Competitive Collecting Is A Real Thing: Here’s What You Need To Know

Have you ever looked at your collection and thought, “Damn, I’m so good at this, someone should give me a prize.”

Of course, there’s more to being a collector than just amassing stuff. A collector goes to great pains (and takes great pleasure) tracking down, acquiring, organizing, categorizing, cataloging, displaying, protecting and preserving whatever it is they’re collecting – whether that’s records, books, comics, DVDs, music gear, posters, or anything else. It takes time, care, and dedication – something not everyone has in spades. It goes beyond a desire of ownership – it’s a compulsion that takes over your life. Often people who do have all 3 things have in common is a competitive streak. And thus, we get competitive collecting.

The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest has run every year since 2005. It takes inspiration from Swarthmore College’s A. Edward Newton Book Collection Competition, the longest-running book collecting contest at a college. The competition’s name-sake, A. Edward Newton, was inspired to continue funding an earlier program that rewarded the best book collection among students, as he was regularly impressed by the astute questions and perceptive inquiries asked of his own epic rare book collection.

Being a serious contender for competitive book collecting isn’t just about having the biggest collection of books, or even having the rarest or most expensive books in your possession. Entrants’ collections are required to center on a clear theme and have a demonstrable knowledge of how the collection fits together. A panel evaluates “the intrinsic signification, innovation and interest of book collections as presented in entrants’ descriptive essays and bibliography”. So that rules out submitting a heaving shelf of unread books. Past examples of winning collections cover things like musical scores of repressed Soviet composers, contemporary theatre of the Southern Cone, and Mormon fundamentalism and polygamy. There’s pretty good money in it too – first prize wins $2500, second $1000, and third place is worth $500.

While it seems kind of extreme to turn collecting into a competitive sport, is there something we could learn here? That a good collection is a reflection of your taste, and perhaps even part of your identity, therefore you should dedicate the time and effort to knowing each item in your collection well and be able to justify its place in the collection – whether that’s books, comics, records, stamps, or gear. It’s not about the rarity or price of the thing, it’s the significance to you and your standards.

If you prefer to keep your collection between you and your shelves, use Bookogs to catalog your full book collection to keep track of what you’ve got, and your Wantlist for all those books your collection is still missing.

As far as we know, the only type of collecting to turn competitive so far is for books. Would you enter your record, comic, film, or poster collection into competition if it was an option? If you know about competitions focused on any other type of collectible, we’d love to hear about it!


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