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 announce the eighth annual Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize, a cash award 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 collectors.
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.
Submissions are now open for the 2024 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize. We urge contestants to review the collections of our past winners, featured below, to get a sense of the focus and depth we hope to see.
-- Heather O'Donnell and Rebecca Romney, prize co-founders
2023 Winner of the Honey & Wax Prize:
Auroura Morgan, 30, (she/they), owner of Black Lantern Tattoo Co. in Nashville, Tennessee, for “Hybrid Botanicals: A Modern Tattoo Artist’s Reference Collection.” As a creator of custom tattoo designs, Morgan collects books depicting the anatomy of the natural world – flowers, fruits, trees, fungi, birds, fish, insects, mammals, seashells, rocks – with a particular emphasis on botanical illustration:
“When I am with clients in my studio, the first portion of our session is idea development and research. Botanicals are the most popular subject material in my work as an artist. . . . I focus on making my art as anatomically correct as possible. I mostly reference high-resolution photos from the internet or photos that either party has captured. Then, I stylize them with art techniques found within my collection of botanical illustrations. The goal is to produce a new, specialized piece of art, translated from the art of botanical illustration. In the design of the tattoo structure comes a flow with the canvas, the human body, for decades to come.”
We were impressed by the cross-pollination between Morgan’s book collection, the clients she serves, and the art she creates. Her collection is more than a standard reference library, providing templates to copy. It is a living collection, inspiring new design approaches in response to her clients’ ideas and needs. A continually generative resource, the collection reflects Morgan’s interests and inspires her to transform them in the studio, tattoo by tattoo, into a body of original botanical art.
2022 Winner of the Honey & Wax Prize:
Melanie Shi, 24, (she/her), of Flower Mound, Texas, a graduate student at the Institut des Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris, for “East of France, West of Russia: Cold War Europe and the Chinese Book,” a collection of translations of ancient and modern Chinese works marketed by European publishers during the Cold War. Examining the role that romantic and political ideas of “Chineseness” played in different national contexts after WWII, Shi argues that “the history of postwar Europe can be told through the Chinese book:”
“No matter where I am, I am unconsciously drawn to books with oriental motifs, just as I am drawn to Chinese populations. Chinese people are everywhere — and everywhere bound by linguistic and cultural ties to the mainland and the tumultuous politics of the last half-century. . . . During the Cold War, each European nation articulated a particular stance and taste for Chinese literature that could be used as an arbiter both of cultural tastes and of attitudes towards communism, represented by China, at any given moment, all the while the relationship between China and Russia fluctuated as well.”
This was Shi’s second time applying to the prize; she received an honorable mention in 2021, with a collection of cross-cultural books published and purchased by the Chinese diaspora in New York City. This latest collection reflects the energetic scouting, keen eye, and habits of inquiry Shi honed in Chinatown, but it is more ambitious in every way. Her collection reflects an awareness of multiple angles of each book: the text, the translation, the physical object, the publishers, the readers, the political context. Whether “China,” as an idea, is serving as shorthand for “Communism” in Eastern Bloc countries, or as an imperial fantasy represented by “sumptuous novels from the Ming and Qing dynasties” in France, Shi makes a compelling case for the role these books played in postwar debates about Western power.
2021 Winner of the Honey & Wax Prize:
Margaret Landis, 30, (she/her), an astrophysicist and postdoc at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, for “Maria Mitchell Through Time,” a collection of works by and about the pioneering nineteenth-century American astronomer and educator.
“One of the first internationally renowned American astronomers, Mitchell’s life has left a long trail in the print culture of the United States. My collection includes works written by and about Maria Mitchell during her lifetime (or just shortly after), work she would have had access to, and her legacy in print form up until today. . . . What I found were periods of re-exploration and re-evaluation of Maria Mitchell after her life in both academic and artistic ways.”
We admired Landis’s multiple and creative angles of approach to an important historical figure, from an 1849 pamphlet chronicling the discovery of “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” to Mitchell’s 1860 Atlantic Monthly piece on fellow scientist Mary Somerville to copies of key books found in Mitchell’s library: “The excitement for me in collecting these is to see Maria Mitchell starting to interact with her legacy during her own lifetime.” The more modern material in the collection, “from biographies to poetry collections to tarot decks,” reflects the many ways that Mitchell’s legacy, like the trail of a comet, remains visible in print and life. In this, our fifth year, it is especially gratifying to award the Honey & Wax Prize to a collector who has applied repeatedly, each time with a stronger and more focused collection.
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, 2017-2023
* Cate Barton, 21, (she/her), from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, a student in the dual BA program between Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University, for “Film on the Page: Creative Intersections of Cinema and Books.” Barton’s collection began with a collection of still photographs from Alfonso Cuarón’s 2018 film Roma, a book that mixed two of her favorite media, film and print, in a surprising way. Rather than focusing on books written about film, Barton pursues books that try to capture some moving part of film on paper: storyboards, production stills, screenplays.
“The common thread amongst my collection is the ability to take one whole work of art, such as a film, and break it down using the mechanism of the book. In this way, the book truly feels like a tool, not only for education but for appreciation and understanding, and also depiction of art itself. . . . these books have really opened up pathways of thinking about films which I had never expected.”
We enjoyed the sense of discovery in Barton’s collection, as she brought a sharp eye to each new acquisition, considering how each book communicates an aspect of an entirely different medium. Her emphasis on the materiality of her books, as objects, was refreshing.
* Kierra Duncan, 24, (she/her), from Los Angeles, California, a doctoral candidate in English at Princeton University, for “Origin Stories: Anthologies and Bibliographies in Afro-Diasporic Literature.” Duncan’s essay takes us on a journey, from her experience as a reader captivated by the heft and feel of a printed book, to a student seeking “a literary approach to Afro-American history,” to a committed collector of anthologies and bibliographies devoted to Black writers, not only in the United States, but across the anglophone Caribbean and Britain.
“The archivist inside me met the bibliophile. . . . Why did the anthological and bibliographical form proliferate in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? What do the curatorial choices made by editors tell us about how Black literature, and its perceived use-value, was being preserved, imagined, and debated?”
We admired the way that Duncan’s pursuit of scarce and out-of-print editions and titles makes her, through the act of collecting, an anthologist and bibliographer in her own right, “documenting and preserving Black authorship” on both sides of the Atlantic.
* Abbey Elder, 30, (she/they), from Ames, Iowa, the Open Access Librarian for Iowa State University, for “A Collection of Works by and concerning Roger Zelazny.” Elder’s collection of books by and about her childhood favorite Roger Zelazny, author of the bestselling fantasy series The Chronicles of Amber, shows how a nostalgic impulse can lead to rewarding new paths of inquiry:
“As I started obtaining multiple copies of the same books in different editions — at this point, I have eight copies of The Dream Master in various forms — I recognized that what I was growing was a collection, not just a personal library. It was this understanding that led me to be more interested in what books existed for me to collect. . . . I am particularly interested in expanding my scope to find those books that have Roger’s fingerprints on them, so to speak.”
We were swept up in the completist energy of Elder’s project, and cheered when she acquired Zelazny’s own copies of the college literary magazines in which his earliest poems appeared. Her final pivot to those writers who were influenced by Zelazny offers a promising field for further exploration.
* Madeline Lafuse, 30, (she/her), from Columbia, Maryland, a doctoral candidate in history at the CUNY Graduate Center, and teacher at Brooklyn’s Berkeley Carroll School, for “Interior Design and Internet Age Globalization, 1995-2005.” Lafuse collects interior design books published in the early days of the internet age, as architects and designers first imagined homes and offices with computers at their center, spaces designed for “laptops as big as briefcases.” Her collection reflects a collective dream of an international future, in which the citizens of the world are united by technology and modern design.
“Mine are hopeful books where designs cross national borders and harmonize peoples in the process. . . . Between 1995 and 2005, designers, architects, authors, editors, and the normal people who patronized their works sought to realize a globalized modern world through intentional interior design. How did they embrace the potential of the digital in the spaces of their daily life with joy and beauty? And how might we, as we move from the age of the internet to the age of artificial intelligence, do the same?”
We loved the originality of Lafuse’s collection: published just before widespread digitization, her out-of-print, out-of-fashion guides are in many cases the best record of these optimistic, futuristic interior designs.
* Sara Mohr, 30, (she/her), from Utica, New York, the Digital Scholarship Librarian at Hamilton College, for “Lux ex Oriente: The Many Histories of the Ancient Near East.” Mohr’s collection of American and European books about Iraq began as a research library for her degree in Assyriology, but soon developed into a more critical collection of histories of the region produced by Western soldiers, archaeologists, explorers, and tourists. Observing that “the Middle East is often defined for those of us overseas by its visitors over its residents,” Mohr asks:
“What kinds of visitors has Iraq seen over the years? How have their viewpoints shaped how we talk about the region now? In the interest of answering these questions, I started acquiring items like travel writing, military resources, and memoirs and reflections on their time in the Middle East from scholars to fiction writers.”
As Mohr’s collecting took her “beyond the academic sphere,” we especially appreciated her attention to historical ephemera, from a pocket guide to Iraq distributed to American naval personnel during World War II, to decks of Heritage Resource Preservation playing cards issued by the United States Department of Defense to service members in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 2003 invasion.
* Elsie Birnbaum, 24, (she/her), a technical video producer in Wayland, MA, for “The Girl Scout Handbook: A Portal to Girlhoods Past,” a collection that surveys nearly a century of Girl Scout handbooks and other official scouting publications, tracing the changing (and often contradictory) cultural expectations regarding family, work, education, religion, and virtually everything else, as directed at American girls. Birnbaum sets out to “challenge the idea of the apolitical girlhood:”
“To this day, the Girl Scouts as an organization has to negotiate its role as both an organization that offers girls adventure and one that rears them into appropriate young women – which is what makes their handbooks such appealing historical documents. Scouting exists not only as an activity but as a lifestyle, and the Girl Scout handbook is an instructional manual about how Girl Scouts ought to behave, not only in troop meetings, but in their families, communities, and country.”
We admired the depth of Birnbaum’s collection, from the classic handbooks to surprising outliers: a 1950s pamphlet on homemaking for Scouts issued by Stanley Home Products to convert future housewives; a 1966 guide to Girl Scouting and the Jewish Girl; a 1973 calendar published for troops in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; a 1995 resource book for teen Scouts dealing with the AIDS crisis. Birnbaum’s project demonstrates how a tight, disciplined focus can produce a collection with much broader relevance.
* Alyssa Despain, 29, (she/her), a technical support consultant in Orlando, FL, for “Old-Fashioned Influencing: Nineteenth-Century Women’s Magazines,” a collection of American and European leisure periodicals produced for a female readership. While Despain was originally attracted to the hand-colored fashion plates featured in magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s, she became increasingly interested in the juxtaposition of those images with the literary content that ran alongside them:
“Another eye-opener for me was that women’s fashion magazines often contain macabre stories. . . . the 1846 Godey’s contained the first printing of [Edgar Allan Poe’s] “The Cask of Amontillado.” I recently found a piece in the 1831 Pocket Magazine that vividly told the story of an anatomist that enjoyed dissecting corpses because it gave him a feeling of power. I used to have a perception of nineteenth-century women being very dainty, but now I realize that if they lived today, a lot of them might be really into Law and Order or the same true crime podcasts I listen to.”
We enjoyed following Despain’s trajectory from buying “anything I could afford that was pretty and over 100 years old” to delving deeply into the magazines, editors, and publishers that most interested her, an investigative impulse showcased in her detailed bibliography. Each volume she acquires leads to new questions, and new acquisitions. We also appreciated her take on the pleasures of collecting: “a hobby that is kept alive by small sellers,” rather than a “‘fast-fashion’ style of buying new products being pumped out of factories.”
* Francesca Mancino, 24, (she/her), of Monaca, PA, creator and lead editor of Lost Modernists, for “Reassessing Modernism: Women Writers and Publishers of the Lost Generation,” a collection of modernist literature with an emphasis on women writers and publishers who achieved success in the 1920s and 1930s, but are largely forgotten today:
“Modernism cannot be fully apprehended through what is now canonical. Rather, we must contextualize the literary period by asking questions, such as: Which female members of the Lost Generation were popular in their time and why? How did the work of female publishers during this time influence what was or was not read? But, most importantly, how do our understandings of modernism shift by reassessing the period by encompassing marginal women writers and their writings?”
Mancino employed a number of strategies to find many of the out-of-print books in her collection: she checked Sylvia Beach’s bookstore and lending library records (now online at Princeton’s Shakespeare & Company Project) to see which authors sold best, year over year; used publishers’ dust jacket copy to track down adjacent titles; and scoured little magazines like Broom, the Dial, and Poetry for clues in advertisements and reviews. The result is a collection of writers, including Evelyn Scott, Margaret Kennedy, Rosamond Lehmann, and Élisabeth de Gramont, whose revival complicates the study of the Lost Generation.
* Caroline Rogers, 31, (she/her), a writer and editor in Moultrie, GA, for “From Aïda to Zauberflöte: Reading Opera in the 20th and 21st Centuries,” a collection of published guides to the opera, from reference compendiums to individual libretti and critical studies, with an emphasis on the way that writing about the performances and audiences has developed over time:
“It’s the shifts in their details—the operas they include, the ways they describe them, the new compositions they add, the ones they leave out—that show me opera has always been evolving the ways it represents itself both onstage and in print. . . . The volumes illustrate a journey from the opera boom of the early twentieth century to widespread radio broadcasting, from the advent of television to the live streams that come to movie theaters today.”
We appreciated Rogers’s attention to the real-life uses of the books in her collection, from encyclopedias to pocket guides, epitomized by a 1914 edition of The Standard Operas presented as a gift to a young piano student, who recorded every opera she attended for the next forty years on the endpapers: “an example of the ways our personal histories can weave themselves into the books we keep . . . proof that both opera and collecting can be lifelong experiences.”
• Ariana Valderrama, 28, (she/her), a communications professional and bookseller in Washington, DC, for ““Toni Morrison as a Reader: Collecting Her Editorial Legacy,” a collection that started with Morrison’s own books, then turned to her impact as a literary tastemaker, both in the titles she edited at Random House, and in her promotional efforts on behalf of fellow writers:
“As I went down the rabbit hole of studying Morrison’s work as both an author and editor, I decided to expand my collector focus to also include books she’d blurbed, since those seemed to be rare yet noteworthy. . . . I did not want to limit myself to only reading the books Morrison had specifically edited; my goal is to read the oeuvre of every author she
edited, even if she did not edit all their books. Her editing career was somewhat short-lived, but that does not mean she no longer supported the authors themselves.”
Many young collectors become discouraged when they realize that their project, as originally conceived, will be expensive to complete: in this case, a first edition run of a Nobel Prize winning novelist. We were impressed by Valderrama’s pivot to Morrison’s work as an editor and reviewer, which not only makes for a more affordable collection, but also a more original and surprising one. We recognized that same openness and spirit of discovery in Valderrama’s exploration of the Black Bookstagrammer community.
• Alanna Crow, 28, (they/them), a thanatologist and bookseller in Pittsburgh, PA, for “The Soldier’s Memorial: Military Death and Grief from the American Civil War to Afghanistan and Iraq,” a collection of primary sources documenting the experience of American military death and grief through memoirs, photographs, broadsides, postcards, and artifacts.
“My collection is an incomplete history of how soldiers die, prepare for death, and grieve; how they are buried, commemorated, and perceived; the uses and abuses of dead soldiers; and their importance beyond warhawking and militant nationalism. . . . War grief was collective and evident for decades, as opposed to today, when our wars and deaths in combat — or by murder, suicide, friendly fire, accident, homelessness, burn pit-related cancer, or addiction — are nearly invisible to anyone outside the small military community.”
We admired Crow’s range in this collection: a crippled Civil War veteran’s carte de visite, used to solicit donations; a commercial WWI-era stereoview of a soldier’s body on a French battlefield; a blank Ohio undertaker’s contract “for Funeral Expenses of Soldier, Sailor, or Marine” during WWII; a Marine’s collection of poems named for his friends killed in Vietnam; a mourning bracelet for an American soldier killed in a friendly fire incident in Iraq. In exploring the experiences of veteran and civilian mourners alike, the collection channels their collective grief into an active memorial to those whose lives were shattered or lost in military service.
• Caitlin Gooch, 28, (she/her), founder of the literacy nonprofit Saddle Up & Read in Wendell, NC, for “Collecting Black Equestrian History to Prove We Exist.” Growing up on a horse farm, attending trail rides every weekend, Gooch “never saw a book with horse girls or boys who looked like me.” Gooch collects books featuring Black equestrians to share with the children her organization serves.
“Anytime I showed up to a classroom or youth group, there was a shock factor because they didn’t expect me to be Black. Those reactions were the catalyst to me collecting books which featured Black equestrians. . . . I’ve felt the sting of losing history before. My own cowboy culture, growing up on trail rides, has no published documentation in a protected place. Many of the elders have passed. We have no oral recordings or written works of their stories. All we have now are memories. Finding these books, before they are tagged as ‘not available’ or quadruple in price, makes me feel like a warrior preserving a special part of history.”
We loved Gooch’s focus and purpose in this collection: both her drive to preserve representations of Black equestrians throughout history, from the Golden Legacy comic book Black Cowboys to Lillian Schlissel’s Black Frontiers to Julius Lester’s Black Cowboy, Wild Horses, and her commitment to share this often overlooked Black “cowboy world” with a wider audience. Many of the collections we see are being built with an eventual mission in mind, but Gooch’s vision is already being realized at Saddle Up & Read, where her collection is reaching a new generation of readers and riders, and has inspired a series of Black equestrian coloring books.
• Elizabeth Kidder, 31, (she/her), an illustrator in Knoxville, TN, for “Small-Circulation Self-Published,” a collection of thematically linked zines built over the past decade, from her student days at Savannah College of Art and Design to her current work in the classroom, where her collection inspires her seventh-grade art students’ final projects.
“On their own time and dime, [zine creators] produce an intentionally limited amount of content that they themselves must find a way to give to the reader. . . . When I think of the ephemeral work I’m doing – building a collection of books that have little if any published record – I know I should feel defeated. But instead, I feel elated, giddy. I know it exists. It’s here, in my hands. The world may not remember, but I do. I wonder if the last worshipper of a forgotten god feels the same.”
We appreciated Kidder’s taxonomic approach to zine (or “small-circulation self-published”) collecting, which showcased what it means to collect an intimate DIY genre characterized by scarcity and ephemerality, and how that makes us question what’s considered “worthless.” For Kidder, the particular limitations of the medium have become the very reasons why these books speak to her: “Amongst the scores of prints and buttons and stickers selling, their zine would sit, and sometimes they wondered why they’d brought it – it never sells as well, and it’s a little too personal for the event. THAT is why I buy them.”
• Caitlin Moriarty, 30, (she/her), an archivist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, for “Out of Date: Twentieth-Century Travel Guides for Russia, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc,” a collection focused on English-language travel guides published by state publishing houses before the fall of Communism.
“Looking past the big international publishing companies, I noticed that starting around 1960, Soviet state publishing houses started publishing guides in English. I was especially curious about why the mid-twentieth century was when this started. Who were the people that were going on a Soviet vacation during the Cold War? . . . Particularly at the beginning, this was the version of itself that the Soviet Union wanted the world, particularly the Western World in the case of the guides in English, to see. Socialist realism imposed on the people and places of the Soviet Union itself.”
We admired the coherence of Moriarty’s collection, which uncovers the history written between the lines of these outdated travel guides: “some of the major epochs of Soviet history – the Cold War, the Thaw, Stagnation, and Perestroika – can be traced in what was recommended to tourists.” We were especially impressed with Moriarty’s detailed bibliography, which evaluates each book from multiple perspectives: the intended audience, the intended use (practical guide or descriptive essay), and the way the graphic design and format of each guide communicates those aspirations.
• Melanie Shi, 23, (she/her), of New York City, NY, a Yenching Scholar at Peking University, for “Visions of China: Collecting Language Manuals, Sinology, and 20th-Century Chinese Fiction in Translation,” a collection of midcentury books designed to bridge the divide between China and the West, from both directions.
“While I was first drawn to these books for their visual language, their contents soon revealed a picture of the diversity of the Chinese diaspora, of the visions of Chinese-ness produced from inside and outside of China proper. . . .Whether publications designed for a readership of overseas Chinese, studies of Chinese classics conducted by Western scholars, or modern Chinese novels by émigrés translated for English-reading audiences, these texts show that what is ‘authentically’ Chinese is vast, global, and ripe with various interpretations.”
We loved the way Shi’s collection took us on a journey, starting with her interest in the discarded Chinese/English crossover books, “not quite East nor West,” she found on the streets of New York City: how did they end up there, and why did this matter to her? In the process of learning about the network of publishers and Chinatown traders that circulated these volumes, Shi dug deeper into the visual and material aspects of her collection, bringing to light the richness and variation found in the books of the Chinese diaspora in New York. This collection told a story about our private lives with books on a public scale.
• 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.