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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Special Report

Young Collectors: An Emerging Market?

Cynthia Davis Buffington, of Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts, said she feels that this may be the case since many younger folks have a long way to go before they can be called true bibliophiles. Buffington was recently a judge at the University of Pennsylvania’s Student Book Collecting Competition.

“Generally speaking, collecting is an older person’s activity,” Buffington said.

Young people, she explained, typically don't have the money to collect at the highest levels and have yet to realize how to collect without spending a fortune.

Established in 1977, the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting at Harvard is awarded annually to recognize and encourage book collecting by undergraduates. The winners of the 2010 prize met recently with jury members and Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy Cline. From left, first place winner Charles Santiago Palau Hernandez, Class of 2011; James Capobianco, Reference Librarian, Houghton Library; Nancy Cline; Martin Schreiner, Head of Maps, Media, Data, and Government Information; second place winner Zoey Orol, Class of 2010. Photograph by Peter Reuell, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.

“The thing about young people is that they are young,” continued Buffington. “They are still feeling their way when it comes to old books as with so much else.”

An intellectual development needs to happen, she said, if one is to get serious about book collecting. The budding collector needs to experience a lot more books before deciding what kind of collector they will be. “The joy to be derived from book collecting is directly related to the amount of time that’s put into it,” Buffington said.

She added, however, that perhaps young people are luckier for it. Young collectors still have all of the opportunities before them that an established collector has already experienced.

This in itself is hopeful and exciting. The world that a young collector works in today is very different from the collecting world of even fifteen years ago. In some ways it is easier to be a collector now with so many inventories available. On the other hand, as Buffington hinted, the amount of inventory can be overwhelming, developing an approach to collecting that is unfocused. However, hope springs eternal, and the idea that books will continue to pique the devoted interests of future collectors is one that booksellers hold fast.

Courtney Cunningham won Sweet Briar College’s 2010 student book collecting contest for her collection of books on Alexander the Great. A recently graduated classics major, Cunningham is off to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall to study library science. Cunningham is pictured here in the Browsing Room at Sweet Briar’s Cochran Library. Courtesy of Sweet Briar College.

To inspire this devotion, contests such as National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest have developed to celebrate the unique interests of young collectors. They provide essential recognition and validation of what is often a solitary pursuit. With co-sponsors such as The Center for the Book, the Library of Congress, the ABAA, and the

Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, these contests are assured their weight in the book-collecting community.

Having such established and serious organizations reach out to the next generation of collectors is great news. In order for young collectors to become serious about their passion and develop the habits and devotion needed to amass significant collections, they will first need the help of these supportive resources, as well as the librarians, bibliophiles, and dealers, who with some adjusting and freshening up, are eager to meet them half-way.

Jason Dickson is the author of Clearance (2002), The Hunt (2006), Glenn Piano by Gladys Priddis (2010) and is the proprietor of the Muskoka Bookhouse, an antiques and collectibles bookshop in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada.
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