Rare Nobu Shirase and Alice in Wonderland Titles in Fall Auctions

Japanese Antarctic Expedition and Lewis Carroll close out year
Courtesy of POTTER Auctions

Left: The “original Alice’s” own copy of Vladimir Nabokov's Russian translation of Alice that is considered almost as rare as the 1865 suppressed first edition of Alice, $10,000/15,000. Right: First authorized edition of Alice, inscribed by Carroll to the British illustrator Richard Doyle, $30,000/50,000. 

Between 1910 and 1912, Japanese explorer Nobu Shirase led the first non-European expedition to reach the South Pole. While the pole attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, the Japanese Antarctic Expedition resulted in several notable achievements, including the first landing on the coast of King Edward VII Land and the fastest recorded sledging journey. Delegated to the sidelines of history until recently, Nobu Shirase’s accomplishments were overshadowed by the global attention on European expeditions led by Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. An upcoming sale at Potter & Potter Auctions, however, will help shed light on Shirase’s important contributions to polar exploration.

On October 12, Potter & Potter will offer at auction the Nobu Shirase and Japanese Arctic Exploration collection built by Chet Ross. Many of the items offered at the sale will be coming across the auction block for the first time.

“This has been a sale several years in the making and a personal goal of mine since I started at Potter & Potter,” said Chris Brink. “I wanted to put together a sale solely dedicated to exploration that would help expand our knowledge on the subject with items that have never come to market.”

Collector Chet Ross has published the only bibliography on the Japanese Antarctic Expedition found in the reference library of any serious polar collector. The Potter & Potter catalogue will act as a revised bibliography of the expedition with new entries and insights.  

“Ross has solely created a market with serious demands for these rarities by searching the farthest depths of the Japanese book trade, employing his own agents to help bring these items to North America,” said Brink. Highlights include Shirase’s personal military textbooks, which “helped him become the fearless leader of the small crew on the undersized Kainan Maru who became the first non-Europeans to reach Antarctica.”

In addition to the Ross collection, the sale will include a second session of collections from various consignors, including the USS Bear auxiliary wheel, used in the Greely Relief Expedition and on Richard E. Byrd’s second expedition to the Antarctic. Also on offer is the original camera taken on Byrd’s first expedition to Antarctica. The documentary about the expedition filmed with that camera would later win the Oscar for Best Cinematography, becoming the first documentary to win the coveted award.

Rounding out their auction year, Potter & Potter will also offer an important collection of Alice in Wonderland material on November 30. Built over four decades by Stephen and Nancy Farber, the collection includes over 2,000 titles. Some highlights include a presentation Alice from Lewis Carroll to the English illustrator Richard Doyle (whom Carroll almost chose to illustrate Alice); a presentation Alice from Tenniel with an original sketch of the Mad Hatter; and a massive six-foot-tall celestial globe featuring all the Alice characters, a one-of-a-kind prototype from a prominent English globe maker.

Both auctions will offer online and absentee bidding in addition to in-person bidding at Potter & Potter’s auction house in Chicago.