Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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On the Collecting ofJewish Books*
I t
be understood at the outset that a great public library is
not form ed by books purchased from book sellers and stores. I f ,
fo r example, we were beginning to build a Hebrew Un ion Co llege
L ibrary today and i f someone gave us a great deal o f money fo r
this purpose, and the librarian and his committee scoured the
markets and bought books from old book sellers, it would take
them two hundred years to build the present collection. One uses
book sellers and their catalogues to fill up existing gaps. But the
main collection is built by the acquisition o f the libraries o f private
collectors. I f it were not fo r the fact that the collecting o f books
were an inveterate habit in human beings, no great library ever
could be built. T h e r e fo r e it is o f some special interest today to
consider fo r a moment this habit o f collecting which is almost
endemic in human nature. Considering the vast variety o f things
that are collected, we m ight say it is pandemic, world-wide. What,
then, is the psychology o f collecting and what is its relationship
specifically to a library such as the C o llege ’s?
When an emotion is as widespread as collecting is, it is very hard
to be too specific about its characteristics. It is almost like d e fin in g
humanity itself. T h e r e are, fo r example, about two hundred clubs
o f peop le in the Un ited States who collect buttons. Do not think
this is a m inor thing. When you start look ing fo r the un iform
buttons o f the Revolutionary War soldiers, it will requ ire a good
deal o f money to get one. T h e re are some peop le, very intelligent
people, who collect the type o f old-fashioned business cards
which businessmen used to publish. For example, tailors used to
print cards showing a man in a Prince A lb e r t coat. T h e r e is an
association o f collectors o f business cards and they publish a
magazine, too. A l l this indicates that the habit o f collecting is
* Dr. Freeho f s address was delivered at the dedication o f the Library buildings o f
the Hebrew Union Co llege— Jewish Institute o f Religion in Cincinnati in 1961.
It was first issued in a limited edition by the Society o f Jewish Bibliophiles.