Bright Young Collectors: Gregory Freeman

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Gregory Freeman of Surrey, British Columbia who collects the English Reformation.

Greg(1).JPG
Where are you from / where do you live? 

Surrey, British Columbia.

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

I entered the book trade at 19 and have been in the business over ten years as a bookstore employee, working for a number of booksellers in that time as cataloguer. Never attended post-secondary. As a self-taught antiquarian I visit rare books libraries (most of them belong to universities) to engage in my hobby -- searching through early printed books for marginalia as I’ve taught myself in English palaeography. I’ve made some fascinating discoveries over the years. But I haven’t bothered to take any courses; Latin would be my first choice.

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

English Reformation period in history, biography, theology, literature, history of the English language, reflecting my own heritage and religion. I also go back to the Anglo-Saxons (as did the Tudors and Victorians) for a better cultural and lingual understanding. Dictionaries--especially the Oxford English Dictionary of which I have the first edition--is another aspect to my collection, with subsidiary publications and a subsection of philologist-theologian Richard Chenevix Trench. Besides printed books (and books-about-books), I also collect handwritten documents of the 13th-19th centuries to indulge in my palaeographical interest. Provenance to a few of my books include the first Duke of Northumberland, Lord Rosebery, and Canadian prime ministers Sir Charles Tupper and Sir John A Macdonald. 

How many books are in your collection? 

About 450 antiquarian books, leaves, and pamphlets; 60 manuscripts on paper and parchment dating back to circa 1270; plus another couple hundred books post-1900.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

Reading early 20th-century literature at the age of 16-17 sparked the latent antiquarian in me; in senior high school I was already buying cheap Victorian books and sometimes brought them to class. These led to earlier and earlier books, until at the age of 22 in 2007, I acquired my first 16th-17th-century items, A Continuation of Morning-Exercise Questions and Cases of Conscience (1683), followed by Paraphrasis In Psalmos Davidivos (1590), The Gunpowder-Treason (1679), St. Germain’s classic legal text The Dialogue in English (1593), that’s when my serious collecting began. 

How about the most recent book? 

A first edition of bishop John Jewel’s famous Defence of the Apologie for the Churche of Englande (1567), with intriguing marginalia possibly belonging to Stephen Batman the contemporary Elizabethan theologian. 

And your favorite book in your collection? 

A small quarto Bishops Bible printed by Jugge in 1577, bound with The Whole Booke of Psalmes printed by Daye in 1576. It’s bound in early tooled leather over wooden boards, with late Mediaeval MS vellum binder’s waste in gothic lettering (probably cut from a disused breviary) inserted at the front hinge. The Mediaeval fragment is such a splendid commentary on the period : a banned religious service book scrapped for use as binding reinforcement in a Protestant English bible.

1577 Iugge Bishops Bible quarto (9).JPG
Best bargain you’ve found?

It’s difficult to say which is best, but among them have been a 1561 exemplification document on vellum with Elizabeth I’s great wax seal appended; a near fine copy of John Knox’s Historie of the Reformation of the Church of Scotland (1644); plus the 1577 Bishops Bible above. Also, Herbert Coleridge’s A Glossarial Index (1859), annotated in pen by Frederick J. Furnivall, that I bought online for $40--Coleridge and Furnivall were the two earliest editors of what became the OED.

1561 Elizabeth Great Seal document (7).JPG

How about the One that Got Away?

I try to forget them as best I can. Normally when something sells I consider it fate and move on. I can scarcely afford these things anyhow being a bookstore employee. I’m grateful for what I’ve got. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

A 14th-15th-century Wycliffe Bible; a Mediaeval copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History ; any book with a previously-unknown Mediaeval music manuscript used as endleaves in the binding. Perhaps a lost copy of Tyndale’s first edition New Testament.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore? 

J. King in Canada has been my favourite for a long time, with Purpora and MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver, plus a number of other Canadian booksellers more recently whom I’ve met at book fairs, such as Bison Books. 

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

I happen to collect music (on CD) composed in England between the 12th-18th centuries, so perhaps if I didn’t collect books and documents my mania would be focused on period musical instruments such as organs, viols, lutes, sackbutts, etc. Religious relics of the Middle Ages would also be fun.
Auction Guide