Bright Young Collectors: Alexandra Plane

Image courtesy of Alexandra Plane

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Alexandra Plane of Oxford, England.  Alexandra won the 2020 Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize and received special mention in the 2021 ABA Book Collecting Prize:

Where are you from / where do you live?

I grew up in the North of England but have now moved south to Oxford. I also travel often to go book-hunting for my PhD research.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I originally studied Classics, and then did an MA in librarianship in London. I am currently part way through a PhD on the Scottish and English libraries of King James VI and I, which I am reconstructing (if readers happen to possess any of his books, please do let me know!). I have previously worked in several academic and special collections libraries and work part-time in the Bodleian alongside my PhD.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I have two main collecting areas: Gerald Durrell and Henry Yates Thompson. The former is the collection for which I won the Anthony Davis prize. I buy pretty much any Gerald Durrell works I come across (if not too expensive!) as I am particularly interested in how Durrell’s output as a (reluctant) author funded his animal conservation work. He used the books as fundraising tools, and as such they contain interesting paratextual material such as tear-out subscription forms, which illustrate the power of mass-market books as physical objects in the pre-internet age.

I started the second collection more recently. It is focused on the book collector Henry Yates Thompson (1838-1928) and is therefore a kind of meta-collection: a collection about the collecting of another collector! Yates Thompson is a fascinating character whose acquisition of the famed ‘Hundred Manuscripts’ has caused him to be known as the ‘first modern bibliophile’. Sadly his catalogues of his own collection are rather pricey, but I have been able to pick up some even rarer things, such as a privately printed family history written by his brother—I own the brother’s personal copy in a lovely Roger de Coverly binding.

Items from the Gerald Durrell collection of Alexandra Plane
Alexandra Plane

Items from the Gerald Durrell collection of Alexandra Plane

The bookplate from the book of Henry Yates Thompson’s artwork
Alexandra Plane

The bookplate from the book of Henry Yates Thompson’s artwork, Alexandra Plane's current favorite.

How many books are in your collection?

Probably about 50 in total.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

One of the first edition hardbacks of Gerald Durrell’s ‘Corfu Trilogy’ about his childhood there, purchased as a reading copy when I was quite young. At the time (almost twenty years ago), that was affordable—unfortunately for me they have now become rather collectable!

How about the most recent book?

The most recent would be a little parcel of Gerald Durrell paperbacks from the 1950-60s. These are in some ways more interesting than the hardbacks in beautiful dustjackets, as they demonstrate how Durrell’s readability was key to his success as an author and a conservationist. They are often quite scruffy from extensive reading, but I see that as a further illustration of their success as awareness-raising tools, rather than as a fault.

And your favorite book in your collection?

At the moment, probably a book of Henry Yates Thompson’s artwork, which he had privately printed for friends and family. I bought it from an American bookseller during lockdown and opened it to find that it had a fascinating woman’s bookplate which hadn’t been in the description, so it has been fun to work out the connection between her and Yates Thompson.

Best bargain you’ve found?

Probably the oddest item in my collection—a little book which appears to have been a mourning book for Yates Thompson and was possibly given out at his funeral in 1928. I think the bookseller didn’t quite know what to make of it, and it seems to be totally unique.

How about The One that Got Away?

A copy of a privately printed essay on Yates Thompson’s wife Elizabeth Smith. It was for sale last year with a handwritten note about her by the author, but by the time I contacted the bookseller it had already been sold! I am hoping it may reappear on the market one day…

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

If not the above item, then probably first editions of the other two works in Gerald Durrell’s ‘Corfu Trilogy’, to accompany the one I already have. I have other editions of the same works, but it would be great to complete the set.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I don’t have any particular favourite—I tend to just pop in to antiquarian and second-hand bookshops wherever I see them! Durrell is such a popular author that I find his books almost anywhere.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

Probably the work of twentieth-century Scandinavian silversmiths, particularly Georg Jensen. Sadly, a student budget doesn’t allow for that and book collecting!