Measuring The Circle:

Armed only with a Ring of Confidence, Bob looks towards the Fortean future.

Going, going, gone!

A giant step?

As someone who is constantly researching some Fortean topic or other, I really appreciate the notes by Mike Dash and Theo Paijmans in their blogs about research resources. I really hope they will continue and the notes build up into a series useful to any Fortean researcher ... and I fully expect to contribute to that series myself.

Here's my first shot, the point of which is that it is well worth monitoring auction catalogues for items of interest. Remember, not too long ago, the well publicised auction of the camera with which the notorious Cottingley fairy pictures were made? Sadly, such items themselves usually fall well beyond what most of us (even collectively?) could afford, but there are good literary gleanings too.

I must thank Phil Baker who, at a recent gathering at Paul Sieveking's home in North London to sort newsclippings, brought to our attention a notice from Christie's auction house of possibly the most famous of all photographs of a footprint of the manimal that westerners referred to as the Abominable Snowman, better known in the Himalayas as the yeti. Closer to the date of the sale, I began to monitor the Christie's website. I had the (daft?) idea of bidding for them myself, but when one newspaper (sorry, lost the clipping) announced that the photos were expected to fetch more than £2000. I wisely let that drop, but I saved the following details from their online catalogue in case they were not available after the auction.

The sale itself took place on 26 Sept 2007, at Christie's London salerooms. It was a specialist sale entitled 'Exploration & Travel: The Alps to Everest with The Polar [word/s missing, presumably 'Expedition']. (Sale Number 7470). In it, as Lot Number 0307 - titled 'Yeti footprints in the Menlung Basin' - was a set of photographic prints made by the British mountaineer Eric Earle Shipton (1907-1977), made during an ascent of Everest in 1951, including the very famous photograph of a yeti footprint compared to an ice axe.

The set of four unframed carbon prints - each 6 7/16 x 4 1/2 in. (16.3 x 11.5cm.) - was given an asking price of between £1,800 - 2,500. I note that there was no statement about whether these were original prints, or how many copies were made, or the whereabouts of the original negatives the prints were made from. This explains Christie's note that the lot was sold "without copyright". Nevertheless, an undisclosed buyer successfully paid £3,500 for them. Their historical value lies both in being prints as near to the original as is feasible possible, and as witness documents with hand-written notes on the reverse from Tom Bourdillon, a member of the same expedition. Quaintly, they are described only as "the property of a lady". Their provenance, adding to that value, is given as "A gift from Tom Bourdillon to Michael John Davies in the 1950s, and thence by descent to the present owner".

The sale catalogue describes the prints thus (my interpolations in square brackets): "The photograph of [the] footprint with [a] mountain boot alongside [is] inscribed by Tom Bourdillon in ink on reverse: 'Dear Mick. Here are the footprint photos: sorry for the delay. We came across them on a high pass on the Nepal-Tibet watershed during the 1951 Everest expedition. They seemed to have come over a secondary pass at about 19,500 ft, down to 19,000 ft where we first saw them, and then went on down the glacier. We followed them for the better part of a mile. What it is, I don't know, but I am quite clear that it is no animal known to live in the Himalaya, & that it is big. Compare the depths to which it & Mike Ward (no featherweight) have broken into the snow. Yours, Tom Bourdillon.'"

For the record, I add the following four paragraphs which made up the remainder of the lot notes.

In 1951 Sen Tensing, Shipton, and I descended from the Menlung La ... at about 16,000-17,000 feet we came across a whole series of footprints in the snow, on the lower part of the glacier. There seemed to be two groups, one rather indistinct in outline leading on to the surrounding snowfields. The others were much more distinct with, in places, a markedly individual imprint etched in the 2- to 4-inch covering of snow. We had no means of measuring so after examining them Shipton took four photographs: two of the indistinct prints with myself, my footprints, and rucsac beside them for comparison; the other two photographs were of one of the most detailed and distinct group of prints, with my ice axe for scale, and a second one with my booted foot. The footprint was about the same length as my boot, and I take a size 42 continental, or 8 1/2 British, which is about 12 to 13 inches long. The print was nearly twice as broad as my boot (3 to 4 inches) and had clear-cut edges in the crystalline snow on a base of firm snow ice. There was the definite imprint of a big toe that was broader and shorter than the other rather indistinct toes, of which there seemed to be four or five. We followed these tracks for some way down the easy glacier and noticed that whenever a narrow 6-inch-wide crevasse was crossed there seemed to be claw marks in the snow at the end of the toe imprints. ... Two days later we were joined by Murray and Bourdillon, who, after visiting the Nangpa La ... had followed our route into the Menlung Basin. All tracks had been deformed by the sun and wind." (Michael Ward, 'Everest 1951: the footprints attributed to the Yeti -- myth and reality', Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 8, 29-32 (1997)).

Shipton's photographs ignited speculation about the existence of a Yeti which had been growing since N.A. Tombazi made the first European sighting during an expedition to the Sikkim Himalaya in 1925."

Edmund Hillary had a further encounter in 1952 on a pass between the Ngojumba and Khumbu glaciers: 'We were climbing quite a steep pitch when Pemba stopped and picked something off the rock. Obviously greatly excited, he showed it to Angpemba. Feeling somwhat curious, I asked them what it was all about. They placed in my hand a tuft of long black hairs -- thick and coarse, they looked more like bristles than anything else. "Yeti, Sahib! Yeti!" I couldn't help being impressed by their conviction, and it did seem a strange place to find some hair. We were well over 19,000 feet and the Abominable Snowman was obviously no mean rock climber' (Hillary, High Adventure, 1955, p.103).

Following these various incidents, Hillary mounted an expedition in 1960 to collect and evaluate evidence of the Yeti, with inconclusive results. British mountaineer Don Whillans was a fervent believer, claiming he encountered the Yeti while scaling Annapurna in 1970. He observed a few human-like footprints in the snow around his camp one morning and, that evening, claimed that through binoculars he watched a bipedal, ape-like creature for about 20 minutes as it apparently searched for food not far from his camp.

Brief notices of the successful sale appeared in a few dailies the following day; eg. Metro 27 Sept 2007.


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