Meet the New Old Book Collectors

Kate Dwyer   |   May 7, 2022


A growing cohort of young enthusiasts is helping to shape the future of an antique trade.


Michael F. Suarez, the director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, said that these days, his students are skewing younger and less male than a decade ago, with nearly one-third attending on full scholarships.

“The world of the archive is actually considered pretty hip,” he said.

Of course, most entry-level collectors can’t plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars for a first edition. But by frequenting estate sales and used bookstores, scouring eBay for hidden gems and learning how to spot value in all kinds of items, enthusiasts in their 20s and 30s have amassed collections that reflect their own tastes and interests.

Their work has been elevated by prizes from organizations and sellers such as Honey & Wax in Brooklyn, which recognize efforts to create “the most ingenious, or thoughtful, or original collections,” as opposed to the most valuable, Professor Suarez said. As a result, they are helping to shape the next generation of a hobby, and a rarefied trade.

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, a trade group with more than 450 members, hopes to see that change. The group started a diversity initiative in 2020 to “encourage and promote the participation of L.G.B.T.Q.+, BIPOC, and underrepresented groups in the world of book collecting and the trade,” Susan Benne, the organization’s executive director, wrote in an email. The group also introduced a paid internship program placing participants at member firms.


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