Sep 28, 2023 - Sale 2646

Sale 2646 - Lot 46

Price Realized: $ 57,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 50,000 - $ 75,000
(ARCTIC.) Papers of the Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, including diaries, correspondence, lecture notes, and more. 3 boxes (3 linear feet) of Peary's personal papers and artifacts; condition varies widely, with water damage to some papers not generally affecting legibility, and occasional inked notations added by a later researcher. Various places, bulk 1877-1920

Additional Details

Robert E. Peary (1856-1920) was one of the most renowned Arctic explorers from the golden age of exploration, completing several expeditions to northern Greenland, and in April 1909 claiming victory in the race to the North Pole. This lot includes several folders of Peary's correspondence, 4 of his early pre-Arctic diaries, numerous typescript and manuscript articles and speeches, a small but interesting selection of photographs, a small collection of artifacts, and a portion of his original reference library.

The correspondence includes an outgoing letterbook, kept in Peary's hand aboard the ship Windward off Greenland from 7 May to July 1901, containing 18 letters on 17 pages. Most of the letters relate to an expedition camped on nearby Cape Sabine, Ellesmere Island. A letter to Peary's longtime lieutenant Matthew Henson, the first great Black Arctic explorer, discusses the expedition's tool chest; Henson is also mentioned in other letters.

Peary's correspondence file from 1 September to 28 October 1911 is housed in 7 folders. It includes approximately 170 incoming letters to Peary, 155 retained carbons of his responses, and 45 other documents. Most notable is a Letter Signed by former president Theodore Roosevelt to Peary dated 11 September 1911: "I was genuinely pleased to receive your telegram, and I think it mighty nice of you to have remembered me. I can hardly overstate to you how proud I am that I should have had some connection, however remote and insignificant, with helping you to perform your great epochal feat." Two Autograph Letters Signed are by Peary's assistant Matthew A. Henson, requesting letters of recommendation, one dated 16 September 1911 and the other 1 October 1911; with one retained carbon from Peary's secretary asking for more details dated 26 September, and one undated retained carbon by Peary "To whom it may concern": "While Henson has never been in my employ as a chauffeur, he has been in my employ in one capacity or another, a greater portion of the time since 1887. On general principles he should make a good chauffeur. . . . He is neat and careful in habits and personal appearance, and possesses a good address."

In addition, the lot includes 12 letters signed by Peary, most of them retained carbons or letters which were returned to him for some reason. An outlier was addressed by him while on a canal survey of Nicaragua, 5 June 1888. The others are all dated 1910 to 1911, many of them discussing his bitter rival polar explorer Frederick Cook in unflattering terms. On 16 September 1911 he wrote that most of the public "know him to be a consummate fraud." On 28 September 1911, he calls Cook "this cowardly, lying cur," adding that "he has nothing to lose, he is desperate, he is tenacious, and . . . has a pronounced ability in hoodwinking those brought in contact with him." On 10 October 1911, he reviews Cook's new book: "There is a lie on every other page."

One final bit of correspondence is an unusual notebook with Peary's clean transcriptions of 3 telegraph messages and 3 diary entries relating to his North Pole feat, apparently transcribed in his hand for appearance in an unknown publication. Includes his 1909 message to President Taft ("Have honor place North Pole your disposal"); to former president Theodore Roosevelt ("The Pole is ours"); to the Associated Press ("Stars and Stripes nailed to the North Pole"); and diary entries dated 22, 23, and 27 August (year unknown).

Another highlight is a set of 4 manuscript diaries from Peary's time as head of a Nicaraguan canal survey, 18 December 1887 to 8 July 1888. At this time Peary was an ambitious 31-year-old naval officer, fresh off his first unsuccessful Greenland expedition. In Nicaragua, Peary encountered difficult conditions, although not the sort of conditions he was best known for overcoming. On the first day, taking his canoe up a creek, "a projecting branch threw me over the edge of the boat, capsizing it & dumping everything in the water." On 27 December 1887, "I lost my revolver & knife today while floundering through the swamps." On 28 March, "both my hands blistered from handling the machete." 10 May was "the worst day I have put in in the woods, the insects tormenting me nearly to death." Two days later, Peary was still "in camp resting & trying to heal the eruptions or bites on myself." We find one Arctic reference: "As the whalemen tread down the new ice in front of their boats, we forced the boat to where the grass would support us" (31 March). This was also Peary's first expedition with 21-year-old Matthew Henson, hired as a valet in November 1887, who became famous as Peary's right-hand man over the following decades. Henson is rarely mentioned by name; the first appearance we find is on 13 January, unloading a supply steamer: "I went on board with M.W. Kern & Matt & about 2:30 a.m. we got away." On 4 May, left "for the mouth of Rio Peary with two men & Matt to bring the boat back." On 14 May, "my men not arriving, I went back after them, met them at the falls, took Matt's load & came back into camp the second time." Peary uses surnames for all other American expedition members (though not "the Jamaicans" or "the Nicaraguans"). Other references to "my man" are quite possibly to Henson: "Left my man & went on a mile or more further, then returned" (31 March).

Other interesting manuscripts include:

"Outline of a Project for Reaching the Northern Terminus of Greenland via the Inland Ice." 10 typescript pages with extensive notes in Peary's hand, signed on the final page "R.E. Peary, Civil Engineer, U.S.N.", 10 January 1891.

Untitled typescript by Peary describing the 1896 expedition to Greenland aboard the Hope. 11 typescript pages bound with brass fasteners, illustrated with 17 original photographs. Extensive manuscript notes and captioning in Peary's hand.

Packet of "Eskimo Drawings." 9 items, drawing on the back of envelopes or other odd scraps of paper, some captioned in Peary's hand and possibly his work.

Supply lists and notes for Greenland expeditions. Very scattered and fragmentary notes on slips of paper, but some quite interesting. Includes his 6-page set of patterns of fur shoes, deer skin shirt, and trousers; an indexed notebook titled "Provisions" including a "Weekly account of provisions opened"; a partial notebook including "Cache Cape Sabine Aug 8 1899" and notes on "Stores abandoned at Fort Conger Aug 9 1883" (by the doomed Greely expedition); a slip titled "Tentative spring sledge ration"; weekly menu slips; and more. Approximately 40 items, 1891-1899 and undated.

The photographs include 5 albumens, each 4 1/4 x 7 1/2 inches, from Peary's time in Nicaragua, 1887-1888; and 14 other miscellaneous photographs plus a small packet of negatives titled "Terra Nova, London, June 1910." One is captioned "R.E. Peary all Stazione di Roma" by Bartolucci, 1910. A cabinet card shows Peary with his wife and son in Berlin, 1910. One small snapshot shows "Ma and Pa . . . taken by Helen Kahle at the Burlington" and another shows Peary and wife "On board the Konig Albert."

Printed ephemera includes 27 periodicals in crude wrappers bearing Peary's brief inscriptions, plus 5 other periodicals bearing his inked signature stamp, most dated 1877-1889. His personal copy of the 1911 "Statement of Captain Robert E. Peary, United States Navy, before Committee on Naval Affairs" is not inscribed, but has his name gilt-stamped on the binding. A 56-page scrapbook of newspaper clippings, almost entirely related to the Nicaragua canal survey and/or Peary, dates from 1884-1889.

A box of artifacts includes a looking glass, 24 inches long, 2 3/4 inches in diameter, in cloth case; a pair of worn leather mittens; a Stoppani compass in original case; a swatch of linen yard goods printed in a Peary Arctic pattern repeating 13 times, 77 inches long; and more.

Provenance: acquired from the estate of a scholar who was researching a biography of Peary (which remains unpublished). With--4 boxes of the scholar's papers concerning Peary: research notes and correspondence, a Peary/Arctic research library including 2 books inscribed by Peary, and drafts of the unpublished biography.

A more detailed inventory of this important Arctic archive is available upon request.