of civilization for the whole western world, and cultivating a popular theme for numerous rare and antiquarian books. The nations washed by the Mediterranean waters, may have their own history, geography, plants, animals, and people to explore, but they all share the same navigational waters that the printed word has so richly depicted.
Previously, we covered the eastern Mediterranean lands by showcasing a few of the notable works originating from the lands of the Ottoman Empire and of the Greek civilization. In this journey, we are focusing on the other side as we enter through the west entrance to the Mediterranean Sea – the Gibraltar Straits.
The first book of interest, A Residence at Gibraltar and a Visit to the Peninsula in the Summer and Autumn of 1841, by William Robertson; Edinburgh: A. Fullarton, 1844, is a personal account of the author’s travels to Spain, Gibraltar and Tangier (Morocco). The first edition of the book is offered for sale around $500.
As our literary journey steers along the coast on a south-east course, we come across our next destination – Narrative of a Residence in Algiers… by Signor Pananti; London: 1818. Pananti was a plausible candidate for relating the country and its people in an intimate way, as he had been captured by Algerian pirates, sold into slavery and ransomed. The book was published in Italian the year before this English edition, which can be yours for a little over $1000.
Cruising right along to our next destination, we come across a first edition of a work collating Hanno’s travels with folding maps of the Libyan coast. This is a collection of the accounts of later travellers, defending Hanno against critics who questioned authenticity of his narrative. The Voyage of Hanno Translated, and Accompanied with the Greek text; Explained from the Accounts of Modern Travellers; Defended against the Objections of Mr. Dodwell Falconer Thomas; London: Cadell and Davies, 1797, is being offered for sale around $700.
Changing our bearing northbound, we reach the beautiful coast of Sicily for Voyage pittoresque en Sicile. by Gigault de la sale, Achille Etienne; Paris: P. Didot, l’Ainé, Jules Didot Ainé , 1822-26. The two volume edition contains hand-colored aquatint plates of large and luminous Sicilian views, capturing the magic of the island as experienced by the Mediterranean traveler of the early 19th century. The book has always commanded a premium price, and some of the 500 copies published are currently on sale for over $60,000.
Circling back towards the starting point of our journey, it is an absolute must to make our next stop in France. Iconographie des orchidées des environs de Paris. by Edmond Gustave Camus; Paris: Camus, Edmond Gustave , 1885, is a magnificent double volume with a collection of watercolor drawings of Orchids, both of France and the surrounding Mediterranean countries. The author, a pharmacist and botanist, was fascinated by the intricate taxonomy of the genus of the orchid. He lived close to l’Isle-Adam, the habitat of numerous orchid varieties, and set out to collect the different varieties with the aim to portray this magnificent element of nature through his art. The book is divided into 4 parts in 2 volumes, the first part of which is limited to 12 copies. It commands over $60,000.
We have now reached the disembarkment of our scenic tour through some of the lands that are resident to the west part of the Mediterranean Sea. Fortunately for collectors of books from the Mediterranean region, there are plentiful opportunities to discover treasures with deep roots and rich history in exploration, nature, art and history, which bring us back to where it all began.