Human Journey

That’s One Stale Biscuit

Nimrod Expedition provisions (George F. Mobley)


How much would you spend for a 104-year-old biscuit? What if it was all that stood between you and starvation in the heart of the Antarctic? BBC News reports that Christie’s will soon auction a biscuit included in Sir Ernest Shakleton’s provisions when he and his crew explored Antarctica during the Nimrod Expedition of 1907-1909.

Shackleton set out with a full larder. According to his book The Heart of the Antarctic, provisions included 600 pounds of ox and lunch tongues, 1,400 pounds of Wiltshire bacon, 2,600 pounds of assorted tinned fish, a half ton of cheese, and, to wash it all down, 350 pounds of Lipton tea.  However, by 1909, the crew was down to pemmican (a meat paste), pony meat, and four thin biscuits per day.

Frank Wild, who was in charge of provisions during the Nimrod expedition, wrote in his journal [as included in Shackleton by Roland Huntford]:

[Shackleton] privately forced upon me his one breakfast biscuit, and would have given me another tonight had I allowed him. I do not suppose that anyone else in the world can thoroughly realise how much generosity and sympathy was shown by this; I DO by GOD I shall never forget it. Thousands of pounds would not have bought that biscuit.

How much does Christie’s expect a collector to pay for this rare biscuit? Somewhere between £1,000 and £1,500. That’s $1,567 to $2,351.

For all the latest science news, check out National Geographic Library’s twice-weekly news rundown, EarthCurrent.

Since 2005, Michael has been a librarian at National Geographic.

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