Collecting: An Unruly Passion by Werner Muensterberger
Collecting: An Unruly Passion
by Werner Muensterberger

"Hoarder" is such an ugly word. I prefer "collector".

The first instance of collecting I remember in my own life came in the form of dark blue beach glass. Only dark blue – no other color would do, even the pretty aquamarine pieces, which were equally scarce. No, it had to be the dark blue only, and I scoured the beaches relentlessly and exhaustively. The idea of collection ran away with me entirely, and I became fairly single-minded until I had amassed enough to fill a jar, which I then placed triumphantly in my bedroom window. Even now, I remember the feeling of accomplishment beginning to fade and being replaced with a slow, insidious dawning… “now what?” I was eight years old, and was learning that the satisfaction of a collection is rarely in the having, but usually in the hunting. I completely understand the ability of Cy Fox, the man who spent half a century painstakingly collecting the work of artist and author Wyndham Lewis only to donate it all to a university.

My next conquest was fervent but short-lived. The summer I was ten, my friends and I became obsessed with the Sweet Valley High books by Francine Pascal, a series about two blonde-haired, blue-eyed identical teenage twins named Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield.  I became crazed in my desire to grow my collection, combing secondhand stores like a tiny diva possessed, scheming ways to stretch my allowance far enough to buy me that elusive #14 I found in the church rummage bin. I read them voraciously, performing the reader equivalent of swallowing without chewing, before noticing that they all tasted exactly the same, and that taste had turned sour. After reading upwards of 20 of the things, it dawned on even my pre-pubescent brain that they were terrible. They returned largely unceremoniously to the dusty shelves whence they came. Such is the cycle of life.

Next came coins - the ones that still had real silver in them. I worked at a grocery store from the ages of 17 to 20 or so, and became an expert in hearing the beautiful little "clink!" of a real silver coin in a handful of change. Some of them may actually be worth something now - perhaps one day I'll even make the time to find out.

Throughout my now-many-more years I have gone through various collecting phases:  teapots (the individual ones, where the bottom is the cup and the pot sits atop it); authentic vintage cowboy purses; the entire bibliography of Roald Dahl; square dance petticoats; travel magnets from all over the world; various types of comic and comic-related series; autographed photographs;  gig sheets (low-budget music advertisement posters), and of course, books.  Oh, books.

Most of my collecting fancies are fleeting.  In them I recognize, even amidst the thrill of something new and exciting, a certain fever-pitched mania that is all too telling: this too shall pass. I will not want a souvenir shot glass from every state forever. This is just for now, for fun.

But not so with books.  And it makes no difference the age, genre, condition or value of the book. I have favorites, to be sure, extra special volumes, but I hold a great deal of affection for even the lowliest pulp paperback on my shelf. Books have been the steadfast stalwart old reliable for me in terms of collection. For one, since I have grown into adulthood and into my own taste and largely stopped chasing trends, I regard my books as old friends, and am generally reluctant to part with them. I like to pick a book off the shelf and remember where I bought it, why I chose it, who recommended it, what was happening in my life when I read it. They become the literary soundtrack to my life, reminding me of the world jostling by outside the train window as I wipe tears from my eyes during a movingly-written death scene, my first time abroad without my parents.  I remember the books I’ve been reading during moves, and deaths, and births, and beginnings and endings. I collect various series, or various authors, or various genres for a while, with some faith, but even that small specificity doesn’t last. Books – the glorious, all-encompassing, ever-evolving and absolute joyous love of books – is the only collection to hold my interest, unwavering, my whole life long, and I have no doubt that will always be the case, for me. And if one day, an earthquake topples my stacks to crush me, then I can think of no better way to go, and you can bury me right there, under the soundtrack to my life – the many pages belonging to a book collector.

In the meantime, I never know what potential collection will spark my interest and set me on the hunt, back to the thrift shops, garage sales and church basements I’ve always loved. And even when it’s temporary, collecting is so enjoyable, it’s a hobby I keep. If a collection runs away with me, I’ll just hang on for the ride.


Some Collections to Run Away With:


Penguin Paperbacks

Plays Pleasant by Bernard Shaw
Plays Pleasant
Bernard Shaw
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Sons and Lovers
D.H. Lawrence
A Book of Lear by Edward Lear
A Book of Lear
Edward Lear
Stealthy Terror by John Ferguson
Stealthy Terror
John Ferguson

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Deadly Dames of Pulp Fiction

The Blonde in Black by Ben Benson

The Blonde in Black
Ben Benson

Six Deadly Dames by Frederick Nebel

Six Deadly Dames
Frederick Nebel

Fires That Destroy by Harry Whittington

Fires That Destroy
Harry Whittington

The Hard-Boiled Blonde by Glen Watkins

The Hard-Boiled Blonde
Glen Watkins

A Dame Called Murder by Robert O. Saber

A Dame Called Murder
Robert O. Saber

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Little Golden Books

The Little Red Hen illustrated by Rudolf Freund (1942)
The Little Red Hen
Illustrated by Rudolf Freund (1942)
Tootle by Gertrude Crampton (1945)
by Gertrude Crampton (1945)
Bedtime Stories, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren (1942)
Bedtime Stories
Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren (1942)
Alphabet From A to Z by Leah Gale (1942)
The Alphabet From A to Z
by Leah Gale (1942)
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Edward Gorey Books

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The Britain in Pictures Series

British Boxing by Denzil Batchelor
British Boxing
Denzil Batchelor
The English Church by the Bishop of Chichester
The English Church
Bishop of Chichester
English Villages by Edmund Blunden
English Villages
Edmund Blunden
British Scientists by Sir Richard Gregory
British Scientists
Sir Richard Gregory
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Vintage Children's A-B-C Books

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What collections have run away with you?

More to Explore:

Shelf Help: The Best Guides to Book Collecting The Gorgeousness of Taschen Collectible Color Plates: Color Your Shelf