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  Written by
  Sharla A. Stewart

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The collecting mania


Collective efforts
Collective works

Chicago wouldn't be Chicago if its graduates weren't bookworms, often burrowing into the depths of highly specialized collections. (In fact, most of our alumni collectors cited books as their "other" passion. Typewriter enthusiast Richard Polt, for example, collects works by eccentric Chicago novelist Henry Stephen Keeler.)

"What comes to mind is the line I saw once in the Washington Post book section about how you can tell if you have a serious biblioholic problem if you come home late on a Friday or Saturday night and lie and tell your wife you were out drinking at a bar because you don't want to confess that you were really shopping at a used bookstore," says David F. Mitch, AB'73, AM'74, PhD'82, associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, who has amassed 7,000 volumes on economics and economics and social history.

Though Mitch professes to have recovered from his "compulsion" when his daughter was born in 1996, he delightedly relates the height of his passion, in 1994-95, when he picked up countless volumes while on a Fulbright fellowship at the London School of Economics. Some gems: a first edition of Principles of Economics (1948), by Paul Samuelson, AB'35, part of a subcollection that continues to the 12th edition ("one can chart through the eyes of one of the most distinguished economists and textbook authors of the 20th century the course of the discipline over the last 50-odd years"); a first edition of John Maynard Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money; and Charles Frederick Roos's Dynamic Economics, one of his 30 Cowles Commission monographs, including almost all those authored by Chicago economists. Mitch also owns 150 of the 161 volumes of Harvard Studies in Business History-the collection that started his collection.

Science fiction is the genre of choice for Ross F. Bagby, AM'85, who has 125 video adaptations of Jules Verne stories and characters. "Video collecting began as a game, to watch a Verne-based video each week after reading or rereading the source book (e.g. the Harry Hausen Mysterious Island after the original novel)," writes Bagby.

After exhausting the Verne reading list, Bagby changed the game in its second year to watching any new Verne title each week. By year three, the collection became self-propelling; fellow collectors in search of obscure Verne titles were referred to Bagby and often offered in swap rarities of their own. (Many referrals come from his pal Brian Taves of the Library of Congress, co-author of The Jules Verne Encyclopedia.) Now in its fifth year, the collection continues to grow. This year's major addition was the Canadian-made Secret Adventures of Jules Verne series, which aired in the U.S. on the SciFi cable channel. Bagby's collection also includes George Melies's A Voyage to the Moon (1902), several Russian-language adaptations, and Verne-based episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel (1960), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1961), Josie and the Pussycats (1972), and Muppet Babies (ca. 1985).

If sci-fi is Bagby's bag, it's rags-to-riches tales for Michael C. Dorf, AB'73. Dorf owns two-thirds of the 100-plus novels and biographies written between 1864 and 1899 by Horatio Alger Jr. As a member of the University's Blackfriars musical troupe, Dorf participated in Luke Larkin's Luck, an original musical based on Alger's Struggling Upward. "Since then," he says, "I have roamed bookstores around the country with a list of titles in my pocket."

Other alumni confine themselves not only to a single author but to a single work. For William M. Yoffee, AB'52, that work is Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo, the once-popular, later-reviled children's story of a little boy in India who gives away his new clothes to tigers, only to recover them when the bickering tigers melt into butter. The earliest copy in Yoffee's collection is a second edition of the original British version. He also owns about 75 U.S. versions and knock-offs, including his most recent acquisition, a 1920s Sambo-themed primer.

PHOTO:  William Yoffee is a collector among collectors.  Besides Sambo, he has collected stamps, coins, Audubon prints, Inuit Eskimo stone and bone carvings, Doulton character jugs, English salt-glazed stoneware, and anything related to the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Visitors call his house a museum - "in the monstrous sense."

"My motive for building this collection was to put to rest the general misunderstanding of this classic," says Yoffee, a children's book dealer in Kensington, Maryland. "It is not about Africans or African Americans, though some of the American illustrators might lead one to believe otherwise." Among the most offensive illustrations, he notes, were those created by famous illustrators of other popular children's books: John R. Neill, who illustrated most of the Oz books, and Johnny Gruelle of Raggedy Ann fame.

Sid Huttner, AB'63, AM'76, has assembled 450 copies of Lucile, a novel-length romance in rhymed couplets first published in 1860 by Owen Meredith (the nom de plume of Edward Robert, first Earl of Lytton). One of many confirmed eBay users among U of C collectors, Huttner has in the past two years purchased 150 copies from eBay auctions, usually paying $15 or less, plus postage. ("Between a quarter and a third of my total acquisitions budget goes to the Postal Service!") The head of Special Collections at the University of Iowa Libraries, he often speaks on Lucile and the issues it raises for preserving late 19th-century print culture.

Although he says individual Luciles "don't have much meaning by themselves," Huttner admits a fondness for an 1887 E. & J. B. Young version, with its red plush silk binding and celluloid onlay. "It has remarkable endpapers and is so fragile that it cannot be possible that many copies survive. It is, however, really rather ugly."

And where would a bibliophile be without a bookmark? Sandra Ceraulo, PhD'93, will never find out. She has 600 bookmarks, and when collecting, she says, "I always try to take at least two"-one for display in her bookmark baskets, and one to mark a passage or recipe in her own eclectic collection of books and cookbooks. Her favorite? A full-frame photo of a Frank Lloyd Wright window for a Wright exhibition at Columbia University. She pocketed three.

  OCTOBER 2001

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