AURORA AUSTRALIS


How many copies?



Launched: 29 July 2011.         Last updated: 24 June 2012



How many copies of the Aurora Australis were produced is a question that probably will never be answered precisely. Too many numbers have been suggested.

The earliest mentions of a number were in the Catalogue of the British Antarctic Expedition which dates from the autumn of 1909 and in a newspaper article on the exhibition appearing 1 October 1909 (see Copy 127) (100). The next mention is in Shackleton's letter to J.P. Morgan (80) on 25 July 1911, followed by the mention of 100 in Murray and Marston's Antarctic Days. The second mention by Shackleton himself is in a copy he inscribed to Ernest Perris on 15 February 1914 (90).

The lowest number noted by anyone is 25, which Charles Cooper attributes to Frank Wild (who should have known) in his 1937 memoir. This is clearly in error. The Huntington Library fell into the same trap when it noted that "25-30 bound copies of the Aurora Australis were produced." This was qualified by "An unknown number of unbound pages was also printed." This may have been based on Mary P. Goodwin's 1979 article which states that "between seventy-five and 100 copies of each page were printed, but that only twenty-five to thirty copies of the book were sewn and bound." In 1957, the Fishers wrote in the biography of Shackleton that "It is possible that some of the copies were never bound up."

I have been unable to find any evidence that not all the complete copies produced were bound in the Antarctic. It seems unlikely that they would finish off 25-30 and then pack up sets of loose sheets, not to mention finished packing-case covers, leather for binding (what about the title and logo on the spine?), green cord for the lacing up, etc., and put them all in boxes or other containers and ship them all the way back to England. If so, where would these bits and pieces be stored? Who would bind them together? Without evidence to the contrary, I believe it is logical to assume that all the copies of the Aurora produced were bound at Cape Royds. Some copies may have been distributed to members of the expedition before leaving Antarctica, whereas the remaining copies would be carefully packed up, perhaps in some of the emptied packing cases, and taken back to England on the Nimrod. The time and opportunity were there to finish the job before leaving for home, so why would they not do so?


Let's look at some of the numbers mentioned in books, articles, catalogues, letters, etc.:
INSCRIPTIONS AND ACCOMPANYING LETTERS

1. Shackleton presented J. P. Morgan a copy of the Aurora (Copy 07), and a letter to Morgan dated 25 July 1911 accompanies it. Shackleton states that "There are only 80 copies in existence that being the number printed and only 30 have been distributed."

2. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 260) appeared at auction at Christie's on 18 April 2000 (and at Sotheby's on 13 December 1979). It was inscribed by Shackleton to Ernest Perris. The inscription reads: "To Ernest Perris from Ernest Shackleton. To one Editor of one million five hundred thousand copies per week from the Editor of ninety copies per year. With warmest wishes for his birthday 15 Feb. 1914."


AUCTIONS AND BOOKSELLERS CATALOGUES (arranged chronologically)

1. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 311) appeared in Blackwells Catalogue No. 895 in 1970. It was described thusly, quoting Mills: "A hundred copies were printed, but none for sale, and the work is already a rarity for bibliophiles." This description is repeated in their Catalogue 916 in 1971 (Copy 310).

2. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 267) appeared at auction at Sotheby's Chancery Lane, London, June 24, 1976. It was described thusly: "approx. 100 copies printed."

3. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 256) appeared at auction at Christie's, London, September 27, 1996. It was described thusly: "Limited to 100 copies."

4. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 258) appeared at auction at Christie's, London, September 26, 1997. It was described thusly: "Limited to 100 copies" and later in the description "around 100 copies were printed and bound in the Antarctic winter of 1908."

5. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 261) appeared at auction at Bloomsbury Book Auctions, London, September 26, 2000. It was described thusly, quoting Spence: "The leaves were punctured along their inner margin and secured with a silken cord to the inside of two venesta boards, which form the book covers. These boards were obtained from empty tea-chests etc., with some being stencilled … Day (the mechanic) was entrusted with the binding of the volumes, using old harness leather for the backstrip or spine … It is reported that about 100 copies were produced at Cape Royds of which none were sold." This description is repeated for a sale on October 16, 2003. (Copy 268).

6. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 262) appeared at auction at Christie's, London, September 25, 2001. It was described thusly: "Limited to 100 copies."

7. A second copy of the Aurora (Copy 263) appeared at the same auction at Christie's, London, September 25, 2001. It was described thusly: "Limited to 100 copies."

8. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 264) appeared at auction at Christie's, London, May 9, 2002. It was described thusly, quoting Spence: "The leaves were punctured along their inner margin and secured with a silken cord to the inside of two venesta boards, which form the book covers. These boards were obtained from empty tea-chests etc., with some being stencilled … Day (the mechanic) was entrusted with the binding of the volumes, using old harness leather for the backstrip or spine … It is reported that about 100 copies were produced at Cape Royds of which none were sold."

9. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 266) appeared at auction at Christie's, London, September 25, 2002. It was described thusly, quoting Spence: "The leaves were punctured along their inner margin and secured with a silken cord to the inside of two venesta boards, which form the book covers. These boards were obtained from empty tea-chests etc., with some being stencilled … Day (the mechanic) was entrusted with the binding of the volumes, using old harness leather for the backstrip or spine … It is reported that about 100 copies were produced at Cape Royds of which none were sold."

10. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 303) appeared at auction at Christie's, London, September 21, 2005. It was described thusly: "Limited to about 100 copies."

11. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 269) appeared at auction at Anderson & Garland, Newcastle upon Tyne, March 21, 2006. It was described thusly: "About 100 copies were produced; the exact figure is unknown as copies were not numbered. Of these it is thought about 25 to 30 were bound as in this example."

12. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 270) appeared at auction at Christie's, London, September 27, 2006. It was described thusly: "Limited to about 100 copies."

13. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 271) appeared at auction at Swann Galleries, May 24, 2007. It was described thusly: "One of approximately 100 copies printed."

14. A copy of the Aurora (Copy 272) appeared at auction at Bonhams, London, June 26, 2007. It was described thusly: "Around 65 copies are known, to which the present can be added. Varying estimates suggest that between 25 and 35 copies may remain unaccounted for." (This translates to a total of 90 to 100 copies.) Kentnews.co.uk, reporting on the sale, states: "Archivists believe that only 80 copies were ever printed and just 65 have survived in the world."


BOOKS AND ARTICLES (arranged chronologically)

No mention of the number of copies produced is made in the Aurora Australis itself or in The Heart of the Antarctic.

1. "This book, of which there are one hundred copies…" (From The British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-9, The Catalogue of the Exhibition (No 19 is the Aurora, No 20 is the 'Printing Machine') printed by Sir Joseph Causton & Sons, Ltd. The Exhibition was held in the Autumn of 1909.)

2. "…the issue was of necessity very restricted, and did not, I believe, exceed a hundred copies." (From Antarctic Days; Sketches of the homely side of Polar life by two of Shackleton's men by James Murray and George Marston, London: Andrew Melrose, 1913.)

3. "A hundred copies were printed…" (From The Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton by Hugh Robert Mill. Boston: Little, Brown, 1923, Pp 129-30.)

4. "Frank [Wild] told me that only twenty-five of these books were printed by them, these being distributed among the members of the expedition and a copy each for the British Museum and the Royal Geographical Society." (From Town and Country or Forty Years in Private Service with the Aristocracy by Charles W. Cooper. London: Lovat Dickson, 1937. Pp 147-48.)

5. "However, some difficulty arose over the exact compensation to be given to the four people most concerned in the production of the book—Wild, Joyce, Marston and Day—and in the end, although a hundred copies were printed at Cape Royds, they were not sold. Presumably some were presented to benefactors of the expedition, and each member of the expedition received a copy. It is possible that some of the copies were never bound up." (From Shackleton by Margery and James Fisher, London: Barrie, 1957) Pp 188-91.)

6. "A hundred copies were printed." (From South to the Pole; The Early History of the Ross Sea Sector Antarctica by L.B. Quartermain. London: Oxford University Press, 1967, p 149.)

7. "It is reported that about 100 copies were produced…" (From Entry 1095 in Antarctic Miscellany: Books Periodicals & Maps Relating to the Discovery and Exploration of Antarctica, compiled by Sydney A. Spence, edited by J.J.H. and J.I. Simper, London, 1980.)

8. "Reliable information on the number of copies printed is scarce. Some sources say 100 copies of the book, another only 90 copies, and a third says 90 copies but all in the hands of the members of the party. This information has been repeated so often in auction and book sellers catalogues that it has become accepted, with little definite fact as proof. It seems possible that up to 100 copies of any individual section may have been printed but the incidence of missing leaves in many copies suggests that there was never enough printed material to make up even 90 copies." (From The Introduction to Ernest Shackleton's Aurora Australis by John Millard, published by Bluntisham Books and Paradigm Press, 1986.)

9. "There is a difference of opinion about how many books were printed and bound in the Antarctic. We know that there were extra pages printed beyond the number bound. In studying the sources, including Marston and Wild, I believe that between seventy-five and 100 copies of each page were printed, but that only twenty-five to thirty copies of the book were sewn and bound." (From The First Book Printed in the Antarctic by Mary P. Goodwin. Appeared in Terra, a publication of the Natural History Museum of Lost Angeles County, 1979. It also appeared as the Introduction in the Airlife Publishing edition of the Aurora Australis, 1988.)

10. "100 copies were printed at Cape Royds…" (From George Marston: Shackleton's Antarctic Artist by Stephen Locke. Hampshire Papers 19, published by Hampshire County Council, 2000.)

11. "At most 100 copies were produced, but probably significantly fewer." (From Entry 304 in Antarctica, 1772-1922; Freestanding Publications through 1999, by Michael H. Rosove. Santa Monica, California: Adélie Books, 2001.)

12. "80 copies of the book were produced." (From the Preface to Additions and Corrections Supplement to Antarctica, 1772-1922; Freestanding Publications through 1999, by Michael H. Rosove. (Santa Monica, California: Adélie Books, 2001.)

13. "There are only 80 copies in existence that being the number printed and only 30 have been distributed." (From Entry 304 in Additions and Corrections Supplement to Antarctica, 1772-1922; Freestanding Publications through 1999, by Michael H. Rosove. (Santa Monica, California: Adélie Books, 2001.) Also noted in the first entry above.

14. "Only 25-30 bound copies of Aurora Australis were produced. (An unknown number of unbound pages was also printed; the total number of bound and unbound copies is estimated at fewer than 100.)" (From Antarctica's First Published Book on Display Ernest Shackleton Printed Rare Volume in 1908 which was at one time on the Huntington Library's website when its copy was on display in 2002?)

15. "It is believed that only about 25-30 copies of this book were bound in the Antarctic although an edition of 100 was planned." (From The Paper Chase by Penny Carey Wells, appearing in the Journal of the New Zealand Antarctic Society, Volume 21, No. 3 & 4, in 2003.)

16. "The Aurora Australis was published in fewer than a hundred copies…" (From Print at the Poles by John Bowles, appearing in 'Discover NLS,' the magazine of the National Library of Scotland, Issue 7, Winter 2008.)

17. "This 'larger edition' has a different print run depending on who you talk to, but the most sensible estimates vary from a conservative fifty-five (quoted by the National Maritime Museum) to 'about a hundred', a number traditionally bandied about by prospective buyers looking to drive down the price. The explorer's only granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, tells me that the actual quantity of copies printed is probably somewhere in between: 'I think there were more than fifty-five.'" (From Double Booked by Nick Smith, appearing in The Bookdealer, No. 178, November 2008.)

18. "Somewhere between ninety to one-hundred copies of the book were created, and of these only about thirty are known to have been fully bound." (From Historic Books: Aurora Australis by Ernest Shackleton. This article appeared in 2009 at http://inkweaver-review.blogspot.com/2009/05/historic-books-aurora-australis-by.html)

19. "Joyce and Wild are said to have printed between 75 and 100 copies of each page." (From Light in the South, by Allen Mawer. (National Library Magazine, National Library of Australia, Canberra, March 2009.)




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