Adventure. Adrenaline. Exposure. Rock climbing is everything you ever wanted and nothing you ever dreamed of. The mountaineering lifestyle, the epic never ending thirst for adventure, the absolute knowledge that you are attempting to conquer the unknown…nothing in life prepares you for that. That’s part of the fun of it all. But once you test the waters and start to get addicted, there’s no end.

The hunger for adventure and the insatiable appetite for escapades is what first drew Tony Astill to start collecting rare mountaineering books. He was a young lad in his 20’s when he found his niche in mountaineering/climbing adventures and the rest, as they say, is history. A charming chap based out of the U.K., Tony is one of the most trusted rare book and painting dealers in the industry. You can find his rare mountaineering books & paintings for sale at www.mountaineeringbooks.org and www.mountainpaintings.org, respectively.

Rare Mountaineering Books

Left to Right: A small sampling of some of the rare mountaineering books from Mr. Astill’s collection including (at right) Peaks and Valleys of the Alps by Elijah Walton and Thomas George Bonney.

Tony had just started climbing and wanted to know more about his newfound interest. He started by reading a few old books he had picked up at an estate sale—some unknown force drew him to them. Once he started reading he couldn’t stop. As anyone who has felt the addiction knows, the history of mountaineering is enriched by stories full of daring and adventure.

We met up with Tony a few weeks ago outside London for a few cups of coffee and advice on collecting. He suggests that you start by restricting yourself to a particular theme in the subject. He started with books by or about British mountaineers only, and slowly moved into all mountaineering books and eventually paintings. Few experts in this niche industry are able to look at a generally named ‘mountainscape’ and be able to name that cliffline…it’s one thing to just hang a beautiful painting of a mountain on your wall, it’s something entirely different when you’ve found a rare antique painting of that same ridge that you just climbed last year. It’s sentimental, special, and (almost) priceless.

Mountain Paintings

Left to Right: Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat by Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Anthony Shrapnel Biddulph circa 1875 & Crevasses on the Mer de Glace by Elijah Walton.

From an investment point of view, the most rare books in the best condition and if possible, signed by the author, are the ones to buy. Over the years Tony has been fortunate in meeting many mountaineering legends like Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner, some of whom have became clients and good friends too.

We asked Tony what the connection between collecting rare mountaineering books and mountainscape paintings is for most of his clients. “For those who are interested in a particular mountain, especially if they have climbed it and read about it, then it is quite natural to want to possess a painting of it. A great pleasure for me is that I am able to view a beautiful mountain painting every day. The original watercolour by Elijah Walton is also one of the chromolithographs which illustrate his book ‘Peaks and Valleys of the Alps’, one of the most rare of all mountaineering books.

Tony Astill’s own book ‘Mount Everest : The Reconnaissance 1935’ was awarded Best Book Mountaineering History at the Banff Mountain Festival 2006. If you are lucky, a few copies remain via astill.tony@gmail.com. Published privately by the author, it’s the perfect starting collectable…especially if you can talk him into an autograph on the title page.

The rare book world, very much like the mountaineering/climbing world, is one of camaraderie and sportsmanship. There’s a sense of brotherhood and appreciation that can be felt through the pages or the brush lines of a certain book or painting, one that makes sense in your own home collection. Tony loves working with people who share the same passions and enthusiasm that he does – look him up, and see what treasures you can find to line your bookshelf and/or walls with.