Samuel V. Lemley, a Ph.D student in English in the UVa Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, has been named first-prize winner in the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. His entry, “Biblioteca Genealogica: Sicilian Printing, 1704-1893,” had won first place in the 52nd Student Book Collecting Contest sponsored by the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia last spring. First-prize winners in the more than forty college and university book collecting competitions around the country are eligible to compete for the national prize.
Lemley was honored at an awards ceremony at the Library of Congress on October 19. The prize includes $2,500 as well as a $1,000 gift to the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia.
Lemley’s collection of examples of Sicilian printing from the 18th and 19th centuries has a unique focus on his own family’s history. He writes that his collection “is envisioned as an artifactual supplement—‘an accumulation of tangible things’—accompanying a genealogical history compiled over several decades” by his grandfather. His aim is to collect “one item for each of my documented Sicilian ancestors by direct lineal descent,” finding a work published in the same decade as the ancestor’s birth or death, published within one hundred miles of the ancestor’s home, and reflecting something of the ancestor’s daily life. “Sicilian printers primarily served a local, insular market, and so the books, broadsheets, and pamphlets in this collection are largely ephemeral, topical, and generically ‘popular’.” Among the interesting items in his collection are a 1720 Italian translation of a French treatise on how to deal with the plague, an 1819 account of the appearance of a comet in the sky above Sicily, and a mid-19th century manuscript of a Christmas homily by an unknown Sicilian priest. Lemley acquired most of his collection from Italian dealers online, but he found some of the best items in obscure shops and flea markets in Sicily.
The national contest is sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS), the Grolier Club, and the Center for the Book and the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, with major support from the Jay I. Kislak Foundation.