A brief introduction to the collecting of climbing guidebooks

As I’ve mentioned before, I do not myself have a background in mountaineering and climbing.  Instead I’ve been employed to manage the MHT’s collections because of my experience as an archivist, and especially as a cataloguer.  Over the next months and years, I’ll be introducing you to some of the archival collections we hold, and a selection of the stories that they contain.  In the meantime, I’ve gone into subject specific sponge mode and am trying to absorb as much as I can by reading widely around the subject – something I’m greatly enjoying (further book suggestions always welcome).

As a bibliophile and someone with the collector gene firmly to the fore (as a youngster I collected Wisden and Playfair cricket annuals, and amongst many other things I currently collect the Collins New Naturalist books), I’ve quickly become fascinated by the world of climbing guidebooks.  These have a dual value - both as informative time-specific records which reveal much about the realities of climbing at the point of publication, but also as sometimes highly collectable volumes in their own right.  We’ve got substantial numbers of such guides here at the MHT and are frequently offered donations of more.  I was therefore hugely relieved when trustee, Ian Smith, who has worked on producing guidebooks himself, pointed out to me that an excellent and relatively recent bibliography existed.  This is Alan Moss’s British and Irish Climbing Guidebooks 1894 to 2011: A Collector’s Guide published in 2012 by the BMC.

a set of books

As the most up to date bibliography, which itself followed on from earlier pioneering works by George Bridge (1971) and W.R./Jill Neate (1978, 1986), Moss’s work is essential for anybody interested in guide books, either for their technical content or in a more general sense.  It quickly becomes obvious that a bibliography is never complete, effectively becoming out of date the very moment that it appears.  Moss tried to address this by producing a limited edition supplement in 2013 which updates the guide and corrects some inevitable errors.  He also published a very limited bibliography of Alpine and European Climbing Guidebooks 1863 – 2013 in 2014.  These books are not just fascinating in themselves, especially for somebody with a completist and collecting mindset like myself, they are also of significant interest to me in terms of my management of the collection.  It is not hard to see how adding a Bridge, Neate and Moss reference to the catalogue could add relevance and become a useful finding tool for some users.  I believe something along these lines was planned as a volunteer project before the pandemic, and may well be something that could be resurrected in the months ahead.  If you were interested in considering volunteering for a project such as this at some point in the future do please drop me a line.

a set f 5 books

Whilst researching the climbing guide bibliographies (and purchasing some copies for myself) I was delighted to make contact with David Price of Cockerel Books, a specialist climbing and mountaineering bookseller, as well as holding one of the most significant collections of guidebooks himself.  The great news is that David has declared he is taking on the enormous challenge of compiling the next bibliography.  I for one cannot wait.

A set of 6 books

The mountaineering bibliography rabbit hole has now fully opened for me, and I’m already trying to locate a moderately priced copy of Climbing Mount Everest - The Bibliography: The Literature and History of Climbing the World's Highest Mountain by Audrey Salkeld and John Boyle.  Disappointingly it seems the MHT Library doesn’t (as yet) hold a copy of this.  I have also obtained a copy of Neate’s Mountaineering in the Andes and The Lake District – a reader’s guide, both of which contain bibliographic material related to climbing, including guidebooks.  I have also come to understand how many relevant articles are available in journals like the Climbers’ Club Guidebook Centenary Journal, The Fell and Rock Centenary Journal and The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal.  Can anybody suggest any others?

When we receive donations of printed material we always ask the donor if we are able to sell any duplicates in order to raise funds for the MHT.  As a result of this, we do have volumes (including some guidebooks) that we will be looking to sell in the future.  We’re currently researching methods and platforms for doing this so do keep an eye open for further information.  And please do think of us if you come into possession of any relevant printed material that you think might be appropriate for us to hold within our collections.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of guidebooks and their collecting.  If you want to get in touch with me about this or anything else, you can contact me at Blencathra via email at collections@mountain-heritage.org or by phone on +44 (0)1768 779911

David Johnston-Smith

Collections Manager

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