Baedeker's London and its Environs
Karl Baedeker was born in 1801 in Essen, Germany. He trained as a bookseller in Heidleburg before moving on to Koblenz, Germany in 1827 to set up a printing press. In 1832, Baedeker took over from another bookdealer, Friedrich Röhling, and acquired his stock and business. Along with the stock, Baedeker took on Röhling’s most popular seller, a tourist guide by Professor J.A. Klein titled Rheinreise von Mainz bis Cöln; ein Handbuch für Schnellreisende (A Rhine Journey from Mainz to Cologne; A Handbook for Travelers on the Move). Though published in 1828, and so before Baedeker took it on, it was the book that began the Baedeker empire and is still collected as such. The first guidebook actually published by his firm was a French translation of A Rhine Journey.
Though of course Baedeker printed other books besides the guidebooks, the interest in these traveling guides grew for both their publisher and their audience. Accuracy and quality were Baedeker’s high bars set to ensure that his books were well used and loved. Baedeker started to model his guidebook production from John Murray’s series Handbooks for Travelers, to whom he always graciously gave thanks to. From there, the firm found its footing in the niche of travel books. They increased in number as more cities and countries were added to the list, totaling fourteen published before Baedeker’s sudden death in 1859, twenty-seven years into the guidebook business.
When he died, Baedeker’s sons each took over one after the other and grew the Baedeker empire, passing it through the family until 1984 when the Baedeker name and firm was bought by Langenscheidt and Allianz. Both companies continued the guidebook legacy, and the company is now called Verlag Karl Baedeker, with half still owned by Langenscheidt.
This copy of London and its Environs is the 14th revised edition, printed in 1905. The first printing of this book was in 1878 and was revised as London expanded and Baedeker’s star system was implemented and regulated. The star system rated the best hotels, restaurants, and sites by placing an asterisk next to their name in the handbook. The Hotel Metropole, which an owner wrote the name of on the half-title, did not receive a star in this edition. Comparison between editions would have to be done to know whether or not the hotel had ever been rated by the Baedeker firm, something that Karl Baedeker took very seriously and which continued to be a point of pride for his guidebook legacy.
On the same page as the owner’s addition of “The Hotel Metropole” is a date, September 6th, 1907. As the only owner’s mark in the whole book, it is hard to track from that who it may have belonged to, the most exciting piece of provenance. What we can know, however, is where the book may have once been and when. The Hotel Metropole, now the Corinthia Hotel London, is right off the Strand, a street down from Trafalgar Square and directly across from the Whitehall Gardens on the Thames. Its placement is prime for those wanting to sightsee and be in the middle of the bustle of London, even now, making it the perfect spot for a Baedeker patron.
The book shows evidence of mild use, but has been well kept: the cover is still bright red, no pages are ripped, maps have some small torn folds, there is some minor wear on the spine, and it contains all its maps as well as the small map booklet, intended to be removed, still secured in the back of the book. There are worm holes on the
fore-edge and bottom of the marble-edged textblock, as well as through the back cover, indicating most likely its time on a shelf or in a trunk.
The provenance on this book, though not exciting in terms of knowing who may have handled and kept it, is important in developing a working knowledge of how these books were used; they were guides, not necessarily itineraries, especially for those who were more inclined to wander and only refer to the guide when they came upon something interesting. This one may have been bought near the Hotel Metropole and intended to be used throughout a trip, but abandoned to a pocket or bag once friends were met or lunch was being had; or it could have been given as a gift to someone staying at the hotel who found minimal use for it. Speculations abound when there are still questions in personal provenance, but the fun can be found in the mystery at times. We can also know now what this book would have looked like on the shelf in the bookshop: appealing to the eye and consistent with the branding of other Baedeker’s, representing quality. A visitor to London would have known what Baedeker’s represented; the name Baedeker was to guidebook what Kleenex is to tissue now.
Based on the market prices of Baedeker from this period, and specifically this title, this book will go for anywhere from $6 to $95, based on quality of the copy alone. Because this copy is in great condition, still has all of its maps, and has only minor wear and marginalia, I would put it somewhere in the $30-$40 range, if I’m feeling generous. To learn the process of how I figured this out, click here. This is not the only market that has value in this book, however; as discussed above, we can take away knowledge of the how these books were sold, used, and kept, though minor use makes the second harder to ascertain. These discoveries are important to the larger understanding of the culture of travel at the turn of the century, what caught the eye of the visitor to London, and where they may have stayed most frequently. The date at the beginning of the book comes two years after its publication date, which without a named owner can be determined in a variety of different ways, but may be important to book history scholars as they try to differentiate between times of publication and times of use, as well as how bookstores kept their stock and for how long. It may be that someone bought this book right after it was published and never wrote in it until they were in England and staying at the Hotel Metropole, but that we are unable to know gives the speculation and the convergence of a well kept book, a date, and a place a variety of interesting avenues to explore.
All works used are listed in the bibliography under this biography's title heading.