HTSI editor’s letter: tales of the unexpected and otherworldly
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One of my favourite stories in this issue tells of the sleuths working to solve the most rarefied of crimes: book theft. It’s an arena as peculiar, mysterious and full of characters as any fiction, and describes feats of sabotage and chutzpah as inspiring as they are dark. Take the “nervous” American gentleman, going by the name of Mr E Forbes Smiley, who squirrelled away some 97 rare maps from six major institutions before being apprehended, and then only because he dropped his X-Acto blade. Doh! Or the thief who laid a damp piece of thread in volumes in order to loosen up the chosen pages, or the recreants who simply purloin antiquarian favourites because they feel the book “belongs” to them.
Meg Honigmann met the Sherlock Holmes of book detectives to find out what inspires such acts of wanton civic disobedience. The motive is rarely money as most stolen rare books are near impossible to sell. Instead, she describes an underground market where stolen books are obsessed over by individuals who just want to own a literary prize. As was discovered after the recent return of Charles Darwin’s notebooks, following a 20-year absence from Cambridge University Library, some people take a very, very long-term view on lending times.
Darwin also features in our travel story, which takes us to the Galápagos, although this voyage is a far cry from the scientific endeavours undertaken by the crew who sailed with the Beagle: it’s an altogether more luxurious cruise. Simon Usborne and photographer Tom Jamieson got on board the Aqua Mare to enjoy its inaugural trip – the first superyacht to sail among the islands, the boat is available for charter from $196,000 a week. Before you choke on thoughts of the national park being overrun with jet skis, however, you’ll be relieved to know that all trips must still comply with the islands’ strict conservation rules. There are many regulations regarding times spent in the water, and all crews must include authorised guides. The time one is allowed to swim alongside green turtles, shoals of parrotfish and reef sharks is highly circumscribed; but as Simon discovers, for those few moments, it’s one of the most profound luxuries on earth.
More otherworldly stories: this week we are revealing, exclusively, a story about a 1975 Ardbeg whisky, a cask of which has just been bought for a record-breaking £16mn. The sale dwarfs other figures fetched at rare whisky auctions; as Alice Lascelles reminds us, £16mn is more than twice what Ardbeg’s owner, the Glenmorangie Company, paid for the distillery and all its stocks in 1997. What has provoked these epic prices, and what does it tell us about the wine and spirit market now? Alice visits Ardbeg in Scotland to find out how the distillery, once on the brink of dissolution in the ’80s, has had a phoenix-like revival and now enjoys an almost cult-like fame. She also becomes one of the only people in the world who will be able to say she has had a sip of the mythic Cask No 3.
Finally, I am delighted to announce that Emilia Wickstead is opening a new space on Sloane Street (page 23). I call it World of Wickstead – an emporium of linens, pyjamas and swimwear where one can also find her trademark occasionwear and shoes. I’ve known Emilia for a few years and am always bowled over by her humility, humour, energy and graft: the fact she is worn by everyone, from the Duchess of Cambridge and Jacinda Ardern to Olivia Colman and Alek Wek, reveals much about her broad appeal. Just like the exotic and extraordinary creatures of the Galápagos, Wickstead is a rare species. I’m thrilled to see her doing what she does so well.
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