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From the Archives: Finding Whymper in a Book

Posted on: May 13th, 2009 by AAC Library

One of our incredible volunteers, Tom Halicki, has been helping us get the first 5,000 books of the Central Asia Library on the shelves, and to advise on grant-writing.  His love of books is also evident in this essay he wrote about a discovery he made in the rare book room.  He also highlights one of the most important activities of the library staff these days – inventory and cataloging, which will be a major fundraising focus in the coming years.  Enjoy the essay and stop by to visit or volunteer !

Whymper's letter

Whymper's letter

Whymper's signature

Whymper's signature

In 1864, A.W. Moore, with, at various times, Edward Whymper and Horace Walker, and in the company of such notable guides as Michel Croz and Christian Almer, made an epic tour of the European Alps from the Dauphine through the Mont Blanc massif and into the Valais and Bernese Oberland.  Among the ascents made by the group was the first ascent of the Barre des Ecrins, as well as number of other ascents and attempts.  From the journals he kept of this trip Moore wrote The Alps in 1864:  A Private Journal. He reportedly printed 100 copies himself and distributed them to his friends.

This was the Golden Age of alpinism and Moore, Whymper and Walker were the cream of the Victorian alpinists and in their prime.  In 1865, Moore did the first ascent of the Brenva Spur on Mont Blanc, and Col Moore, located at the base of the Spur, is named after him.  Walker did the first ascent of the Grandes Jorasses and lent his name to Pointe Walker.  The Walker Spur, which leads to Pointe Walker, is still a test piece for any aspiring alpinist.  After many attempts, Whymper sealed his place in history by making the first ascent of the Matterhorn, as well as a number of other notable first ascents, and penned Scrambles Amongst the Alps.

The Alps in 1864 was described by Douglas Freshfield, president of the Alpine Club, an editor of the Alpine Journal, and a contemporary of Moore’s, as “perhaps the most authentic, exact, and vivid record of what climbing was to early explorers of the High Alps.”  An original print is among the most prized of alpine climbing books.  The AAC has one in its rare books collection, along with other later editions.

Recently, while library staff was looking through its various printings, a folded note was found taped inside the front cover of a copy of the first commercial printing, made in 1902.  Upon examination, it turned out to be a handwritten note from Edward Whymper to Mr. David Douglas, who printed the 1902 edition.  The note inquired whether Douglas knew if Moore’s original journal from the Dauphine – where Whymper, Moore, Walker, Croz and Almer made the first ascent of les Ecrins – was still in existence.

Two such well-paired pieces of alpine history - the original print of The Alps in 1864 and Whymper’s related note – help make the Henry S. Hall, Jr. AAC Library collection the centerpiece of climbing literature in North America.  The only problem is, we didn’t even know one of the pieces existed until recently.  The AAC Library owns thousands of books, prints and artifacts documenting the history and current state of climbing around the world that are, as of yet, uncatalogued, as well as ephemera such as the Whymper note.  That’s why cataloguing our collection and any ephemera within is one of our highest proirities.

Note: Other original Whymper correspondence in the AAC Archives includes a note to Mr. Dees regarding rebinding an edition of Scrambles Amongst the Alps,  a 1909 letter to Henry Montagnier which discusses his honorary membership in the Sierra Club – he also notes that most of the Sierra Club’s publications burned in the1906  San Francisco Fire and that copies of the Bulletin are therefore rare (the AAC has a full run!).   There is also hand-written correspondence between Filippo de Fillipi and Whymper discussing plans for the Duke of Abruzzi’s 1909 expedition to the Karakoram.

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