Monday, December 2, 2013

W48: Panama to Patagonia

In a bid to expand my geography knowledge, the Biblio-Mat has once again dispensed a travel book that was roughly the size of a phonebook that could also double as a doorstop. Albeit an elegant antiquarian doorstop.

I'll be honest, until now I didn't know where Patagonia was.
Panama to Patagonia by Charles M. Pepper was a grand tome that was published in 1906. With gold lettering on a burgundy cloth cover, it had a timeless scholarly look to it. The 398 pages were printed on thick stock that had an almost woven texture, making the book seem much thicker than it actually was and lending it a regal quality. It also had deckle edges and really, who doesn’t like well-crafted deckle edged pages?

Nothing says 'relic' like unfinished pages.
This particular copy also appeared to have an interesting and somewhat mysterious history. On the inside front cover was a bookplate from W. H. Smith & Sons Library in London that I would venture to guess to be from the early 1900’s due to the pricing of the membership. 

60-80 years overdue?
It seemed that this was a private library that charged an annual fee to use, which was mind-boggling to someone who grew up in the age of public libraries. A quick search online shows that the company is still in existence as a chain of bookstores, which begs the question of what would happen if this book was returned to one of the branches.

Curiosity piqued.
Even more fascinating than this, though, was that every significant page – title page, table of contents, maps, and beginning chapter, had “O.F.M.QUEBEC” in tiny dots punched through in the old style of punched tape/dot matrix punching.  After spending a good hour researching this online without solid results, the only two deductions on what OFM meant were either “Office of the Fire Marshal, Quebec” or “Order of Capuchin Friars Minor (Ordo Fratrum Minorum)”. Seeing how the latter has an archive in Quebec, it seems more likely this text is from the Franciscan library.

It does have a holy quality to it in the light.
For the content itself, Panama to Patagonia was much more than a standard travel guide or geography book. It started off discussing the Panama Canal and the economic aspects of it, which was intriguing since this was published in 1906 and the canal would not have been completed until 1914. Even eight years before its completion there appeared to be a lot of hype around the positive impacts it would have on commerce and trade in as well as to the bonding effect it would have over the surrounding nations that would come together over a single goal. Optimistic at best, but hope was probably higher before the world erupted in war.

Such a simpler time.
The book then moved onto travel tips, which was enlightening in how one traveled through South America at the turn of the 20th century. According to the author, English would have been sufficient for travel along the coast and short forays into the interior. Considering one would be hard pressed to survive in the bordertowns of Mexico today with just English, his advice should probably be taken with a grain of salt. However, he did stress the importance of picking up Spanish to truly experience the continent. Apparel and basic customs are also covered, along with cuisine and most importantly, where to find the different types of alcohol.

Silver gelatin?
Through all this, Panama to Patagonia was punctuated with black and white photographs printed on glossy stock, which were welcomed breaks in the text heavy descriptions and also spoke to the prestige of this book to warrant so many photographs as it could not have been cheap to publish in 1906.

Which I now know as one of the main exports of Ecuador.
The rest of the book moved on from Panama to Ecuador to Peru to Chile exploring the cultures and explaining the history of each region. While a lot of the focus was on the daily life and how one would interact with the locals when traveling though, the economic aspects of each region were covered much more in depth for each country. With long chapters delving into trade and exports history paired with detailed passages on transport infrastructure, Panama to Patagonia turned into more of a history textbook than travel guide

Gorgeous map.
While this book was chock full of interesting history and travel tips, the most impressive pieces of the book were the giant maps that folded out. One showing a 1906 North and South America was a stark reminder about how undeveloped a lot of Canada was a hundred years ago yet both sides were still connected through a trans-Canada railroad. Another showed the path of the Panama Canal in the process of being built in explicit detail. It would almost be worth defacing the book just to extract and frame these maps. Almost.

Book were definitely more beautifully crafted back then.

Book rating: 8.5/10 (Bonus point for the maps)

Random Quote: “To know any country it is necessary to know the people, and the people are only known through the medium of their speech.” (Truth)


  1. Is it possible to make an exact photocpy of the maps on sepia paper for a similar look; and then frame those with a provonance on the back?
    What say you?

    1. Possible, for sure, but it wouldn't be the same. Even if it was an exact replica, I would still know it wasn't the true map...