The Finest Polar Photograph Ever Offered for Sale: Signed by Amundsen, Shackleton and Peary

Signed by Three Polar Stars

At Auction
Item: 21482
Add to Wishlist

THE “THREE POLAR STARS.” A magnificent signed photograph depicting the three greatest Polar explorers in history: Norwegian explorer ROALD AMUNDSEN (1872-1928, “Roald Amundsen”), the first to reach the South Pole; SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON (1874-1922, “E.H. Shackleton”), British Antarctic explorer who came within 97 nautical miles of attaining the South Pole on his 1907-1909 expedition; and ROBERT PEARY (1856-1920, “R.E. Peary”), American admiral and explorer widely recognized as the first person to reach the North Pole. 1p. Oblong 4to. (Philadelphia, January 16, 1913.) A remarkable, richly-toned, sepia photograph of the three great explorers grouped together next to a globe which Shackleton, standing in the middle, has positioned on a table with the South Pole pointing to Amundsen and the North Pole pointing to Peary. The photograph’s title, “The Three Polar Stars,” is printed in the lower portion of the photograph which also identifies the subjects, the photographer, William H. Rau, the date, and the location, Philadelphia’s Bellevue Stratford Hotel.

Peary began charting Greenland’s icy wilderness in the 1890s, proving that the territory formed an island. Not content with mere mapping expeditions, he set his goal to be the first to reach the North Pole, an accomplishment that had eluded dozens of explorers and their crews for hundreds of years. Despite repeated failures, Peary remained undeterred: “In the years up to 1900 Peary made several unsuccessful attempts on the Pole, during one of which the temperature fell to –50o Celsius (–58o Fahrenheit) and eight of his toes had to be amputated because of severe frostbite. With each attempt he became more determined, enlisting the aid of the Peary Arctic Society [and] of congressmen,” (Great Explorers, Owen). In 1903, Peary became president of the American Geographical Society and that autumn he won the unexpected support of both the secretary of the navy and President Theodore Roosevelt. After a failed attempt in 1905, “the next three years were spent in preparation for a final try,” (ibid.). Finally, after traveling hundreds of miles across ice in conditions more extreme than any previously encountered, Peary and his team reached the Pole on April 6, 1909. Yet his claim to be the first to reach the top of the world was challenged by Dr. Frederick Cook who maintained that he, himself, had done so exactly one year earlier. “In October 1909 a committee of experts appointed by the National Geographic Society examined his records and reported that they were unanimously of the opinion that [Peary] had reached the North Pole… His friends also worked actively to induce Congress to give adequate recognition to his achievements… In March 1911…a bill was passed tendering him the thanks of Congress and placing him on the retired list,” (DAB).

Between 1907 and 1909, Shackleton and his crew explored Antarctica aboard the Nimrod. Among the expedition’s accomplishments were the discovery of the approximate location of the magnetic South Pole and breaking the record for attaining the southernmost latitude on the continent. Unable to conquer the Pole, Shackleton and his men turned around approximately 97 nautical miles short of their goal, but returned home safely to a well-deserved hero’s welcome. Years later, Shackleton’s Endurance expedition led to one of the most harrowing rescues of all time.

In 1910, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen set off ostensibly to explore the Arctic Basin aboard Fridtjof Nansen’s ship, Fram, which the latter had used to try to reach the North Pole. However, Amundsen’s real intention was to be the first to set foot at the South Pole, which he did on December 14, 1911. The news did not reach the outside world until his return to civilization in the spring of 1912. His almost effortless trip (Amundsen once remarked that “Adventure is just bad planning”) and victory over England’s Capt. Robert F. Scott brought him instant acclaim and many honors. The jubilation surrounding Amundsen’s achievement was somewhat dampened, however, when the public learned in February, 1913, that Scott and his four companions had perished on their way back to base camp after having reached the pole, where they discovered Amundsen’s Norwegian flag and a note addressed to Scott.

Amundsen participated in numerous events that celebrated his South Pole achievement while lecturing throughout the United States. On January 11, 1913, Admiral Peary presented Amundsen with the National Geographic Society’s gold medal in front of 600 guests at the Society’s annual dinner in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Bryce of Great Britain noted that the dinner was, “an historic occasion that has never happened before and can never happen again,” adding, “I stand tonight between the discoverers of the ends of the earth,” (“Peary Gives Medal to Capt. Amundsen,” New York Times, January 12, 1913). On January 14, 1913, Amundsen spoke at New York’s Carnegie Hall (Admiral Peary was also in attendance) and received a gold medal from the American Geographical Society (Peary and Shackleton had been previous awardees). The following day, Amundsen and Shackleton spoke at New York City’s City College, where they were cheered by “3,000 lusty-lunged boys,” (“Amundsen Cheered by 3,000 Students,” New York Times, January 16, 1913). But it was in Philadelphia, where Amundsen gave a lecture hosted by the Art Club under the auspices of the Geographic Society of Philadelphia at the city’s Academy of Music, that the earlier “historic occasion” noted by Ambassador Bryce was topped. “Peary was there, ‘to have the discoverer of the North Pole’, as one of the organizers put it, ‘introduce the discoverer of the South Pole.’ Shackleton too was asked to speak. Amundsen, he declared, was ‘good enough to say that I blazed the way for him… Perhaps I will try again to go south.’ It was, however, as a local journalist underlined the obvious, ‘distinctly an Amundsen affair, with Peary and Shackleton as side attractions,’ but they made an historic trio on the platform,” (Shackleton, Huntford). After the lecture, the three explorers were feted at a dinner at the nearby Bellevue-Stratford Hotel where our photograph was taken.

On the 100th anniversary of the dinner, the Geographic Society of Philadelphia recreated the dinner in the same room of the Bellevue-Stratford. “While the 1913 menu featured dishes like ‘clear green turtle in cup and roast guinea fowl in currant jelly,’ this grand event’s culinary selection was updated to more contemporary delicacies,” (The Geographical Society of Philadelphia, https://www.geographicalsociety.org/archive/annual-dinners/).

All three Polar explorers, amusingly, are dressed in formal attire, resembling the ubiquitous Adelie Penguins found in Antarctica! Elegantly matted and framed, the signatures lightly silvered but the photograph is in remarkably fine condition. Formerly in the possession of the descendants of the lecture agent, James B. Pond, Jr. and sold by Lion Heart Autographs to its current owner in 1986. This is the first time this unique and historic image has ever been offered publicly.

The Finest Polar Photograph Ever Offered for Sale: Signed by Amundsen, Shackleton and Peary

Signed by Three Polar Stars


Just this once...
Please share your name and email address to receive:


We will not share your contact info