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.

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, printing technique, binding style, or another clearly articulated principle. Collections will not be judged on their size or their market value, but on their originality and their success in illuminating their chosen subjects. The prize rewards creativity, coherence, and bibliographic rigor.

2018 Winners of the Honey & Wax Prize:

We’re delighted to announce the $1000 winner of the 2018 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize: 

  • To Jessica 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. Click here to read Jordan's winning application. 

 

We are also awarding four honorable mentions of $250: 

  • To 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. 

 

  • To 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.

 

  • To 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.

 

  • To 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.

Honey &Wax is grateful to the sponsors of the 2018 Honey & Wax Prize, AbeBooks and The Rosenbach. Special thanks to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) for offering all our 2018 contestants free admission to the ABAA book fairs this year; to the editors of Fine Books & Collectionswho are sending each contestant a complimentary copy of the upcoming print issue; to the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, for offering our winners tickets to the 2019 fair; and to the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, for hosting a public presentation on the prize this fall. Finally, thanks to The Paris Review for announcing our 2018 prize winners, and all the others who helped spread the word about this year’s prize.

Most of all, thanks to our contestants, whose collections keep us up late talking (and sometimes shopping). We can’t wait to see what next year brings.

 

2017 Winners of the Honey & Wax Prize:

We’re delighted to announce the $1000 winner of the 2017 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize:

  • To 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, and her complete prize application is available for reference here.

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.

We are also awarding five honorable mentions of $200:

  • To 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.

  • To 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.

  • To 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.

  • To 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.

  • To 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 winning 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. 

Special thanks to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) for offering all our 2017 contestants free admission to ABAA book fairs in 2018; to the editors of Fine Books & Collectionswho are sending each contestant a complimentary copy of the upcoming print issue; and to The Paris Review, for taking the lead on the public announcement of the 2017 Honey & Wax Prize

Our final thanks are to you, our first contestants. We’re incredibly heartened to know that you’re out there, working. We hope to meet you in person and watch your collections grow in the decades to come.