A Life of Adventure: The Story of Steve Fossett and His Personal Library

A Life of Adventure: The Story of Steve Fossett and His Personal Library

Better known for his adventurous pursuits in aeronautics, mountaineering, racing and boating, Steve Fossett was also a careful collector who built an exceptional library to reflect his personal interests. This second auction of his collection provides a final opportunity to own a piece from this epic adventurers’ personal library.

Director and Senior Specialist of our Fine Books and Manuscripts department, Gretchen Hause, recounts Fossett’s life and selects notable items from the upcoming sale that represent his areas of interest.

Steve Fossett held dozens of world records in numerous categories of speed and distance, and became known worldwide for his adventures in balloons, sailboats, and aircraft; he was also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Explorers Club. He carefully compiled a library which was a reflection of his own pursuits.  Each book had to fulfill one criteria: “Man’s willful determination to go beyond his borders and confines, and conventions, for science, adventure, gain, celebrity, or even out of sheer contrariness, by land, sea or air.”

Fossett is perhaps best known for his aeronautical feats and accomplishments.  In 2002, he became the first person to circle the globe, uninterrupted, in a balloon, a voyage which took 13 days, 8 hours, 33 minutes and which covered 20,626.48 statute miles.  In February 2006, sponsored by the Virgin Group, Fossett completed the “ultimate flight,” piloting the Virgin GlobalFlyer for the longest uninterrupted and unrefueled aircraft flight in history, covering 25,766 miles.

His library includes some of the most important books describing the history of aeronautics and aviation. Faujas de Saint-Fond’s work describing the first aerial voyage, completed by Montgolfier in June of 1783, is the first contemporary chronical of the voyage, and the first serious treatise on aerostation as a practical possibility (Lot 6).  The library also includes a treatise by Dr. John Jeffries, considered the first American to fly (Lot 10).

Steve Fossett broke records of speed and distance as a sailor and was one of the sport’s most prolific distance record holders; he was recognized by the World Sailing Speed Record Council as the “world’s most accomplished speed sailor.” Between 1993 and 2004, he set 23 official world records and 9 distance race records.  In early 2004, Fossett and his crew of 13 set the around the world sailing record of 58 days, 9 hours.

He collected works in the fields of circumnavigation and yachting, including 18th– and early 19th-century accounts of voyages around Australasia, the Pacific Northwest, and the Arctic. His library also includes landmark works about voyages by sea devoted to the discovery of the Northwest Passage and the North Pole.   Sir John Ross described his first attempt to discover the North West Passage in A Voyage of Discovery… published in 1819.  (Lot 121)

Nearly 50 years before Ross’s first voyage, Baron Mulgrave Constantine John Phipps undertook an important attempt at the North Pole, and his account of the attempt remains an important addition to early nautical science in the polar regions (lot 110).

In an interview with CNN in 2006, Fossett remarked: “When I was 12 years old I climbed my first mountain, and I just kept going, taking on more diverse and grander projects." He was a lifelong mountain climber who summitted the highest peaks on 6 of 7 continents.  He befriended climber Patrick Morrow, who was attempting the “Seven Summits” world record; Fossett accompanied him on the last three peaks, including Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania, and Elbrus in Europe.

His library reflects his lifelong passion for mountain climbing and includes many first-hand accounts by Sir William Martin Conway (lots 211-212), Douglas Freshfield (lots 214-215), Edward Whymper (lots 228-231), and Fanny and William Workman (lots 233-237). Notably, his library includes Hans Horst Meyer’s account of his summit of Kilimanjaro in both English and German (lots 220 and 221), as well as the rare first edition of Peter Rye’s first published account of an ascent of the Peak of Teneriffe, in the Canary Islands, undertaken in 1791 (lot 222). His time spent in Antarctica summiting Vinson Massif multiple times clearly left an indelible mark on Fossett, and his collection includes narratives by many of the significant Antarctic explorers of the 19th– and 20th-century, including Amundsen, Cook, Joyce, Murray, Ross, and Shackleton.

In addition to flying, sailing, and climbing the highest mountains, Fossett participated in races across many disciplines, including the Iditarod.  After a failed first attempt, Fossett trained for five years, and in 1992 finished the race in 47th place.  In his autobiography, Chasing the Wind (lot 292), Fossett recalls: “In addition to the euphoric feeling of finishing, I was really proud of my dog team…I had achieved my objective of finishing the race…[it] was my last Iditarod.” Likely with this accomplishment in mind, Fossett collected books about Alaska. Highlights include works by Hudson Stuck (lot 282), a narrative of the Harriman Alaska Expedition (lot 277), and works about Alaska (lot 283) and Denali (lot 286).

Fossett’s library comprises the accounts of other truly intrepid explorers who proceeded him.  His own pursuits were reflected on the shelves of his library in his home in Carmel.  The accounts written by and about the men (and, occasionally, women) who were route-finders and daring explorers fascinated him, and he built a library truly befitting a modern-day adventurer.

The Adventure & Exploration Library of Steve Fossett, Part II auction will be conducted March 15. Browse the digital catalogue, view lots online and register to bid now.