July 2011 | Nate Pedersen

The Polar Almanac

HMS EnterpriseWhat may be the most northerly printed book is going under the hammer today (July 21) at Lawrence's Auctioneers in Somerset.

Lot number 3170 features the Polar Almanac, printed on board the H.M.S. Enterprise while it was wintering in a remote Arctic bay, a scant 120 miles from the North Pole.  The ship was commanded by Admiral Collinson and was part of an extensive search effort to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin and his polar expedition.  Sir Franklin, commanding the H.M.S. Terror and the Erebus, had set sail in 1846 to traverse the last unexplored section of the Northwest Passage.  It later emerged that the ships had become icebound in the Victoria Strait, with the entire crew perishing in a desperate attempt to reach the Canadian mainland.  Franklin's fate was still a mystery however, when Collinson set sail in 1850.  In the winter of 1853-54, Collinson and his crew anchored in Camden Bay, where the Polar Almanac was printed. 

The slim, 24 page booklet was printed on bright green papers in cream wrappers by the ship's coxswain Henry Hester.  The print run was, of course, quite small and only a handful of copies are known to have survived.  According to its entry in the auction catalogue, the Almanac details "the ship's company, the sun's bearing, the depots of provisions made as she sailed through icy waters, a monthly almanac listing daily events since her departure from England in January 1850 and all details of her journey up to September 26, 1853."

The Polar Almanac is to be sold with Collinson's own account of the ill-fated voyage, published 35 years later, entitled Journal of H.M.S. Enterprise . . . The auctioneers believe this to be Collinson's personal copy of the Almanac as it was passed down through his family.

The sale begins at 11:00 a.m. BST.  The estimate for the lot is £1500 - £2500.