Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2009 Issue

We Shall not Pass this way Again

Deorbe9

Schoener. Lot 9. Source H. P. Kraus


By Bruce McKinney


It matters less what we collect than that we collect.

On December 3rd at 10:30 am the collection discussed here will be sold at Bloomsbury Auctions in New York. On December 2nd, at Bloomsbury's showrooms at 6 West 48th Street I'll be giving a talk 6:30 pm that will be mercifully brief. These are the remarks. I'll then take questions.

You are invited!


Collections are fantasies and sometimes indulgences. They are small and large, gathered energetically or intermittently, set aside sometimes for decades, pursued, if books, by chance, often because of a dealer or library relationship, begun in youth and sometimes chased into old age. In truth the vigor of collecting for many in their seventies grows stronger even as the light fades. Is it that we feel the passion ever more clearly or that other interests decline? Frank Siebert collected into his final decade, Thomas Streeter into his final years. The answer is unique to each who finds in such material a desire for personal relationship. For those who make the connection collecting is enduring even if ignored for years, even decades. Such collections are who we are and from the future who we were. They define us.

Collecting is common in its simplest form and rare at the extremes. Mothers accumulate wedding and family pictures, buttons and report cards, fathers half-filled cans of paint, roadmaps, baseball gloves and camping gear. Children on the path to self-awareness accumulate bits and rubble, baseballs, pennies, and whatever. Such collections are later clues and triggers to restore and reawaken memory. We live in the present and maintain access to our lives through such things. What we choose to remember best explains how we see or saw ourselves.

For a few collecting is the gathering of objects to bring to life events, experiences and perceptions beyond our knowing. For myself, and perhaps to myself, this explains my interest in early history of the new world. In becoming interested in old books when very young, I stumbled upon a succession of worlds, some accessible, others only hinted at. Such material that was ever locally held, a hundred years before and more had already been combed from attics, collections and town libraries and found their way into institutions, to dealers and collectors before I even first looked. What I encountered in the 1950's was the close cropped meadow after the sheep have grazed. I was not dissuaded.

Rare Book Monthly

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