Pet Book #1: Arctic Explorations by Elisha Kent Kane

For my Pet Book, I’ve chosen Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic Explorations in the Years 1853, ’54, ’55. It was published by Childs & Peterson, Philadelphia, in two volumes in 1856. It has two title pages, the first featuring the title above; the second one has a slightly altered title: Arctic Explorations: The Second Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin, 1853, ’54, ’55.  The second title is more indicative of his actual purpose for going to the Arctic and may have to do with his military connection—perhaps the military wanted to make sure that he was not just making this voyage of his own free will. Kane was a doctor, and I thought it was funny that on the spine he is specifically credited as “Dr. Kane.’ The volumes are bound in brown leather with patterns imprinted on both the spine and the boards of branches, leaves, and acorns—not quite a match for the subject matter. It has gilded edges (all three!) as well as gilt lettering on the spine. The leather is cracking and splitting, especially at the hinges—three of the four boards have come apart from the pages.

Inside, the book is in remarkably good condition. The pages are very bright with only a little bit of foxing on the first and last few pages. The marbled end papers are absolutely exquisite and still vividly colorful. There are only two signs of previous ownership: the bookplate added by Northeastern indicating the donor and a piece of cardstock inside the back cover of both volumes that might have previously contained library information but have now been mostly torn out. The font size varies from being quite large (~16 pt.) to quite small (~9 pt.). For example, the preface uses a rather large font size compared to the rest of the body of the text, while the Glossary of Arctic Terms in volume I uses a font size smaller than the body of the text. In addition, volume I contains a fold-out map that was tipped into the book in the beginning that details the location of the exploration. On the title page, the book boasts that it has “upwards of three hundred engravings” which are both steel plates and wood engravings. As far as I can tell, it appears that the steel plates have also been tipped into the binding, while the wood engravings are mixed with the text. There is an image of the author at the beginning of the text—so I know that he’s an expert in his field! One of my favorite plates is opp. 387 in volume I; it depicts a large polar bear fighting with a pack of dogs in the middle of camp. Allegedly, all the engravings are basked on sketches done by Kane during the expedition.

I first saw the title in the list of books available on the class website and at that point, I thought Arctic Explorations would probably be a fun, interesting book with an Ernest Shackleton vibe. I remembered enjoying that unit way back in middle school, so I thought I’d check out this book at the Special Collection. Once I saw the book itself, I was even more excited because of how charming it looked just from the outside. In the end, I got a really good vibe from the book as I was looking through it, and I had a great time flipping through the pages and finding new engravings or phrases that stood out. I was also intrigued by the idea that even though this book may not be widely read or known about today, travel writing is still a really popular genre, so it would be interesting to compare some of the stylistic publication choices that are made for travel writing in particular today and with this book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *