Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Collecting Vintage Travel books

When I heard that  a  young American writer  had published  a book about  traveling  to Europe based on a battered  1963 copy of Frommer’s  “Europe on $5 a day “,  I figured it was time to take a  look  at the shelves of   vintage  guidebooks and travel literature   I have collected over  the past   50 years.   

For  travel writers and historians, there is nothing as  interesting as  old guides and travel  books.   Here are  some  of the gems in my collection. Most were   paid  only a few dollars  ( or lire, or euro) but   their values today may  range up to  several hundred dollars.

signed by author Lina Waterfield, (Duff Gordon)   1914
One of the  most intriguing  is this one, by the same  author  who wrote  “To Catch a Thief”.  The guide published  in  1953 contains such gems as “a banquet for four can be had for $2.67 in Spain”  and “a bicyclist can tour Europe  on $1.40 a day”.

 It was a clever way to  encourage  Americans  to travel abroad  just as  the Marshall  Plan  was helping  Europe get back on its   feet.

For the beginning collector, there are many  opportunities  to pick up  bargains  in the  strangest places, especially when travelling.  
Older  books in English  are generally  less valued in non-English speaking countries.

I picked up  this  1951 travelogue   in its original dust wrapper   at an open air  stall  in  Naples for  10 euro. A Canadian book seller  lists the same book, without dust wrapper, at 128 euro!   

from  UK dealer Peter M. Daly for 17£
Thanks to the Gutenberg  project  many vintage  guides  can be downloaded for free and read on  your iPad or Kindle device. 
 An example is a travelogue by  Edward Wigran  “Northern Spain”  (1906),  full of  interesting  facts about Asturian villages  with colorful  illustrations.   
  A copy of the original will put you back   $195,  if you can find it. 

To discover  the value of your vintage  guides and travel books, make a search on  the  websites such as  abebooks, alibris, biblio and addall.

Other sources  for  finding old and vintage travel books and guides  are  these websites: oldguidebooks, as well as the thousands of  Italian  booksellers who  list  on the mega site  maremagnum.   

The study of travel literature, Hodoeporics,  is  fast becoming  a specialized branch of Italian language and  literature studies. 

Check out   the website  of  the   CIRVI, Centro Interuniversitario di Ricerche sul Viaggio in Italia which is   based  in Moncalieri , near Torino for more information about  travel  writing  and literature .
Please share with friends  (use the  Facebook, Twitter and Google+ buttons ) and don't forget to let me know what  special treasures  you have found. 


  1. Oh my! This one got me walking into my library where I still have my guide books for my first visit to Europe in 1971. The most amusing thing is the dress code followed by the amount of money. Times have changed! This was a real walk down memory lane. Now my husband has gotten into the act, having pulled down his guide books and maps for his first visit to the then Soviet Union. His trip was over forty years ago, complete with minders, both covert and non. Thanks for starting our day off with a smiles. Happy New Year to you!

    1. So glad you are also checking your guide books. I also have many guide books of USSR from the 80s, as well as Moscow News for 87,88 89 and the International Womens' Association newsletters..these were a precious font of information in English, written by expat wives. We have a lot in common.

  2. Hello Mary,

    I also do have a huge collection of old guidebooks but my special interest is everything belonging to the Oceans...I have a collection of vintage books of that theme...may I ask you a copy of Stromboli and Swordfish?It would be a pleasure for me to read this book...Norma

  3. I read Hawaii as a teen and I got hooked. I think I've read all but a couple of Micheners. I love that they're hefty and so well researched :) I haven't yet read Eat, Pray, Love, but have been told that I should. I keep looking for it at the library but the movie has made is so popular!
    Travel Books

  4. I have the 1950 eifition of Doré Ogrizek's book 'Italy' if you want it call 347-933-3337