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Guide michelin, Allemagne Occidentale, 1915

When Karl Baedeker published his first guidebook in 1832, Europe was finally at peace after the Napoleonic Wars, steam power was revolutionizing travel and a new and prosperous middle-class had risen in both Europe and America. Travel quickly became their obsession.

Baedeker published four German-language titles, Rheinreise, Moselreise, Holland and Belgien, in the 1830s. In 1836, John Murray started his Handbook for Travellers series. Shortly after Baedeker and Murray guides appeared on the market, travel guides from other British and European publishing houses began to appear. Adam Black and his nephew Charles, of A&C Black Publishing of London, for example, began to produce books, many focused on traveling around England and Scotland. Thomas Cook and Ward Lock, also British, published their own versions of travel guides.

While most of the early guidebooks, including Baedeker’s, were written for the newly rich, off on their grand tours of Europe, Daniel Appleton, an American dry goods merchant turned bookseller, started writing guidebooks for the common American, including those with families. Appleton guides were updated more frequently than Baedeker guides, sometimes several times a year, and included maps, city plans and hotel advertisements in which hotels boated of their “family suites.”

By the turn of the twentieth century, the classic Michelin Guides appeared, followed by Hachette’s Blue Guides at the end of World War One. In 1936, Eugene Fodor, an American travel writer, began to sense that guidebooks had placed too much emphasis on history and not enough on culture. In the introduction to his guidebook On the Continent, Fodor wrote: “We have proceeded on the assumption that your thirst for historical knowledge is nothing like your thirst for the beer of Pilsen or the slivovitsa of Belgrade.”

Arthur Frommer, an attorney in the U.S. Army, was another who thought travelers should mix and mingle with the local culture. In 1957, he produced a travel guide for American GIs based in Europe titled Europe on $5 A Day, and followed it up with a civilian version shortly after. In addition to providing budget travel tips, the book encouraged travelers to stay at local bed and breakfasts and introduce themselves to other guests. Over time, the guides have evolved into guidebooks for travelers of all income levels. Most Frommer guides these days don’t carry a dollar-a-day price but those that do have raised the tour price significantly. The San Francisco guide is now $70 a day, and Ireland is $90. Last year, Frommer published a 50th anniversary edition of Europe on $5 A Day, which is already scarce.

All early guides are pursued by collectors and, unlike most collecting genres, later editions are as popular as the first editions. Travel guides should not be confused with travel narratives, which were popular with armchair adventurers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Guides tell you where to go and why. As always in book collecting, condition affects the price, but since guidebooks were intended to be used while traveling, collectors tend to be more forgiving of wear.

Ten Great Travel Guidebooks

The good news about most travel guides is they are within most collectors’ price range and cover just about any location in the world. Collectors can select a particular series to collect, like Baedeker’s or Appleton guides, or assemble different guidebooks on a particular locale.

Stranger’s Guides

Map of London and Suburbs

Before Baedeker perfected the vacation travel guide, many authors published “stranger’s guides” to cities and sites around the world. These were aimed mostly at business travelers and typically listed the roads and primary establishments in a town. Copies from the 17th to 19th century typically cost a few thousand dollars in nice condition. This example is $100.

This Guide | All Stranger’s Guides

Baedekers with Biedermeier covers

Baedeker with a Biedermeier binding

Initially, Karl Baedeker published his travel guidebooks with various bindings. In the early 1840s, they were bound in yellow boards with intricate black graphics. These were known as “Biedermeier” bindings and today are considered highly collectible. This Baedeker with a Biedermeier binding is offered for $4400.

This Guide | All Guides

Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers

Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland

Murray’s guides were the British take on Baedeker’s idea. They even co-published one book in the 1860s. Nineteenth-century guides are the most popular with collectors; those published up to World War Two are both desirable and affordable. This 1874 guide to Switzerland is $175.

This Guide | All Murray’s Guides

Family travels

The Western Tourist

Daniel Appleton, an American publisher, didn’t assume all travelers were rich, traveling alone and off on the grand tour of Europe. He focused on American cities and noted children’s admission prices and fares in addition to adult prices. This first edition sells for $250.

This Copy | All Appleton’s Guides

Emigrant Guides

The Western Tourist

Emigrant Guides promoted newly settled areas in the American West as great places for new farms or gold mines or cattle ranches—anything the publishers could dream up. They have proved far more ephemeral than vacation travel guides and Western Americana collectors sometimes pay six figures to get them. This guide to Wisconsin and Iowa is $950.

This Guide | All Emigrant Guides

Blue Guides

Hachette, La Corse

The French publisher Hachette launched its series of Guides Bleu in 1918. The very earliest guides are scarce, but most guides from the early 1920s are still very affordable. This one, a guide to the islands of Corsica and Elba from 1922, is less than $30.

This Guide | All Hachette Guides

Cultural Travel

Fodor's Modern Guides Spain and Portugal

Among the modern guidebooks, Eugene Fodor’s On the Continent, published in 1936 in London, is one of the key prizes for travel-guide collectors, and it’s virtually impossible to find. Guides published in the 1950s, however, have period charm and often cost less than $100.

This Copy | All Early Fodor’s

The First Frommer

GI's Guide to Travelling in Europe

Arthur Frommer produced a travel guide for American soldiers in 1957, which he later rewrote as Europe on $5 A Day for civilian travelers. This book launched what has become a hugely popular series. This first edition looks to be a good value at $375.

This Copy | All Early Frommer’s

Michelin Guides

Famous for its star ratings of restaurants—introduced in the 1930s—Michelin guides began as freebees, designed to encourage travel by automobile so that the company could sell more of its main product—tires. Guides issued before 1920, when the company started charging for them, are scarce and desirable.

All Michelin Guides

Lonely Planet Guides

Lonely Planet Guides is a British brand, started by Tony and Maureen Wheeler in 1973. The first Lonely Planet guide was Across Asia on the Cheap, written on the Wheelers’ kitchen table. Guides from before 1980 may well be collectable in the future. Today they are scarce and start at just $1.

All Lonely Planet Guides

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