NEW YORK, NY -- We’ve offered a lot of lots in dispersing the vast sporting library assembled by Montana collector Arnold “Jake” Johnson: 4577 in twelve auctions to be exact! The final selection auctioned to be on December 9, 2021 provides the opportunity to reminisce on the experience of offering this wonderful group of rare books, manuscripts and ephemera. In recalling the dozen auctions devoted to angling, sport and travel in India, Africa and America and elsewhere, we seek to not just point out the “top lots” but to consider the deeper meaning lurking under the surface of the collection and what can be gleaned from the passion Mr. Johnson brought to his acquisitions.
Something that struck me at the very beginning was how the Johnson library seemed to span the globe, comprising anything and everything to do with angling, travel and sport from Alaska to Zimbabwe. But within the larger group clear subset collections emerged, and these original materials offered the opportunity to “drill down” and intensely focus on aspects of these diverse places, cultures, animal life, and the countless visitors from far away lands that came to explore, hunt and fish, preserve and conserve, and record their experiences in personal diaries, photo albums, privately printed memoirs and widely distributed historical volumes by major international publishers.
One subset collection that fascinated me was a large collection of first person narratives by American settlers, on which I wrote an article for DOYLE Notebook entitled Pioneer Narratives in January 2019: “While these pioneer narratives report incidents that occurred from 1830-1860, most were only printed as a matter of preserving the oral history of the ‘old timers’ before they would be lost forever, and most were printed between 1870-1910. While this post-Civil War period may seem late to many collectors of Americana, it is important to consider how much the interior of the country changed in this period, and how remote many of these places remained into the 20th century.” Through the Johnson Library we connected deeper to nearly-forgotten aspects of our American roots.
Mr. Johnson also collected heavily (thousands of volumes) into all aspects of sporting and travel in India. Within this collection were dozens of original albums of manuscripts, drawings and photographs, from which we track the intense changes in that region from 1800-1900. Many of the books printed in Calcutta and Bombay may be unique examples and are certainly not frequently encountered at auction in the United States. More than once we have been contacted by the children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren of the authors, guides and various personalities involved with these hundreds of books devoted to shikar. Many of these inquiries sought information on their relatives or what might be the only known copy of a certain book. It has been a humbling experience.
Another striking aspect of the collection is more controversial and harder to contextualize. It is impossible to ignore the effects that decades of travel, big game hunting, and safari have had on the environment. But something surprising that emerged from the collection is that more frequently than not sporting and conservation/preservation go hand in hand. Many of the participants of the works in these countless volumes were the same people who developed the protective conservation systems we know today. In June 2019, a DOYLE Notebook article focused on Russell E. Train & the World Wildlife Fund and included the following: “These three books trace Russell and Aileen Train’s journey from safari novices to a powerful force for conservation in Africa and beyond. The two safari titles show Russ and Aileen in their early days on their first two visits to Africa, and reflect on the rapid decline of wildlife and habitat that happened in only two years. Train’s Journals span a lifetime of safari, travel, and conservation efforts, and tell the story of a truly remarkable man in his own words. Taken together, they form an important group that would be the cornerstone of any collection with a focus on Africa, conservation, or the history of the World Wildlife Fund.”
But beyond the books, collectors are people, and collections come to reflect the personalities of the collector. Over the past few years we’ve heard nothing but compliments for Mr. Johnson, his kind and generous nature, his never ending quest to acquire deeply into these subject areas so that truth could be found in the original sources. In short, it has been an honor and a privilege to be the stewards of this collection, supporting its transfer to hundreds of American and international collectors, dozens of anglers and sporting enthusiasts, top specialist dealers thrilled to find rare materials, major institutions and smaller house museums. Just as we highlighted the provenance of major past collections found within Mr. Johnson’s own, his books will now reappear for generations with that so desired three word descriptor of permanently remembered bibliophiles: The Johnson Copy.
And so at long last we bid adieu to this wonderful collection, each and every of those 4577 lots, and thank all who have contributed to its success.
Rare Books, Autographs & Maps
Timed Auction Closes Thursday, December 9, 2021 beginning at 10am
Viewings by Appointment
A special section of the sale is devoted to the final selections from the Library of Arnold "Jake" Johnson.