First published in 1724, this is a work that is credited to a Captain Charles Johnson, but one whose true authorship has remained a puzzle over almost three centuries now.
Robert Louis Stevenson and JM Barrie are among the many writers who have drawn inspiration from the work – the former even borrowing the name Israel Hands from a list of Blackbeard’s crew in the book.
Daniel Defoe is among those who have been suggested as its true creator in the past, but in recent times a very good case has been made for attribution to Nathaniel Mist, a former sailor, journalist and publisher of the Weekly Journal.
Copies have made as much as £4200 at auction (a 1724 first seen at Sotheby’s in 2005) but the example in the Edinburgh sale was a third edition of 1725. Bound in contemporary calf and showing some dampstaining and browning, it sold at £1400.
Top-priced lot in this L&T auction was the oldest known Scottish rutter, or set of sailing directions, Nicolas de Nicolay and Alexander Lyndsay’s La Navigation du Roy d’Ecosse… of 1583, which made £55,000 (featured as Pick of the Week in ATG No 2431).
More on this sale including a conchological rarity will follow in a later issue.