Not many university students can claim to be among the best young
antiquarian book collectors in the country. True, not many have ever
But in an Internet age where computers and video games clamor for
the attention of young people, four young collectors prove that the
love of books lives on. They showcased their prize finds last month
at an event sponsored by the Ticknor Society, a Boston book-lovers
group. Each displayed the intellect, intensity, and endearing
obsessiveness that the hobby seems to inspire.
Bill Miglore, who graduated from Amherst College last spring,
held up a dusty 1940 copy of Scholastic magazine. But this copy
contains Truman Capote's first-ever published work: a few lines
about what he liked girls to wear on dates. The work had gone
undiscovered for so long that Capote specialists stopped looking for
it 20 years ago.
Fellow panelist Anne Harley, who records, performs, teaches, and
researches Russian Gypsy and chamber music from the 1780s to 1850s,
collects books of, well, Russian Gypsy and chamber music from the
1780s to 1850s. Her collection illuminating the "cultural milieu" of
the music won her Boston University's book-collecting prize last
Ms. Harley reads aloud an excerpt that "made her eyes light up"
the first time she saw it, inviting the audience to experience the
moment the words captured.
Exact criteria for a winning collection are hard to pin down.
Bibliophiles insist that spending a lot of money is neither a
requisite nor a guarantor of quality. They appreciate thoughtful,
well-rounded collections that demonstrate a collector's genuine
interest, passion, and effort. A few special finds don't hurt.
"A good collection tries to understand a subject through
history," says Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books and Collections
Magazine. Last summer, the magazine held the first nationwide
college-level book-collecting competition, inviting three-dozen
students who had won their school contests to submit essays and
annotated lists. Mr. Miglore placed second.
The collection must also be fairly comprehensive, Mr. Brown says.
A set of 200 books written about "Finnegans Wake," for example, is
not very good if there are 2,000 such books out there.
The pursuit takes time, and know-how. Some of the collectors'
prize finds once lay unknown in small bookstores around the world.
Or, more commonly these days, they were catalogued on the
Internet - perhaps miscatalogued.
Today, almost anyone can advertise any book online, oblivious to
the precise definitions of "good" versus "fair" condition that
bibliophiles have established. …