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Passing the Torch

Celebrating the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest
By Rebecca Rego Barry Rebecca Rego Barry is the editor of this magazine.

On Friday, October 21, about fifty collectors, booksellers, librarians, curators, and donors gathered at the Library of Congress to honor the winners of this year’s National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Presented by the American Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, the Center for the Book in the LOC, the LOC Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, this annual ceremony encourages and celebrates extraordinary young collectors. The Jay I. Kislak Foundation provides major support for this program, which was initiated back in 2005 by Fine Books & Collections.

After introductory remarks by Deanna Markum, associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress, John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book, told the audience how eager he was to “beat the drum for collecting awards at schools.” Each of the four winners at the national level had already won his or her university-level competition. Cole introduced the first-place winner, twenty-eight-year-old Mitch Fraas, whose collection of eighteenth-century legal printing originated from his dissertation research at Duke University.

Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division, then presented the second prize to twenty-five-year-old Margaret (Maggie) Murray for her collection of literature related to The Little Review. A representative from the University of California at Riverside read a statement from third-prize winner, Sarah A. McCormick, 27, who won for her collection of material related to California’s Coachella Valley but could not attend the evening’s ceremony. Emily Brodman, who just completed her bachelor’s degree at Stanford University, won the essay prize for Sourcing the Sanctuary Movement. She too was unable to attend. Jean Kislak awarded cash prizes to the winners.

One of Mitch Fraas’ favorite pieces of his collection of eighteenth-century legal briefs is this docket title from that 1791 Privy Council brief. Said Fraas, “These briefs were printed in very small batches (maybe a dozen total) for distribution to judges and lawyers and contain the arguments made for a defendant or respondent and are invaluable historical sources.” He added, “The document was folded for docketing and this title would have served as the identifier for court officials. Notice the blanks for MS annotation of the exact date.” Courtesy of Mitch Fraas.

Young collectors, whether in books, art, or antiques, are a rare breed. In separate interviews, the winners described their collections and inspirations. Fraas, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, said he realizes his collection of law briefs is narrow in scope—and that’s to his benefit. “I think having such a narrow topic has helped in terms of securing items at reasonable prices—there isn’t much other demand out there, yet—but I also go months without seeing anything available anywhere that looks interesting,” he said. One of his favorite pieces is a small letterpress-printed jury summons produced in Calcutta around 1813. “We think of case books, Supreme Court decisions etc., but rarely think about a sheriff wandering around the streets of 1813 Calcutta delivering printed slips of paper to those jurors chosen to serve on a trial,” he said. “This kind of print is so everyday and so ephemeral that it rarely survives, yet it tells us important things about how government, authority, and dispute resolution were structured.”

While Fraas prefers browsing bookseller catalogues—citing William Reese, Meyer Boswell, and Richard Ford as great resources for his specialty—he admitted that he most often buys from Internet portals like the ABAA search site or Vialibri. For Indian items, he relies on English auctions and a range of Ebay contacts, he said.

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