Bayswater's Find of the Week on the Used Book Floor Blog

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Picking Your Way To Alaska

     Our most recent find of the week is our first that deals with music and the founding of the State of Alaska.  Before you get your heart set on reading about early Alaskan music, however, (and, honestly, who isn't hoping for that?) we will let you down gently and tell you that the two topics aren't exactly connected to each other for the purposes of this week's find. 
     The book that held our discovery is a 1943 hardcover printing of "Lord of Alaska: The Story of Baranov and the Russian Adventure."  Written by Hector Chevigny, it tells the often forgotten story of how the territory now known as the State of Alaska was actually discovered and initially settled by Russia in 1748.  As America and Britain began disputing Russia's ownership of both the Alaskan territory and the northwest coast of North America in 1812, the Russians gave up some of the coastline and began to lose interest in the Alaskan territory.  In desperate need of money after losing the Crimean War in the 1850s, Russia sold the territory to the United States in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars -  a bargain (by today's standards) for a landmass that is roughly the size of one-fifth of the 48 continental states put together!

     In-between pages 196-197 was our discovery - a Sigmund Freud brand guitar pick.  New and never taken off its original packaging, the guitar pick is .7mm thick, making it an extra light, or thin pick.   Less likely to cause tendonitis due to its thinness, this type would have been chosen by a player of a high-quality acoustic guitar.  Believe it or not, the Sigmund Freud pick that we discovered was actually polished for 30 hours to prevent snagging on the strings and overall, took one workweek to manufacture!

     You may be even more interested to learn how the guitar pick evolved to what it is today.  Originally created from feather quills, the composition of the pick transitioned in the 19th century to tortoise shells, or sea turtles, as they were found to be more durable and produced a better sound quality.  If you are wondering if the harvesting of tortoise shells for such a purpose helped to land the reptile on the endangered species list, you would be correct!  In fact, it is now illegal to manufacture anything from tortoise shell and any existing picks made from such material require documentation that affirms their antique status.  If you look to purchase a pick today, you have over 50 different shapes to choose from and you are most likely to find one made of celluloid, (a form of plastic) though you can still purchase some that are composed of bone, graphite, ceramic, animal horn, copper, brass and rubber.  Be sure to file this info away somewhere permanent in your brain for later use when attempting to impress the guitarist in your life!

     Chevigny's "Lord of Alaska: The Story of Baranov and the Russian Adventure" and the Sigmund Freud pick can be purchased for 7.2 million dollars - ahem...we mean, $4.99.  Ok, ok, they are not quite worth what Alaska was in 1867!  You can catch up with our previous finds of the week on the used book floor at and on facebook.  Better yet, stop by the store in Center Harbor and check out the used book floor for yourself!