A recent spell of hot weather in London has made it difficult to sleep at night—particularly so last Thursday when the temperature in my attic flat was still 30°C at midnight. Whilst I lay searching for sleep, I wondered quite how Macintosh, raised in the bracing climate of the highlands of Scotland, adapted to life in the tropical warmth of Grenada. Attempting to put my insomnia to profitable purpose, I made a periodic check of rare-book auction sites in an effort to track down a copy of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782) that might fall within my modest budget. Prices for bound copies of the 1782 first edition from John Murray usually run from £500 to £1,000, way beyond what I could afford. I was, therefore, thrilled when at 1:30 a.m. on Friday morning I spotted a listing at Lawrences for an auction of travel and exploration texts which included a somewhat rough and ready first edition of Travels (lot 2716, estimated at £100–£150).
From the accompanying photograph, it was clear the book was not in the best shape. Presented in its original boards (to which most 18th-century buyers would have added a bespoke binding to match the other texts in their private libraries) it was described in the listing as “a little shaken”. Whether it was the excitement of discovery (or the overwhelming heat of the night) I placed a bid by commission (a handy process that can be done on-line up to an hour before the auction begins). Encouraged by the estimate, I decided to go all out and bid £250 (plus buyer’s premium and eventual postage and packaging) in the hope that this might be enough to secure it. Sadly, however, it sold for £280; I missed out by £30. Although I had bid at the top end of my budget, I suspect that had I been in the auction room itself, the romance and bidding frenzy might have got to me. So, for now, the late-night searching continues.