Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize
Here at Honey & Wax, we take a particular interest in the evolving role of women in the rare book trade, on both the buying and selling sides. The great American book collector Mary Hyde Eccles, the first woman elected to the Grolier Club, noted that a collector must have three things: resources, education, and freedom. Historically, she observed, “only a few women have had all three, but times are changing!”
We embrace that change. In the interest of encouraging the next generation, we are delighted to award the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize, an annual prize of $1000 for an outstanding book collection conceived and built by a young woman.
The contest is open to women book collectors in the United States, aged 30 or younger. Contestants do not need to be enrolled in a degree program, nor do they require a sponsor. Honey & Wax uses ‘women’ in its most expansive definition, one fully inclusive of non-binary, trans and gender-non-conforming individuals.
If you're an aspiring collector, we encourage you to pay attention to the books that fascinate you, even if you're not yet sure why. What do you see that others don’t? If you have a theory about the stories your collection might tell, and the curiosity to find out if you’re right, you’re a real collector in the making.
The winning collection must have been started by the contestant, and all items in the collection must be owned by her. A collection may include books, manuscripts, and ephemera; it may be organized by theme, author, illustrator, publisher, printing technique, binding style, or another clearly articulated principle. The winning collection will be more than a reading list of favorite texts: it will be a chosen group of printed or manuscript objects, creatively assembled, that shine light on one another. Collections will not be judged on their size or their market value, but on their originality and their success in illuminating their chosen subjects.
We encourage applicants to review the collections of our past winners, featured below, to get a sense of the focus and depth we hope to see.
Thanks also to Lit Hub, The Paris Review, Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, and Fine Books & Collections for their ongoing support.
The application portal for the 2021 prize contest is open:
2020 Winner of the Honey & Wax Prize:
• Miriam Borden, 30, a teacher of Yiddish and graduate student at the University of Toronto, from Teaneck, NJ, for “Building a Nation of Little Readers: Twentieth-Century Yiddish Primers and Workbooks for Children.”
Borden collects twentieth-century Yiddish educational materials: the language primers that form the core of her collection, songbooks and workbooks, flash cards, scripts from school plays. These artifacts testify to a once-thriving Yiddish school system across North America, a network that collapsed after World War II, as Jewish immigrants assimilated and Hebrew emerged as the language of the State of Israel: “There would be no more child readers of Yiddish children’s books.” As a teacher of Yiddish, Borden now uses these vintage materials to instruct adults hoping to reconnect with a lost part of their heritage.
“There was no heirloom china in the house where I grew up, no silver from grandmother’s chest to be taken out and polished for holidays and family celebrations. That china had all been shattered, the silver stolen. . . . The heirlooms, and most of the family, were lost. But that does not mean I am bereft of inheritance. I was raised with an heirloom language, a treasure that could be taken out and polished and used on those rare moments when no word in English or Polish or Hebrew would fit the occasion. I was raised to speak the language of the dead. But never for a moment did it ever dawn on me that it was a dead language.”
Borden’s collection represents an impressive effort of historical preservation and an inspiring example of how a collection that began as something personal becomes a collective resource.
2019 Winner of the Honey & Wax Prize:
• Emily Forster, 28, a cartoonist in New York City, for “Crimes of Passion: Collecting Fan-made Comics and Dōjinshi," a collection of almost five hundred original fan-made comics, from photocopied zines to hardcover anthologies, primarily the self-published comics known in Japan as dōjinshi.
Forster’s essay offers a series of insights about the fan-made books she collects, gradually revealing the narrative conventions, circumstances of production, and readership of the material. “Most of the modern-day distinctions between official and derivative art -- and the assumptions of quality attached to each -- were based on concerns of property, not an evaluation of the art itself. There was something incredibly alluring to me about comics art created at a professional standard of quality without the expectation of professional reward.”
We admired Forster's observations on the power structures “fanfic” subverts, her attraction to “the ultra-niche within the niche,” and her insistence on “what is beautiful about the illegitimate, the indulgent, and the disposable.”
2018 Winner of the Honey & Wax Prize:
• Jessica Camille Jordan, 27, a former bookseller and current graduate student in English at Stanford, for her collection of books designed by prolific American illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon.
The Dillons’ experience as interracial partners (in life and work) informed their approach to graphic design over five decades: “we decided early in our career that we wanted to represent all races and show people that were rarely seen.” Famously versatile and productive, the Dillons collaborated on an untold number of commercial book projects, from pulp science fiction (winning the Hugo Award for Best Artist) to children’s stories (winning the Caldecott Medal, twice) to iconic paperback editions of James Baldwin, Madeleine L’Engle, Chinua Achebe, and Isabel Allende.
Jordan notes that “the Dillons’ work is unsigned on many of their early book covers – meaning that the burden of identification is left solely to my own abilities . . . as I have grown my collection, I have also been training my eye to see what others don’t, and nothing else puts a spring in a book collector’s step quite like that feeling.”
We admired the depth of Jordan’s collection, and the sense of discovery that animates it, especially as it relates to previously uncredited Dillon titles, and to the afterlife of the Dillons’ imagery in the Black Power movement.
2017 Winner of the Honey & Wax Prize:
• Jessica Kahan, 29, a public librarian in Ohio, for her collection “Romance Novels of the Jazz Age and Depression Eras.”
Kahan has collected some three hundred popular American romance novels of the 1920s and 1930s, all in their sensational original dust jackets, with an eye to creating a bibliography of fiction often dismissed as frivolous. Aiming “to capture women’s experiences through the lens of romance novels in the decades between women’s suffrage and World War Two,” Kahan plays particular attention to the rise of the modern career woman as an archetype, and to the way that historical events (the radio age, Prohibition, the Olympics) are reflected in the genre. Highlights of the collection are featured on Kahan’s blog, thegoodbadbook.
We loved this collection’s breadth and depth. Kahan’s refusal to condescend to her subject helps us see how a genre famous for its rigid conventions bends to reflect the changing lives of American women.
Honorable Mentions, 2017-2020
• Emily Wells, 27, a graduate student at William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, for “Collecting Charlotte,” a collection of editions of Susanna Rowson’s cautionary 1791 bestseller, Charlotte Temple, the tale of “a poor girl who died for love,” one of the most popular novels in early America, and the books and ephemera inspired by it.
“Many of the inscriptions left behind in copies of Charlotte Temple testify to readers’ social connections, whether it is a list of names that records the book’s circulation amongst a network of readers, or a gift inscription that notes the book’s passage from one reader to another. . . . When Charlotte travels across the Atlantic with Montraville, she forsakes the social ties that had once offered her protection. By marking the pages of Charlotte with testaments to their own social connections, readers form a counternarrative.”
We admired the discipline of Wells’s approach, which sheds light on nineteenth-century American social life, reading practices, book design, and publisher’s marketing, all by paying close attention to the printing and reprinting of a single bestseller.
• Margaret Grace Myers, 29, a writer in Brooklyn, NY, for “Let’s Talk About Sex,” a collection of American books on sex education from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from early treatises on “social hygiene” to Our Bodies, Ourselves, with a focus on the changing place of sex education in the public schools.
“Abstinence-only-until-marriage courses are ineffective, but that has not stopped the government from funding them. How did we get to this situation on the United States? . . . By putting books like Social Diseases and Marriage (1904) in conversation with Sex Education: The Final Plague (1989), I have physical evidence of the ways that Americans have conceived of sex and how it should be taught.”
We admired Myers’s attention to the way that accurate information about sex was “democratized,” published for an expanding range of audiences over the course of the twentieth century, and by her focus on the public schools as an arena where ideological battles over sexuality, equality, health, and religion are waged.
• Kaitlyn Jennings, 30, a public school teacher and private music instructor in Tuttle, OK, for “Echoes from the Past,” a collection of regional American hymnals from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“I am always amazed at the personalization of these books. Marginalia is a common finding in hymn books because these were not just books used once and then shelved. They were used frequently by church members, most often during the Sunday morning church service, but also for personal devotion, singing quartets, revivals, and much more.”
We especially liked Jennings’s attention to the way that American hymnals changed during the Depression era. The rise of radio broadcasts transformed their production and audience, as evidenced by a 1937 hymnal signed by a popular gospel quartet leader, pictured with 25,000 letters from listeners.
• Jamie Mastrogiacomo, 20, a student at Smith College in Northampton, MA, for “Fab Four Findings,” a collection of Beatles books and memorabilia focused on the experience of the group’s original fans.
“As a young female fan of classic rock, I often feel undermined by adults who underestimate my knowledge of the 1960s. Young women often face the question of authenticity in their media consumption; do they listen to more than just the popular songs? Do they deserve to be wearing that band’s logo? . . . This gatekeeping is contradictory to the success of bands like The Beatles, who were in fact propelled to stardom by young women.”
We were taken with the backstory of this collection, sparked by a Beatles trivia competition between Mastrogiacomo and her middle school music teacher. Her pivot to “the original fans, the teenage girls who so vehemently welcomed this band,” put her in pursuit of ephemera from the Beatles’ American tours, some annotated by the original owners.
• Stacy Shirk, 30, an executive assistant in drama programming at HBO in Los Angeles, CA, for “Fairy Tales as Cultural and Historical Touchstone,” a collection of fairy tales from the nineteenth century to the present, with a focus on editions that connect classic tales to a particular historical moment.
“I treasure my edition of Arthur Rackham’s The Allies’ Fairy Book (1916) because it was published at a time of unprecedented violence and fear across the globe. . . . published to lift spirits and promote unity amongst the Allies during WWI. Rackham purposefully avoided anything gruesome in his illustrations because reports from the warfront were so devastating that he and his publishers believed they should avoid such darkness in the book.”
We enjoyed the narrative behind Shirk’s collection, which has grown along with her, from childhood shelves full of “every book she could find that mentioned princesses or monsters or pixies,” to her present focus on the historical uses of fairy tales, from a suffragette’s spin on Blue Beard (1913) to the Holocaust-era Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends (1943) to today’s Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling (2020).
• Hannah Batsel, 30, a book artist and illustrator in Chicago, IL, for “Mass-Market Colonialist Children’s Books, 1870–1920,” a collection of illustrated children’s books, exploring “how colonialist and imperialist thought was packaged and marketed to Western youth” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “I hunted for books that might contribute to the Western impulse to dominate the natural world and the worlds of other peoples and cultures, not only physically through military force, but intellectually. . . . . In my own work, I appropriate the illustrative style of this era’s children’s books in order to draw a line between them and the modern-day results of the ideologies they contain.”
We admired the pivot in Batsel's collection, which began with one goal in mind, and took a turn. Her initial attraction to beautiful publisher’s trade bindings led to a reckoning with the racist pseudo-science she found in popular nineteenth-century works of natural history, and an exploration of the way that young readers were once encouraged to classify the peoples of the world.
• Julia Fine, 23, a humanities fellow from Chevy Chase, MD, for “Edible Politics: Pivotal Works in the American Vegetarian Movement, 1971-Present," a collection of American vegetarian cookbooks, manifestos, environmental and eco-feminist treatises, and diet guides published in the last fifty years. “The reason I prefer to collect second-hand rather than buying books new is because the marginalia of second-hand books -- like the scribbles all over my copy of the first edition Moosewood cookbook -- demonstrates the way the personal is connected to the political when it comes to vegetarianism.”
We were impressed by Fine’s scope, which ranges from Diet for a Small Planet to The Enchanted Broccoli Forest to The Sexual Politics of Meat to Eat Pretty, and appreciated her consideration of the books’ annotations and marks of use as documentary evidence, showing how personal taste (literally) and political convictions interact.
• Nathalie Levine, 26, a graduate student in library and information science at Rutgers, from Princeton, NJ, for “American Women’s Press Books, 1972-1994,” a collection of feminist and lesbian books and periodicals issued by independent American women-run presses, organized by publisher. “There had been a whole movement (the women-in-print movement) of women, and particularly lesbians, who created their own presses in order to publish and distribute books that no one else would publish. . . The presses moved around the country with the women who ran them. I was surprised at how many were based in places I had never heard of as hubs of feminist or lesbian culture – or places I’d never heard of, period.”
We enjoyed the unfolding sense of discovery in this collection, which was originally motivated by Levine’s desire to know more about the creators of the books she was reading, and led her to a broader awareness of how independent women’s presses have kept controversial voices in circulation: “How did [these women] live their visions through publishing?”
• Arendse Lund, 28, graduate student in medieval law, from Belvedere, CA, for “Saga Editions and Transmissions,” a collection of English and Danish translations and retellings of the Icelandic sagas, from the eighteenth century to the present. “The changing aims of the translators caused for very different works to be produced and that is what ultimately fascinates me. My focus has changed to collect editions of these “same” sagas to show how different they are, and ultimately how national, political, or personal goals change how we approach and deal with texts.”
We were impressed by Lund’s attention to the changing messages that the “same” saga communicated at different moments of publication: a polyglot edition designed to reach an international readership, a patriotic morale booster marketed to everyday Danish readers (“Menig-Mand”), William Morris’s handsomely designed tribute to a romanticized, pre-industrial society.
• Cara Santarsiera, 29, a writer and photographer in Clarksville, TN, for “Romancing the Field Guide,” a collection of twentieth-century illustrated field guides employing the “Peterson Identification System,” an often overlooked mass-market genre, organized taxonomically. “My goal for this collection is to continue to refine it to fit the specifications I’ve come to recognize as essential to the ‘best’ field guides:” a protective cover, a compact size, detailed illustrations in text, an index of common and scientific names, among others. “As I continue to explore this beautiful planet and document it in photos, additional guides will be required.”
We admired how Santarsiera’s personal and professional use of these practical field guides awakened an instinct for the books as material artifacts, creating a knowledge base which she systematizes in a taxonomy not unlike those used for the floral and fauna in her books.
• Margaret Landis, 27, a research scientist with the Planetary Science Institute, stationed in Albuquerque, NM, for her collection of books by and about pioneering women in science, technology, engineering, and math. While the history of women in STEM is a newly popular genre in the wake of the 2016 film Hidden Figures, Landis “started looking back in publishing history to see if similar eras of popularity of women-in-science biographies had occurred.” That search drew her back to the early twentieth century, when Eve Curie’s 1937 biography of Marie Curie won the National Book Award, and Rebecca Joslin’s 1929 Chasing Eclipses showcased an amateur astronomer’s travels.
We admired Landis’s creation of a working library for students historically underrepresented in STEM fields, revealing that “people like them have been contributing since the beginning.” We were also impressed by the way that Landis refined her focus in the year since her first submission to the Honey & Wax Prize in 2017.
• Miranda Marraccini, 28, a graduate student in English at Princeton, for her collection devoted to English comic novelist Barbara Pym (1913-1980), including not only copies of Pym’s own books, but the works of dozens of writers that Pym quotes in her fiction, ideally in the midcentury British editions Pym herself would have read: “For Pym, books offer a kind of shorthand for character: often, she lists the titles on a character’s bedside table, or has a protagonist repeat the same quotation at different points in the novel . . . in her novels, we are what we read.”
We appreciated the originality of Marraccini’s intertextual approach to a single author, reflected in her bibliography annotated with Pym’s allusions, a lively portrait of the literary tradition that shaped a particular kind of English wit.
• Michelle Porter, 30, a library technician in Rapid City, SD, for her collection of first edition libretti from the Golden Age of the American musical, 1930-1970. Porter’s focus is on the cultural history captured at the moment of performance: “Broadway, at that time, could be more risqué than Hollywood because the entertainment was limited to a fixed geographic location rather than being simultaneously screened nationwide. Whether subversive scripts indirectly mocked the status quo or waged outright war, reading them today gives a true impression of the mores of those times better than any sociology intensive.”
We admired Porter’s attention to these libretti as historical documents, and her account of how her project spurred her to develop the scouting and negotiating skills of a seasoned book collector.
• Marielle Stockton, 20, a college student in Everett, WA, for her collection of the writings of Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862-1940), a bestselling early chronicler of the Pacific Northwest. Focusing on “Higginson's unusual position as a prolific female author in a sparsely-populated corner of the country,” Stockton collects Higginson’s now out-of-print books, as well as postcards and sheet music featuring her work, and books by her contemporaries and influences. “The collection currently paints a picture of the Pacific Northwest that Higginson lived in and wrote about, as well as the literary culture she was writing to and within.”
We enjoyed following Stockton’s energetic online pursuit of overlooked Higginson ephemera and signed material, inspired by an ongoing recovery project at Western Washington University.
• Nora Benedict, 29, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton, for her collection “The Rise of Modernist Publishing in Buenos Aires.” Benedict began by collecting the works of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, then expanded her scope to include the independent Buenos Aires publishing houses that employed Borges, including Editorial Losada, which published his translation of Kafka, and Victoria Ocampo’s Editorial Sur, which published his translation of Woolf. Benedict is currently assembling a complete run of Editorial Sur publications.
We admired Benedict’s turn from a single-author collection to one with historical research value, as she tracked down obscure Argentine publisher’s catalogs and reconstructed the print history of Borges’s circle.
• Caitlin Downey, 22, a senior at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, for her collection “Documenting the Geisha of Kyoto, 1970-2000.” Downey has collected almost 150 original theater programs from the odori, the yearly public dance performances staged by the geisha of Kyoto, as well as books on the subject. Her collection, pursued online and shared with a virtual community of geisha fans, participates in a collective historical project, in which fans share primary sources to reconstruct a landscape of now lost okiya (geisha lodging-houses) and teahouses.
We were struck by Downey’s disciplined pursuit of material researched and purchased almost entirely online, a model of collecting unknown a generation ago, and by her focus on printed ephemera, a strong trend among young collectors.
• Sherese Francis, 27, owner of J. Expressions Pop-up Bookshop and Mobile Library, for her collection “J. Expressions: Work from the Literary Community of Southeast Queens.” Mindful of the redevelopment proposed for her Queens neighborhood, Francis collects books by local writers, most of color, many of whom are self-published or published by independent presses, in an effort “to highlight and preserve some aspect of the communities that already exist here or existed here before.” Her collection includes chapbooks, zines, artists’ books, memoirs, novels, and poetry, all by writers from Queens, and shared with the community at local literary events.
We admired Francis’s commitment to preserving the books being produced in her immediate time and place. Her focused “archive of the now” provides a local model of collecting we’d like to see practiced all over the country.
• Samantha Montano, 27, an expert in emergency management, for her collection “Safeguarding the History of Disasters.” As a professional “disasterologist,” Montano collects first-hand accounts of disasters – fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions – from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, accounts that predate the academic discipline of emergency management. She aims to preserve an increasingly relevant piece of the historical record in a time of rapid climate change: “We do not want the stories of how people have survived disasters to be a secret. We want that information to be shared.”
We appreciated the originality and urgency of Montano’s project, which brings together a group of largely forgotten primary sources. The was one of a number of collections which tackled environmental and ecological questions.
• Ashley Rose Young, 29, a doctoral candidate in history at Duke, for her collection “Nourishing Networks: Provisioning New Orleans in the Atlantic World.” Young began by collecting historic Creole cookbooks, then expanded her focus to the food markets of the port of New Orleans, a local economy historically dominated by African-Americans and immigrants. Her turn to the marketplace inspired Young to collect novels, travel narratives, and printed ephemera, and to launch a new digital project, Sound Bytes: Historic Street Food Cries of New Orleans.
We enjoyed the unfolding narrative of this collection, as Young’s original interest in regional cookbooks laid the foundation for a more wide-ranging exploration of the cultural and culinary politics of New Orleans.
Each of the honored collectors demonstrated an awareness of their books as artifacts, worthy of careful description and preservation, and a strong independent sense of purpose. Their collections reflect the "creativity, coherence, and bibliographic rigor" we hoped to reward with this prize.