This is the third edition of William Coxe’s groundbreaking Account of the Russian discoveries between Asia and America, published in London in 1787, seven years after the initial publication. Before writing his tome, Coxe spent an extended time studying in St. Petersburg. During this time, he strove to accumulate copies of Russian travelogues and journals relating to Arctic explorations – including those postdating Bering’s seminal 1741 expedition. While Bering still stands as the greatest of Russia’s Arctic explorers (despite being Danish), most contemporaneous accounts of Russian explorations ended with this decisive accomplishment. Coxe took the story significantly further by including a description of the Russian expeditions to Alaska and the gradual colonization of select areas in the Northwest Pacific.
The third edition of this work stands out from its predecessors in that it included a new supplement, which compared the Russian discoveries in the North Pacific with those of Captains James Cook and Charles Clerke. This supplement does not appear in the first and second editions of Coxe’s book. In addition to a comprehensive assessment of Russian activities in the Arctic and North Pacific, Coxe’s work also contains valuable information on the lucrative fur trade between Russia and China. Neatline’s example of this octave edition is bound in full calf leather and includes all four engraved folding maps and the engraved folded view of the Chinese frontier town of Maimatshin.
Context is Everything
First published in 1780, William Coxe’s book was a significant historical record of exploration, written in the era in which said exploration took place. The work sheds light on the remarkable journeys undertaken by Russian explorers, which helped unveil some of the mysteries of the vast expanse between the continents of Asia and America.
His book discusses the ventures of intrepid Arctic explorers who pushed the boundaries of geographical knowledge. The Russian expeditions, usually conducted under Imperial patronage, played a pivotal role in expanding our understanding of the world and opened up new possibilities for trade and colonization.
Coxe’s account describes these journeys and captures the historical context in which these Russian expeditions took place. Nations were fervently seeking new trade routes to bypass existing monopolies and explore uncharted territories and new commercial possibilities. The exploration of the region between Asia and America held immense strategic importance, as it could offer a shortcut for European traders to the lucrative markets of the Far East. The significance of these explorations lies not only in their geographical implications but also in their geopolitical consequences. The Russian Empire’s pursuit of knowledge and dominance in this region would eventually lead to establishing of colonies in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, extending their influence in North America – at least for a while.
Coxe’s meticulous research and scholarly attention to detail shine through in his account. He not only presents the exploits of courageous explorers but provides a comprehensive evaluation of the historical forces that propelled these ventures, as well as the immediate consequences of them.
The third edition of Coxe’s seminal work, which included the supplement on Cook and Clerke, was published in London in 1787. The OCLC records only one example of this edition, held at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid (no. 433317453). However, separate searches reveal that examples of the third edition also are held by the British Library, Cambridge University, and the University of British Columbia in Canada.