The Vic Spitzer collection: books of high adventure, intrepid travel and exotic places.


THE STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA has recently gained from a generous

donation of travel and adventure books, which has been catalogued as The

Vic Spitzer Collection. (1) In brief, it comprises about 1200 volumes on

mountaineering, exploration and trekking, with coverage of all the major

mountaineering regions of the world, including the Polar regions, and

with special attention to Mount Everest and Nepal. It also contains

books on the cultures and peoples who inhabit these regions. Those of us

who have not been there will regard many of the regions described and

discussed in these volumes as exotic and unusual. The historical

coverage of the collection is significant, beginning with volumes from

the mid-nineteenth century and extending to volumes published in very

recent years, although the bulk of volumes were first published during

the years between 1951 and 1990. (2)


The collection was donated to the library under the Federal

Government's Cultural Gifts Scheme by an interesting man, who was

both a successful businessman and an intrepid traveller. Vic Spitzer

came to Australia with his family from Romania in 1939. After service

with the AIF in World War II he returned to enroll at Melbourne

University to complete a science degree with major studies in chemistry.

He began work as an industrial chemist, but later moved over to assist

with the family timber business when his father retired. Later, after

selling the business, he worked as a government patents examiner before

undertaking the first in a variety of successful business ventures,

including, most notably, the management of three acute private hospitals

and, more recently, the development and running of a property trust. He

also worked for a time as personal assistant to the managing director of

a large public company.

Although his work demanded a lot of him, Spitzer always managed to

find time for his interest in trekking, adventure travel and

mountaineering. With work commitments limiting his chances for personal

involvement in such activities, he exercised his interest by reading

widely about the exploits of others in their published accounts. This,

no doubt, was the genesis for what was later to become one of the best

and most comprehensive specialist book collections of its kind in

Australia. Combining his interest in adventure travel with his

administrative skills, his persistence and his lively wit, it is hardly

surprising that Spitzer was able to amass such a magnificent collection.

It is worth noting, also, that the collection was largely built in the

days prior to the advent of the internet, when serious collecting meant

the sending out of wish lists, the purposeful scouring of

booksellers' catalogues and the maintaining of world-wide personal

contacts, both with those in the book trade and with those who were

fellow collectors.

It was not until relatively late in life, with many of his work

commitments behind him, that Spitzer was able to begin his own

involvement in trekking and adventure travel, which eventually took him

to sixty-three countries across the world, spread across all the

continents. His personal trekking history is impressive. Between 1972

and 1992, he completed twenty trekking expeditions to places as varied

as New Guinea, Patagonia and Kenya. He has had a special interest in

Nepal, completing seasons spanning more than a decade in the region.

Spitzer's long held interest in the subject, combined in later

years with personal experience, has made his choice of volumes for

inclusion in the Spitzer Collection particularly apposite.

Vic Spitzer finally retired in 2004, both from work commitments and

from active trekking, and has only recently had the time to think about

what he wanted to do with his large collection of travel books. The

answer came in discussions with Des Cowley, Rare Printed Collections

Manager at the State Library of Victoria. (3) Spitzer believed that his

books would be of general interest to readers, not just specialists, and

was anxious that the collection should be easily accessible to all

comers. He further believed that the items in the collection should

remain together. (4) When it was pointed out to him that many of the

items in the collection would now be considered valuable and rare, and

that it would be difficult to house the entire collection on open

access, a compromise was proposed. The books would be split over various

locations in the library. Each item on open access would be given a

bookplate, advertising it as part of the collection. Items in closed

storage would be identified by a note in the Library catalogue and a

unique prefix to the call number. The outcome of this arrangement is

that most items from the Spitzer Collection are now housed as part of

the Rare Printed Collections, with a few of the more recently-published,

the large format and the photographic volumes on open access shelves, or

in other specialist areas. (5)


What does the Spitzer Collection contain? This can best be answered

in terms of how the collection was built up. It began with books on

Mount Everest, then opened out to include books on Nepal and the

Himalayas, and was finally extended to books about mountaineering and

travel in the rest of the world. (6) Volumes about Everest comprise the

largest single-topic grouping in the collection, almost a fifth of the

total. Of these, many of the most interesting are those that pre-date

the first successful climb to the summit by Hillary and Tensing. Between

the years 1921 and 1952, the British climbing fraternity made no less

than nine separate expeditions to Everest, most of them for

reconnaissance purposes, but including the famous Third Expedition of

1924, when Mallory and Irvine were lost after an ill-fated summit

attempt. In addition, British aviators achieved the first flight over

Mount Everest, using biplanes that took off from India. It is a measure

of just how comprehensive the collection is that all the written

accounts of these exploits may be found, beautifully preserved and in

excellent condition, as first editions. (7) To round out this part of

the collection, there is also the expedition report written by john Hunt

after returning from the successful 1953 attempt on the summit, The

Ascent of Everest, and two volumes by Sir Francis Younghusband, an early

traveller with experience of the Himalayan region. (8)


One of the standout volumes of interest from this period of Everest

exploration is the account of the Third Expedition of 1924, entitled The

Fight for Everest. (9) This expedition made two attempts on the summit

and came close to conquering it some twenty-nine years before Hillary,

but the near-successful attempt cost the lives of the second pair to

attempt it, the famous George Leigh-Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Debate

still rages as to whether it is possible that this pair actually reached

the summit before losing their lives on the descent. George

Mallory's frozen and preserved body was located by the Eric

Simonson expedition of 1999, but there were no clues to help answer this

enigmatic question. Subsequent accounts abound of what happened to

Mallory and Irvine, but none can match the poignancy of the original

account offered by their climbing companion, N. E. Odell. Odell's

account was written up as Chapter VI of The Fight for Everest. At the

time, Odell was in support of the two lead climbers and had climbed to

about 26000 feet (7924 metres) and had just ascended a minor crag when

there was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere above me and I saw

the whole summit ridge and peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far

away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last

step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object

moving and approaching the rock step. A second object followed, and

then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently

watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in

cloud once more, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the

second figure join the first. It was of course none other than

Mallory and Irvine ... (10)

This was the last ever sighting of the lost climbers. The tiny

figures set against the great natural background indicated the magnitude

of the task which faced them and the cloud which obscured Odell's

view seemed symbolic of the mystery that has shrouded their fate ever




The other standout Everest volume published prior to 1953 is the

account of the first flight over Everest, published as First over

Everest, which is every bit as enthralling from the viewpoint of

technical ingenuity as the account of the 1924 Expedition is for the

human drama. (11) The idea of the expedition was to test the

capabilities of the aeroplane and the camera as a means of acquiring new

knowledge of the area around Everest. It was financed by Lady Huston and

was implemented under the control of the Everest Flight Committee,

formed for the purposes of scientific discovery. Flights were made over

an extensive area of the Himalayas, enabling the production of a

twenty-mile-long by two-mile-wide survey map of the area culminating in

the summit of Everest. Two flights were made over Everest, on 4 and 19

April 1933. In his Foreword, novelist John Buchan admits that

"there is no young man who, if he had the choice, would not prefer

to stagger blind and panting onto the snow-cap of Everest rather than

look down upon it from the air", but "the spirit of hardihood

and adventure" is common to any assault of the great mountain

whether from the air or from the ground. (12)

In point of fact, Buchan is correct. For the times, and given the

state of contemporary aviation knowledge, this was quite a feat, both in

terms of technical know-how and human physiology. For the best account

of how humans react to high-level flying (about which little was known

at the time), the reader can turn to The Pilot's Book of Everest,

also available as part of the collection, which offers a more homely and

perhaps less grand account of the undertaking than the

"official" account already mentioned. In his

"Apologia" at the start of the book, Squadron Leader

Clydesdale, first pilot to the expedition, claims that, apart from the

scientific quest, the flights were undertaken with "an element of

romance". The undertaking was "an adventure, for there existed

at least in some measure the idea that the unknown was being

probed". The likelihood of technical failure of the aeroplane or

equipment was, in his view, much over-rated in the minds of some; the

real problematical element was how men would react and survive under

conditions of extreme elevation and physical strain. Happily, the

difficulties that arose proved less taxing than might have been

expected. (13)


The most interesting chapters from the two books are those that

describe the flights over Everest from the pilots' point of view.

(14) Certain problems are shared by aviators and mountaineers, such as

difficult natural conditions, the unpredictability of the weather,

limited visibility and equipment failures. For the aviators, visibility

proved to be a real nightmare on their first flight. Later, the pilots

began to experience the problems of massive downdrafts and updrafts of

air which are common in the vicinity of mountains, so much so that, on

one occasion, Clydesdale's plane lost 2000 feet (610 metres) within

a few seconds, bringing him dangerously close to the level of the

Everest summit. There were problems with the oxygen delivery systems,

which compounded the haziness of mind which the pilots suffered at such

a great height. Uncontrollable drift also proved to be a problem for

accurate navigation. At the end of the two flights over Everest,

Clydesdale opined that, even though they might have expected to feel

some of the romance of the enormous masses of ice and rock that they had

seen below them, still, "we could take no liberties with

Everest". (15)

Everest books dated after the successful summit attempt are of a

different nature, reflecting, perhaps, the changing priorities of

climbers and adventurers. Indeed, serious expeditions which attempt to

pioneer new routes or achieve genuine technical breakthroughs have

gradually given way to almost ludicrous and increasingly meaningless

"records", as more and more people ascend. (16) The latest

craze, evident since the 1990s onwards, is to turn Everest into a giant

arena for adventure sports. In the face of these changes, Everest has

inevitably become something of a tourist destination, stripped of those

elements that make it part of the great unknown, and leading to

different notions of risk and safety. Tourists to Everest seem to desire

safety above adventure, plodding in the footsteps of their well-paid

guides, while adventure sportsmen go to extreme lengths to inject the

risk back in, with speed climbs, snowboarding runs down the slopes and

ascents by blind climbers or amputees. It may be that, as a collector,

Vic Spitzer was of the old school, or that his collection largely

pre-dates these trends, but, for whatever reason, most of the post-1953

books in the collection stick to the older expedition-style accounts,

such as the two British south west face expeditions led by Chris

Bonnington during the 1970s, or those which document genuine technical

advances, such as the first solo ascent without oxygen by Reinhold



A second significant grouping of books in the Spitzer Collection is

that related to Nepal and the Himalayas. (17) At just on sixty per cent

of the total, this group forms the backbone, so to speak, of the

collection, and was one of the motivating interests that lead to the

development of the collection in the first place, arising, no doubt,

from Spitzer's personal interest in, and intimate knowledge of, the

Himalayan region, after having completed eleven trekking seasons there

between 1972 and 1992.

Perhaps one of the more interesting climbing expeditions of the

post-1953 era in the Himalayas was the 1970 Bonnington expedition to

climb the south face of Annapurna. (18) This was a significant climb for

a number of reasons. Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the

world and was important in the history of Himalayan climbing as the

first peak over the magic height of eight thousand metres to be climbed.

This had been achieved in 1950 by a French expedition lead by Maurice

Herzog, but had not been climbed since then, when Bonnington undertook

to conquer it by the technically challenging south face. Prior to the

climb, the south face was known to be swept by avalanches all the time

and was judged to be more difficult than Everest, although the approach

seemed easier. Its huge size and unrelenting steepness necessitated a

climb through a snow ridge, ice cliffs, a rock band, a steep snow arete

and a rocky crest near the summit. It required a combination of ice

climbing and standard mountaineering skills and presented a formidable

challenge. (19)

After a relatively easy approach and the successful establishment

of the lower camps, the real challenge began with the ice ridge, which

took over eighteen days to conquer and became an ongoing source of

difficulty when supplies had to be carried past it to the higher camps

above. As they began contending with the next major hurdle, the rock

band which began at about 24000 feet (7315 metres), the weather had

cleared and progress by means of a fixed rope was steady. After these

preparations, there was only the "mini rock band" at 26000

feet (7924 metres) to cross and a relatively straightforward snow

traverse to the summit. The summit push was undertaken between 17 and 27

May and was successfully concluded by Dougal Haston and Don Whillans at

their second attempt, the first having been cut short by bad weather.

Unfortunately, the elation of their success was short-lived. In

attempting to get as many team members to the summit as possible, Ian

Clough, one of the best and most experienced climbers, was killed in an

ice avalanche below Camp II, at a mere 17000 feet (5181 metres).

Bonnington summed up the feelings for all the party when he described

the body being brought out:

I met them just starting across the glacier. It was terribly

difficult to believe that the inanimate bundle tied in a tarpaulin,

strapped to a ladder, had only an hour or so before been an active,

living person. (20)

But these are the realities of Himalayan climbing. At the end of

his account, Bonnington attempts to evaluate the worth of their

successful ascent balanced against its cost in human life. He can only

conclude that climbing was a large part of all their lives and that the

passion for climbing had been a strong one. The ascent of Annapurna had

been "a breakthrough into a new dimension of Himalayan climbing on

the great walls of the highest mountains in the world" and the

starting point for new challenges in their lives. (21)

Published in 1971, Bonnington's book of the climb must be one

of the best-produced mountaineering volumes ever published. As was

common at the time, it sported a dust cover designed to make the book

visually appealing on the bookstore shelf, using a spectacular colour

photograph to achieve this. It was securely bound between cloth covers

and it used good quality paper. It contains sixty colour photographs,

all of which are equally as spectacular as the one on the dust cover,

and able to make readers well appreciate the dangers and beauties of

Himalayan climbing. There are also a number of route maps, one being a

fold-out photograph of the mountain with the ascent route superimposed

upon it.


Leaving aside Everest and the Himalayas, we may note the smaller

group of volumes related to places and mountains on continents other

than Asia. (22) The only other significant grouping here is books

related to exploration of the polar regions, of which there are a fair

number, mostly related to the Antarctic expeditions of Scott

(1910-1912), Amundsen (1910-1912) and Shackleton (1914-1917). Several of

these are books of photographs, one containing Frank Hurley's

famous depictions of Shackleton's expedition. Frank Worsley's

telling of the Shackleton expedition story benefits from Worsley's

close association (as commander of HMS Endurance, the ship of passage

for the expedition) with the events and personalities involved.

Naturally, quite a number of these accounts are of general and

continuing interest to readers and may therefore be found on open


One of the more interesting and lesser-known of polar explorers was

Luigi Amedeo, the Duke of Abruzzi (1873-1933). Abruzzi was a mountaineer

and explorer who made the first ascent of Mount St Elias in Alaska in

1897 and led an expedition to the Arctic in 1899. Later, in 1906, he led

a party that climbed six of the principal peaks in the Ruwenzori Ranges,

Uganda. His final major expedition was to the Karakorum and Western

Himalaya in 1909. Abruzzi was born into royalty, a member of the ancient

house of Savoy. His father reigned as king of Spain. His uncle and

cousin both reigned as king of Italy. He was obviously the sort of

explorer who troubles himself neither to write accounts of his journeys

nor to photograph places of interest along the way. For these menial

tasks there are always subordinates to save a royal the trouble of doing

so. His expedition reports were regularly written by Filippo de Filippi

and his photographs were mainly taken by Vittorio de Sella, although the

Duke did raise his pen to write a preface or two and point the camera

towards a few odd views of worth. As things turned out, this proved to

be a suitable arrangement for posterity: de Filippi was a fellow of the

Royal Geographical Society and was well able to report on the most

significant aspects of the expedition; de Sella took some of the most

sublime photographs ever seen of the world's wildest places. The

Duke may have led his expeditions, but the communication of his

accomplishments was the work of others.

The collection has a good coverage of the Duke's travels, six

volumes in all, including two original Italian editions, all of which

are valuable items with high bookseller's valuations. In the field

of polar exploration, the relevant volumes in the collection are the

original Italian edition and the English translation describing the

ascent of Mount St Elias. (23) The English version is one of the most

lavishly produced volumes in the collection, with calf boards, thick,

highly-calandered paper and guillotined edges (rather than the--for the

time--more normal uncut quires that have to be slit by the purchaser).

There is a profusion of smallish black-and-white photographic

reproductions, two fold-out maps and four fold-out plates at the back of

the volume, and many full-page lithographic reproductions throughout the

body of the work. The process of foxing has begun and is advanced in

places, but, on the whole, the volume is in very good condition.


The collection contains much smaller groupings again, related to

the European Alps, the lower and less challenging peaks of America and

Africa, and very much smaller groupings again of books on Australasia

and Oceania. We should not be surprised by the size of these groupings,

as the trend towards more and more challenging expeditions and climbs

has meant that adventurers, mountaineers and even trekkers have

naturally gravitated towards the more extreme regions of the planet,

with the result that there are more books written on extreme

destinations. For leading-edge climbers and adventurers, there is simply

less kudos in climbing the relatively easy slopes of Kilimanjaro at 5895

metres than there is in mastering the weather and technical slopes of a

Himalayan peak above 7000 metres (as many of them are). Nevertheless,

there is at least one fascinating account of an expedition to

Kilimanjaro in the collection, that of H. H. Johnson's historic

expedition of 1884, undertaken at a time in history when Mount Miltsin

in Morocco at 12000 feet (3658 metres) was widely thought to be the

highest mountain in Africa.

The account of his travels is recorded in The Kilima-Njaro

Expeditions, published in 1886. (24) Johnson's book is divided into

two sections, part travelogue, part scholarly study of the local region,

the second of these giving detailed accounts of various scientific

topics, including (as his sub-title tells us) "natural history,

languages, and commerce of the Kilima-Njaro district". The dual

nature of his account was in deference to contemporary notions of what

was often called "scientific exploration", but for us of a

later age, the travelogue is by far the more interesting of the two

parts. Johnson was one of those very impressive late Victorians like

Richard Burton and others who managed to combine the running of a

full-scale expedition with the intellectual rigour of a scholar. At one

point in the narrative he complains that he has been disappointed in his

expectation of being given professional assistance from a specialist

naturalist. Not only does he need to administer a thousand small details

in the running of the expedition, so he tells us, but he must also spend

time collecting botanical and zoological specimens in the approved

scientific manner.

It is easy for us in the current age to forget just how intrepid an

explorer had to be at the end of the nineteenth century. Any relatively

fit trekker these days may simply ring up a specialist firm and organise

a trip to the summit of Kilimanjaro almost as a week's outing, and

with a reasonable prospect of an easy flight into Tanzania from anywhere

in the world. Johnson had to travel from London, overland to Egypt,

until joining his steamship at Suez and travelling on to Aden. From

there he proceeded by steamer to Zanzibar, where he provisioned himself

for the coming expedition and engaged thirty porters, men who were

notable as old employees of Stanley in the Congo. From Zanzibar he then

travelled by Arab dhau to Mombassa. From Mombassa, on the coast, he

travelled through Taita and on to Kilimanjaro. At Kilimanjaro he made

two ascents of the mountain, since his principal scientific interest was

in the alpine district near the snowline rather than the lower levels.

(25) On his first ascent he made camp at 8000 feet (2438 metres) where

tall trees were still in evidence, but by the time he had reached 9000

feet (2743 metres) he noted the end of the forests and the emergence of

tussocky grasses. Further ascent was frustrated by a headlong retreat of

his porters from a local band of marauders, and he was forced to join

his men in this rapid departure from the mountain to protect both his

person and his precious specimens.


Johnson's account of his ascent is honest, and does not try to

pretend that he met with more success than he did. For this reason, it

is a fascinating story, telling us more, perhaps, about exploration and

the human spirit than one of the expeditions that met with great acclaim

or more accomplishment. His second ascent took him closer to the summit.

His party climbed to 9000 feet where they constructed their "base

camp" of thatch huts within a fortified compound. From there,

Johnson first tried an ascent on Kimawenzi, the smaller of the two

peaks, but got no further than its base owing to "the terrible

hurricane of wind" that greeted him; he doubted whether, in any

case, the summit was attainable through "want of foothold".

(26) Next he tried the main summit, getting to a height of about 16000

feet (4877 metres) and down again within two days, having reached the

snow but unable, without the support of his porters (who carried his

specimens), to reach the summit. Johnson admits somewhat ruefully that

Possibly there are some among my readers who have scaled the giant

peaks of South America, India, and Armenia, and who would laugh at

the puny difficulties that Kilima-Njaro presents--a mountain that

can be climbed without even the aid of a walking-stick, and where

the most serious obstacles arise from mist and cold which would

scarcely deter a cockney from ascending Snowdon. (27)

And yet, even so, he goes on to admit his great exhaustion, his

intense feelings of bodily cold and a growing sense of desolation,

alone, as he was, amidst the expanse of stones and snow. Johnson's

reader, however, if he is fair-minded, will admit that Johnson was

perhaps a little hard on himself and the supposed insignificance of his

achievement in getting to the snowline alone and unaided. As any trekker

or bushwalker knows, it is very easy to underestimate the asperity of

the Alpine climate, which can turn nasty in very short order indeed. In

addition, there have been relatively few trekkers even today who attempt

the peak on their own. And how many modern-day trekkers would plan to

gather a serious collection of preserved flora and fauna specimens as

they travelled? The summit of Kilimanjaro was first reached by Dr Hans

Meyer on 6 October 1899, in partnership with Ludwig Purtscheller and the

Marangu army scout, Yohanas Kinyala Lauwo. A copy of the book that tells

the story of this first ascent is included in the Spitzer Collection.


In terms of significant groupings within the collection, mention

should be made of the biographies, guidebooks, topographical studies and

cultural-ethnographic studies that are included in the collection,

predominantly in relation to the Himalayan region. For the studies of

the Himalayan region, some indication as to the scope of such studies

has already been given. It should also be noted that a lot of scientific

information related to the natural world was made available right from

the time of the earliest explorers and included as part of their

published expedition reports. (29) However, the collection also contains

a significant number of specialist studies of the people, culture and

topography of the Himalayan region, including a number of guidebooks.

The collection is also quite strong on biographies, autobiographies and

memoirs, such as those of Hillary, Tensing, Heinrich Harrer, and H. W.

'Bill' Tilman (1898-1977), English mountaineer and explorer,

famous for his Himalayan climbs and sailing voyages.


In the course of research for this article, the author was kindly

allowed access to the compactus in the rare books area of the library,

allowing him to see the majority of the books in situ. As physical

objects, they represent a real mix of formats and sizes, sporting a

variety of covers and with varying standards of printing, graphic

reproduction and quality of paper. An overwhelming impression is the

change in book production techniques that this run of volumes

illustrates to the attentive eye. At a time when the printing of text is

undergoing extensive technical revision, cyber-space reigns supreme and

there is serious talk that e-books may even supplant the printed word

entirely, it is edifying to be reminded that technology changes slowly

and deliberately, and that different and evolving methods of "text

capture" may each reveal their own glories and limitations. It is

somehow comforting to view row after row of beautifully-produced books

on the shelves of the storage compactus, each indelibly marked (as it

were) with the printing technologies of its own era. This is mere

nostalgia, some people may think, but it provides a real lesson in how

knowledge has been transmitted over time and must be a prime, if perhaps

subliminal, motivation for serious collectors of volumes that span

different eras, such as the Spitzer Collection does.

In terms of monetary worth and scarcity value, the collection

contains a number of real gems. Perhaps the most valuable are the set of

nine volumes by the Swedish explorer and geographer, Sven Anders Hedin

(1865-1952), published in English as Southern Tibet. This set contains

an impressive bound atlas of Tibetan panoramas and an extensive folio of

maps. The Spitzer Collection also contains five volumes written by the

British mountaineer, D. W. Freshfield (1845-1934), three of which are

extremely rare and valuable, namely his Round Kagchenjungu (1903) and

both volumes of Exploration of the Caucasus (1896). Only slightly less

valuable and rare, but no less fascinating, is his Travels in the

Central Caucasus (1869). Vic Spitzer tells the story of how, when he

finally located and purchased an original edition of Round Kagchenjungu,

he considered it too valuable to suffer excessive handling, leading him

to purchase a cheaper reprint for reading purposes. (30)

For rare mountaineering books, it would be hard not to make further

mention of Hans Meyer's Ostafrikanische Gletscherfahrten (1891),

translated into English as Across East African Glaciers. The Spitzer

Collection actually contains two copies of the English version, both of

which, if put up for auction on the open market, would most certainly

fetch considerably more than the German original, partly because of

their excellent state of preservation and partly for their rarity. Note,

also, the previously mentioned volumes related to the Duke of

Abruzzi's travels, all of which are beautifully preserved examples

of the book producer's art. Likewise the previously-mentioned

volume by H. H. Johnson. Also worthy of note are several books by

Hungarian-British archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943), two by

British climber and explorer Edward Whymper (1840-1911), best remembered

for the first ascent of the Matterhorn, and the two volumes of G. T.

Vigne's Travels in Kasmir, Ladak, Iskardo (1842), which are the

oldest items in the collection. Vigne, a Frenchman, was the first

European to penetrate the heart of the Karakorum, eventually completing

four expeditions in the region. (31)


A number of the books in the collection are worth looking at for

their unexpected content, for the idiosyncratic tendencies of their

authors, or for the superb photography and photographic reproduction

within their pages. To take the last of these first, mention has already

been made of Sella's stunning photography in relation to the Duke

of Abruzzi's expeditions. To the work of Sella we may immediately

add that of Galen Rowell, ten of whose books form part of the

collection. For capturing the sheer grandeur of nature, Rowell's

work rivals that of the famous Ansell Adams, particularly evident from

In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods. (32) Rowell has a nice touch

with human subjects as well. When he photographs men in the great

outdoors, he captures their frailty and vulnerability, and yet somehow

is able to suggest their great capacity to display courage in difficult

situations, with all of this balanced against the immense power and

scale of the natural world.

As for idiosyncratic authors, a striking example springs to mind,

arising from two books in the collection which originated from the same

journey, but which record it in vastly different ways. In 1935, Peter

Fleming, brother of Ian, of James Bond fame, undertook a journey

overland from Beijing in China to Kashmir in India. The journey took

seven months and covered about 3500 miles (5632 kilometres). On the

journey he kept company with Ella Maillart, a Swiss traveller and

writer, who made her name with a series of journeys to remote regions of

Asia during the 1930s. It was a matter of contention as to who was

accompanying who. Says Maillart:

Hearing me speak of the Tsaidam and the Smigunovs, he had said

coldly: "As a matter of fact, I am going back to Europe by that

route. You can come with me if you like ..." "I beg you pardon," I

had answered, "It's my route and it's I who'll take you, if I can

think of some way in which you might be useful to me." The

controversy still rages. (33)

Whoever was the instigator, the journey produced two great classics

of travel writing, Fleming's News from Tartary and Maillart's

Forbidden Journey. (34) Reading these two books, each with its own

interpretation of events, the reader would be forgiven for thinking that

the authors had undertaken separate journeys. For human interest and

mild idiosyncrasy, mention should also be made of Giuseppe Tucci

(1894-1984), an Italian linguist, explorer and orientalist who lead

several expeditions to the Himalayan region. Vic Spitzer, who met

Tensing Norgay, relates the story that Tensing tells of Tucci, who had,

at one stage, hired Tensing as a servant. According to Tensing, Tucci,

whilst on expedition in the wilds of the Himalayas, would demand that a

full table be set for his evening meal, including linen and

candlesticks, and that Tensing should serve him at table wearing white

gloves. (35)

Many would not expect a collection of travel adventure and

mountaineering books to be written by or about women. In fact, women

have always travelled in the most intrepid of ways and have often

written about their experiences since at least Victorian times. The

collection is quite strong on women adventurers, including the

temperamentally difficult Alexandra David-Neel, whose biography was

written by Barbara and Michael Foster. (36) Neel was a woman full of

contradictions. She used people shamelessly, including her husband whom

she hardly ever lived with and whom she importuned endlessly with

demands for money to support her wanderings around Asia. She travelled

often in Tibet and learned the language, also claiming to be a Buddhist,

although she was never noted for her sense of compassion. Her

determination and the ability to survive hardship, however, are present

everywhere in her writings. Also of note is the volume entitled The

Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them, which, so the frontispiece tells

us, was written by "A Lady Pioneer". (37) The lady concerned

was, in fact, Nina Mazuchelli, the wife of a British army chaplain, who

crossed the eastern Himalayas in the grandest style imaginable,

accompanied by a swarm of servants, her very considerable number of

personal toilet items and a fair load of miscellaneous baggage, while

she herself travelled the whole journey carried by her porters in a

palanquin. This was aristocratic travel at its purest! These two women

are not alone in the annals of female adventure; a number of other

accounts are available in the collection. For a conspectus of women

travellers the reader may turn to Victorian Lady Travellers and, for

women mountaineers, Women Climbing. (38) Both of these volumes are

available as part of the Sptitzer Collection.


Who might benefit from these valuable new acquisitions to the

library? For the bibliophile, there is the pleasure of the many first

editions and the opportunity to see and handle volumes that are rare and

expensive. For scholars, there is a concentration of volumes in a number

of fascinating and specialist areas of study, most notably in the area

of mountaineering on Everest. Also, the books cover a wide historical

era, and enable the social researcher and historian to access changing

notions of exploration, scientific endeavour and the conduct of

expeditions, many of these notions standing in contrast to current

thinking about how such activities are best undertaken. For the general

reader who likes to "dip", the Spitzer Collection provides a

rich vein of interesting and often idiosyncratic characters, a many and

varied list of exotic locations (many of them part of a now-vanished or

vanishing world) and the opportunity to judge and assess human nature in

conditions of hardship and challenge. I confidently predict that the

volumes from this collection will see much use from a variety of

readers, all of whom will be grateful to Vic Spitzer for his generous

donation to the State Library of Victoria.


(1.) Vic Spitzer originally contacted the library in 2004.

Valuation and official acceptance took place in 2005. Cataloguing of the

collection is expected to be completed this year. See SLV News,

March-June 2007, p.7, for the original public announcement of the


(2.) Of the total book volumes recorded as belonging to the Vic

Spitzer Collection in an SLV catalogue search, January 2008, when

cataloguing was substantially complete, volumes first published before

1930 were scarce but rose in number between 1931 and 1950, then

increased in number significantly during the period between 1951 and

1970. From 1971 to 1980, and again between 1981 and 1990, numbers

increased, tapering off again between 1991 and 2000. A small number were

first published after 2000. On these figures, it may be concluded that

the collection is heavily weighted towards books first published between

1951 and 1990, and with a significant number during the 1980s.

(3.) Discussions took place over the period 2005-2006. See an

exchange of letters dated between March and July 2006 in which this

arrangement is agreed upon between Cowley and Spitzer. The letters are

currently held in the Spitzer File, Rare Books Section, SLV.

(4.) Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, Kew, 11 January,


(5.) Readers interested in retrieving items from the collection for

perusal can obtain a convenient listing by going to and adding "Vic Spitzer Collection"

as a phrase when constructing their search. The unique call number used

for items in the Rare Printed Collections is RAREVS (which designates

Rare Vic Spitzer).

(6.) Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, Kew, 11 January,


(7.) The only expeditions without volumes describing them are the

accounts of the Fifth British Expedition of 1935, led by Eric Shipton,

and the lesser-known 1950 Anglo-American Reconnaisance Expedition of

Nepal led by Charles Houston.

(8.) John Hunt, Ascent of Everest (London: Hodder and Stoughton,

1953). The collection also contains a copy of Hunt's Our Everest

Adventure: the Pictorial History from Kathmandu to the Summit

(Leicester: Brockhampton Press, 1954). Francis Younghusband (1863-1924)

lead a British army expedition to Lhasa in 1903 to force the Tibetans

into negotiating on frontiers and trade, after the Viceroy of India,

Lord Curzon, became concerned about possible Russian influence inside

Tibet. The collection includes six of Younghusband's books,

including two on Everest.

(9.) E.F. Norton, et. al., The Fight for Everest: 1924 (London:

Edward Arnold and Co., 1925).

(10.) Ibid., p.130.

(11.) P.F.M. Fellowes, L. V. Stewart Blacker, et. al., First over

Everest: The Houston-Mount Everest Expedition 1933 (London: John Lane

the Bodley Head, 1933).

(12.) Ibid., p.viii.

(13.) Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale and D. F. M'Intyre

[sic.], The Pilots' Book of Everest (Edinburgh: William Hodge and

Company, 1936). In regard to the views on the "romance" and

the problems of human survival, see p.3.

(14.) See, in particular, ibid., Chapters VI, VII and IX.

(15.) Ibid., pp.174-5.

(16.) Among the more recondite of these records are claims to be

the first married couple to ascend (Andrej & Marija Stremfelj of

Slovenia, 199O), the first father and son team (lean Noel Roche and his

son Roche Bertrand, 1990), the first Nepalese woman (Pasang Lhamu

Sherpa, 1993) and the oldest woman (Anna Czerwinska, 2000). While not

wishing to take anything away from these feats, claims such as these

could very soon multiply into the almost boundlessly ludicrous.

(17.) It is possible to talk about the Himalayan mountain system as

a generic term for the ranges that separate the Indian sub-continent

from the Tibetan Plateau, and in this sense the ranges extend across six

nations: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However,

geographers, and certainly climbers, often separate the Himalayan Ranges

from the Karakorum Ranges and the Hindu Kush. The southern boundary that

separates the Karakorum Ranges from the Himalayas is marked by the

Bygilgit, Indus and Shyok River network. The mountains of this range

span the borders between Pakistan, China and India. They include K2, the

second highest mountain in the world. The Hindu Kush area is, in effect,

the westernmost extension of the Karakorum and is located in Afghanistan

and the northern sections of Pakistan.

(18.) Chris Bonnington, Annapurna South Face (London: Cassell,

1971). The present author well remembers reading this account with great

interest when it was first released. Bonnington is a compelling writer,

equally at home describing technical matters and the more human side of

a climbing expedition. It should be noted that Bonnington refers to the

peak as Annapurna I to distinguish it from the other peaks on the

Annapurna massif.

(19.) At the time, there was a growing feeling in some climbing

circles that the time had come to tackle Himalayan peaks with

lightweight parties, making a single push for the summit without

establishing long supply lines, as was the more conventional

expeditionary approach of the past. One successful example of this

approach was the ascent of Hidden Peak in 1975 by Reinhold Messner and

Peter Habelar, the smallest expedition in the history of Himalayan

mountaineering. For Annapurna, could Bonnington keep his team small and

move up the mountain as a body, eschewing an established supply line? In

the event, this proved impossible owing to the severe technical demands

made by the chosen route, but the team that Bonnington assembled was

only eleven in number, plus a team of six sherpas, which is a small

number for an expedition attempting such a difficult ascent.

(20.) Ibid., p.227.

(21.) Ibid., p.229.

(22.) The term 'continent' may be defined geographically,

geologically or by general usage, giving rise to a number of different

'models' of what a continent consists of. For the purposes of

analysing the collection, a six-continent model seems the most

appropriate. A survey of the subject listings in the SLV catalogue

reveals the following approximate spread of book topics based on

continents: Asia, 60 per cent; Polar Regions, 9 per cent; Europe, 5 per

cent; America, 4 per cent; Africa, 2 per cent; and Australasia and

Oceania, 1 per cent (with about 20 per cent of books related to more

than one continent, or not related to any one specific continent). In

the subsequent discussion of "Polar" exploration, I take this

term to refer to the Arctic, the Antarctic and other cold climate

regions, such as Alaska).

(23.) Filippo de Filippi, The Ascent of Mount St. [sic.] Elias

[Alaska] by H. R. H. Prince Luigi Amedeo di Savoia Duke of the Abruzzi

(Westminster: Archibald Constable and Co. Ltd, 1900).

(24.) H.H. Johnson, The Kilima-Njaro Expeditions: A Record of

Scientific Exploration in Eastern Equatorial Africa. And a General

Description of the Natural History, Languages, and Commerce of the

Kilima-Njaro District, (London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Co., 1886).

(25.) For Johnson in 1885, Kilima-Njaro was the name of a

"mountain mass" consisting of two principal summits, Kibo at

an elevation of 18880 feet (5754 metres) above sea level, and Kimawenzi

at 16250 feet (4953 metres), both of which ascend above the snow line.

Modern triangulation gives a height of 5895 metres (19340 feet) for Kibo

and 5149 metres (16890 feet) for Mawenzi. The Shira volcanic cone is

often added as a third summit at 3962 metres (13000 feet). Modern-day

trekkers have a choice of at least seven routes to the top of Kibo.

Johnson's guess that Kimawenzi could not be climbed "through

want of footholds" has proved correct and the climb requires the

use of specialist gear and some technical knowledge.

(26.) Johnson, op. cit., p.264.

(27.) Ibid., pp.274-5.

(28.) Hans Meyer, Across East African Glaciers: An Account of the

First Ascent of Kilimanjaro, trans. E. H. S. Calder, (London: George

Philip and Son, 1891). Meyer mentions Johnson's attempts on the

summit, casting a rather dubious eye over his estimates of elevation and

professes to misunderstand some of Johnson's descriptions of

significant points. He also concludes that Johnson did not attain a high

enough elevation to test his climbing skills, thus explaining

Johnson's remark that Kilimanjaro is a mountain "that can be

climbed without even the aid of a walking-stick" (pp.12-15).

(29.) For previous mention of the Himalayan region and its

features, vide supra, p.43. It was quite common during the age of

"scientific exploration" for published expedition reports to

be divided into two sections, one a narrative of the journey and the

other a collection of chapters related to any or all of climate,

geology, botany, zoology, anthropology and languages.

(30.) Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, SLV Rare Books

Stack, 22 January 2008.

(31.) Aside from these books, there are almost complete runs of

important journals: The Alpine Journal, 1957 to 1993; The American

Alpine Journal, 1950 to 1986; The Himalayan Journal, 1927 to 1993 (some

in facsimile reprint only); and The Mountain World, 1953-1968/9.

(32.) Galen Rowell, In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods (San

Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1977).

(33.) Ella K. Maillart, Forbidden Journey: From Peking to Kashmir

(London: William Heinemann, 1937), p.8.

(34.) Peter Fleming, News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to

Kashmir (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936) and Maillart, op. cit. There are

two other volumes by Maillart in the collection, the better of which is

Turkestan Solo: One Woman's Expedition from the Tien Shan to the

Kizil Kum, trans. John Rodker (New York: G. E Putnam's Sons,


(35.) Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, SLV Rare Books

Stack, 22 January 2008.

(36.) Barbara M. and Michael Foster, Forbidden Journey: the Life of

Alexandra David-Ned (San Francisco: Harper and Row, c1987).

(37.) Anon. [Nina Mazuchelli], The Indian Alps and How We Crossed

Them, being a Narrative of Two Years' Residence in the Eastern

Himalaya and Two Months Tour into the Interior (London: Longmans Green

and Co., 1876).

(38.) Dorothy Middleton, Victorian Lady Travellers (London:

Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965) and Bill Birkett, Women Climbing: 200

Years of Achievement (London: Black, 1989). Other books of note that

cover women's adventures are: Arlene Blum, Annapurna, a

Woman's Place (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, c1980); Luree

[sic.] Miller, On Top of the World: Five Women Explorers in Tibet (New

York: Paddington Press, c1976); Nea E. Morin, A Woman's Reach:

Mountaineering Memoirs (New York: Dodd Mead, c1968). See also Francis

Gribble, The Early Mountaineers (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1899), Ch.


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