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Guides to the World


________________________________________________________

QUESTION:  

I recently found an old copy of a Baedeker travel guidebook at a library book sale. The book is in very good condition, considering that the publishing date is 1869. What can you tell me about Baedeker guides?
 


Thanks,
George

 

______________________________________________________

ANSWER:  

Off all the travel guidebooks, Baedeker Guides are perhaps the best known and the most collectible. Baedeker published over 6,000 editions of its guides, making it possible for ordinary people to travel to all parts of the world.



Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, travel was mainly for the rich. But with the invention of the steam engine came the railroads which brought the treasures of the world within the reach of the new middle class.

Wealthy gentlemen setting out on the Grand Tour could afford to hire personal guides who made all the arrangements and spouted information about historic sites along the way. But middle class travelers couldn’t afford to do this and needed something they could take along. For most, a Baedeker guide was all they needed.

Back then, there were. many travel memoirs, but few guidebooks dispensing practical advice about hotels and routes. John Murray of London was the most important publisher of travel guidebooks in the early 19th century. Karl Baedeker, a German publisher, saw Murray’s editions in the I820s and decided to publish his own series. Baedeker published his first guidebooks, covering Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, in German and French in 1854.

Though his company prospered, Baedeker died in 1859, leaving his son, Fritz, to run the firm. The younger Baedeker began publishing English editions of the guidebooks and increased coverage to remote destinations like Egypt, Russia, and the U.S. He continued publishing them with red cloth covers with gold lettering, making them easily recognizable.

Fritz Baedeker printed the text of guidebooks in small type on thin paper, for which people found fault. One reviewer noted that it would be difficult to read the guides to Palestine and Syria, published in 1876, "on horseback in bright sunlight," which was, after all, "as it must very often be read." Baedeker Guides also included maps, city plans, and foldout panoramas.

Book collectors like Baedeker guides for their period charm, with text as satisfying to read as many old novels. Phrasing is witty, so that in the Baedeker world, "prices generally have upward tendency." Italy was the subject of this pithy observation: Persons in search of adventure and excitement will now miss many of the characteristic elements of former Italian travel."

During the second half of the 19th century, Baedeker Guides became common among travelers. These guidebooks represented German thoroughness and attention to detail.

At the same time, "Baedeker" became a synonym for any sort of travel book. There were lots of imitators, but none could come close to the accuracy of a real Baedeker. Other travel guides offered pithy portraits of innkeepers, funny stories about the natives, and literary anecdotes. In short, they were entertaining but, unlike the real Baedekers, they didn’t contain information about where to stay or what time the museums opened.

The critics, however, found Baedeker guidebooks a bit heavy handed. With their emphasis on history and art, Baedeker Guides saw travel as education and for many middle class travelers, this just wasn’t the case. Academic specialists wrote much of the background information which included the latest excavations.

Some of the most famous Baedeker references can be found in E. M. Forester's A Room with a View, published in 1908 and made into a movie by Merchant Ivory in 1985. In the novel, the heroine Lucy Honeychurch tours Italy with her aunt, Charlotte Bartlett. In Florence, the two ladies stay at the Pensione Bertolini, where they meet the unconventional Mr. Emerson and his son, George.

In the novel, "Baedeker" becomes a synonym for the pedantic sightseeing that Forester portrayed as typical of the English touring Italy. Early in the story, Lucy studies Baedeker's Guidebook to Northern Italy and commits "to memory the most important dates of Florentine history." Later, she meets an eccentric lady novelist: who disapproves of such solemnity. She tells Lucy, "No, you are not, not to look at your Baedeker. We will simply drift."

Baedeker Guidebooks to Italy were some of the most popular and frequently revised. Prices for the early 20th-century editions of Northern Italy range from $50 to $100. Their contents throw light on the social life of English and American tourists in, Florence at the turn of the century. The books contain listings for Protestant churches, social clubs, and pensions, similar to the Pensione Bertolini. For those making a long stay, there was information about hiring a portrait painter or taking music lessons. The Guides also included information on daytrips outside the city. George Emerson kissed Lucy in Fiesole, which her Baedeker described as a "town of no importance," though the view was recommended with an asterisk.

The most collectible Baedekers came out before World War I. During the war and in the years following, the Baedeker Publishing House was the subject of anti-German sentiment. One critic said it was unlikely that any traveler would seek out a post-war edition of the firm’s guidebooks to places like Northern France, Belgium, and Holland. Indeed, the company cut back on the frequency of new English editions during the 1920s and 1930s. During World War II, German air raids on historically and culturally important towns in Great Britain became known as “Baedeker raids.”

Nonetheless, Baedeker published some collectible editions that were published during these years. A German-language guidebook to Madeira (1934) with a decorative printed cover sells for $1,200. Less expensive is the guidebook to Holland, published 1927. A copy with a rare dust jacket sells for $175.


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