January 18, 2008 — Serious bibliophiles have an opportunity to earn book-collection bragging rights in the biennial Student Book Collecting Contest.
The competition, sponsored by the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, is open to all students — graduate and undergraduate — who collect books. Entries are due Feb. 15.
“The collection has to have a focus,” said Anne Ribble, executive secretary of the Bibliographical Society. “It can be a focus on a theme, or all books by a certain author, or all books from a press in a particular time.”
Entrants must submit a list of the books they have collected, show a depth of knowledge in these works and write a short essay on the collection’s contents. Judges consider the collection on the basis of coherence of focus, method of collection, progress made in creating the collection and the quality of the explanation of the collection’s focus. This year’s judges are Ruthe Battestin, an expert in 18th-century English literature; Fred Ribble, an independent scholar of 18th-century English literature; and Christian DuPont, curator of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Entries can be eclectic, ranging from folios of the works of Samuel Johnson to paperback editions of Erskine Caldwell, according to society vice president David L. Vander Meulen. Previous winners have included collections of Victorian serial fiction, children’s series books such as the Hardy Boys, 18th-century English literature, artist’s books, central African literature, and Daredevil comic books and graphic novels.
Awards will be announced on March 28. The first-place winner will receive $300 and a Bibliographical Society fellowship for a tuition-free class during the Rare Book School at U.Va. Second- and third-place winners will receive $150 and $75, respectively. More than $600 in gift certificates from a variety of sponsoring booksellers will also be awarded.
“You have to like who you are collecting,” said Battestin, who has collected first editions of Henry James for many years.
“Collecting can be a significant scholarly contribution,” Vander Meulen said. “It helps in understanding a body of work, because the whole can be more meaningful than the sum of the parts.”
Vander Meulen cited Linton Massey, a local man who collected editions of Faulkner and became friends with the author when Faulkner taught at U.Va. Later Massey’s acquisitions became “the core of U.Va.’s matchless collection of Faulkner.”
“We want to interest people in book collecting and particularly interest students in starting book collections,” Ribble said. “We want to involve them in thinking seriously about books.”
Some undergraduates and graduate students appear to already have an appreciation of book collecting, as the number of entries has held steady at about 10 to 15 per contest over the past eight years of the contest, which the society has sponsored since the 1950s, Ribble said.
The contest “attracts a certain person with a collecting instinct,” she said. “They can like books, but they have to have the collecting instinct.”
Vander Meulen, who teaches a course on the book as a physical object, collects editions of Alexander Pope and books designed by Warren Chapel, a former artist-in-residence at U.Va., whose last design project was Vander Meulen’s book on Pope.
The winner of the University’s contest is invited to compete for the national Book Collecting Championship of $2,500. The national contest, held each year, is fairly new, according to Ribble, and only one U.Va. winner, Kenneth Price, has competed on the national level, in 2006.
The Bibliographical Society was created in 1947 to promote books, written texts, maps and graphics arts, Ribble said. Over the years, the society became one of the pre-eminent bibliographical societies in the world, Vander Meulen said, to the point where its journal is available in the reading room of the British Museum. The society is very much a part of the modern world, Ribble said, noting that it has put the entire run of its journals online for free access.
“Books carry the ideas of civilization,” Ribble said, adding that the society wants to ensure that “these ideas are preserved and presented for debate and study.”
For information about the collecting contest, visit etext.virginia.edu/bsuva/collecting2008.html.