Bright Young Collectors: Michelle Porter
I was born overseas to an American military family, so whenever I want to impress people, I tell them I'm from Europe! I currently live in Rapid City, South Dakota, which has been home for most of my life.
What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?
I have one degree in library science and am pursuing my second, with a minor in nonprofit management. I work in the library of private liberal arts institution, John Witherspoon College.
Please introduce us to your book collection. What areas do you collect in?
My collection comprises first editions (with dust jackets) of Broadway musical libretti. If possible, they are also first printings. I focus on what is termed the Golden Age of Broadway, 1930 - 1970. Once upon a time, these volumes were printed in hardcover by publishers such as Random House. A lot of the items in my collection are book club editions from the now defunct Fireside Theatre Book Club. I also have several regular first editions which are much rarer. Over time, the collection has expanded to include autobiographies of the playwrights, lyricists, and composers behind the libretti.
The color and beauty of vintage dust jackets, the feel of brittle pages, the evocative stills from original productions, the scent of ink and paper that have pressed each other passionately for 75 years--all these incubated the collecting germ in me. I have not yet reached the status of a "professional" collector, but even entry-level collecting is important and honorable. I realize that I am investing, not spending. I am just the current caretaker, preserver, and archivist of these volumes.
The storylines in these musicals are charming. But they are deceptively so. When I took off my modern rectangle rims and looked through some mid-century tortoise-shell frames, I was absolutely stunned. Social commentary runs rampant behind the quaint plots. Broadway, at that time, could be more risqué than Hollywood because the entertainment was limited to a fixed geographic location rather than being simultaneously screened nationwide. Whether subversive scripts indirectly mocked the status quo or waged outright war, reading them today gives a true impression of the mores of those times better than any sociology intensive ever can.
I have 45 hardcovers, eight biographies, three paperback acting editions, one theatrical company script, and one souvenir program from a pre-Broadway production. Of course, the number is still increasing. Lately, I'm feeling the pull to bring first editions of non-musical plays into the fold.
What was the first book you bought for your collection?
The first book was Six Plays by Rodgers and Hammerstein, number 200 in the Modern Library series. I thought I would be satisfied with that one volume. Had I known what was about to be unleashed... I would have bought it anyway!
How about the most recent book?
My latest purchase is a first edition of Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon. It is the first and only copy I discovered which has the impossible-to-find dust jacket extant.
And your favorite book in your collection?
Seriously? I can't, I just can't. Okay, maybe I can. The first British edition of My Fair Lady. It is illustrated with Cecil Beaton's original costume sketches. My copy came from England and had the faint scent of roses. Could it get any more perfect?
Best bargain you've found?
A DBS (Drama Book Shop) first edition of Michael Stewart and Bob Merrill's darkly beautiful Carnival! I snagged it for under $100, and have not seen another copy on the market since.
How about The One that Got Away?
Make that "the many." There was an incredibly rare theatre company script of Lil' Abner. The price was not exorbitant, but I decided to wait. Next, a copy of On Clear Day You Can See Forever that was reasonable in condition and price, but ditto. My biggest tragedies are theatre scripts of Gigi and Stop the World--I Want to Get Off. That's when I learned about the dark side of eBay bidding wars. I'll stop here because this is getting depressing.
What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?
Honestly, it would be a first edition of Bye Bye Birdie. There are a handful of copies on the market, but all are priced in the thousands.
What is your favorite bookstore?
One of the first shops I purchased from was ReadInk in Los Angeles. Although the transaction was completely online, it left me feeling like had gotten the most attentive, respectful face-to-face service. I return to ReadInk whenever they have a libretto or biography I'm looking for.
What would you collect if you didn't collect books?
Probably books? All kidding aside, it would be something delicate and girly like vintage jewelry or music boxes.
[Photo credits: Michelle Porter]