Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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8
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
EXC LU S IVE IT E M S
T h e Hebrew Un ion Co llege Library, by the way, does happen
to have certain
exclusive
possessions. Jewish books never were
published in large editions. T ra d it ion a l ly we have had the
troublesome combination o f intelligence and poverty. A n d due to
our poverty our books were published in very small editions and
in out-of-the-way places. T h e Jewish owners o f these books wan­
dered over the world, su ffered successive expulsions, and o ften
only two or three copies o f Jewish books o f a few centuries ago
remain in existence. An d sometimes there is only
one
book le ft!
Such a book is entitled an
“Unicum.”
T h e L ibrary here has, I
believe, f ifteen
unica,
f ifteen books which, as far as we know, no
one else in the world has. “ Mr. Mellon, you have the advantage o f
having exclusive ownersh ip.” Th a t is one o f the strong motiva­
tions in book collecting and in any sort o f collecting.
T h e re is a step beyond this: A man buys things and, i f he can
a ffo rd it or i f he is lucky, he discovers something which he feels is
his alone. Th is natural pride lures him into getting other things.
Finally, he stops buying things that do not be long to a certain
category. I have a fr iend in Pittsburgh who collected. H e learned
to love books early and had a first ed ition o f
Alice in Wonderland.
An d then he bought from a rich A rm en ian rug merchant a
beautiful book bound with gems. Perhaps no one else has any­
thing like it. Th en he went beyond such miscellaneous collecting.
A n idea got hold o f him and he began to collect in a certain special
direction. H e scoured around until he got an o ff-p r in t o f the first
essay published by Einstein on the theory o f relativity, on the
smaller theory. I t was published in some scientific magazine in
Berlin and is, o f course, very scarce. Th en he got the first ed ition
o f
The Origin o f the Species,
then the first ed ition o f
Das Kapital.
Finally, he built up a collection o f the highest points o f human
thought in their best editions. H e created a literary mountain
range composed o f the peaks o f human progress. Thus he
gathered a most unusual collection which was more than a re f le c ­
tion o f personal likes. It was an impressive unity. Man can bring
together something that never hitherto existed together. Th is is
the second stage in collecting: Creativity. Y ou you rse lf have built
something. It has never existed in this unity before.
But there is also a th ird stage, one that is not o ften reached by
collectors. Le t me describe it this way: Suppose a book publisher,