Literary Hunter-Gatherers

Perhaps the clearest place my hunter-gatherer roots show is in my tendency to collect. In principle, in Manhattan, I leave coins on the pavement for those less fortunate than myself. This past week on the way to work, I walked past a scattering of pennies on the sidewalk. It physically ached to leave the shiny coins there—one of my recurring dreams is to find a bunch of coins that will lead to the end of my constant fear of want. News of ancient hordes found excite me inordinately. As a child I collected odd things if they came in numbers: stamps and coins and baseball cards go without saying, but also fossils, bottle caps, little HO scale military figurines, even pockets full of punched metal slugs that had obviously fallen from a truck leaving the steel mill just across the river in blessed abundance. My mother asked, not unreasonably, “what do you plan to do with those?” My brothers and I had no answers, but we had found something in profusion. The hunter-gatherer urge was to collect.

IMG_1642In my teenage years my collecting focused on books. It has remained there ever since. Even in times of penury when I’ve visited the used book store with intent to sell, I’ve always skulked out with more guilt than cash. The Judas Iscariot of the publication world. While sorting through some old files at work, I found a magazine called Bible Editions and Versions. Now, Bibles are books, and I have a fair collection of them, and have even read most of them cover-to-cover. I never knew, however, that Bible collecting was a recognized avocation. And one with a society and magazine. Looking closer, I found the address:, online home of the International Society of Bible Collectors. Yes, they have a website and the magazine still exists. Porn for sacred writ aficionados. The society has been around since I was two, but it took me half a century to find it.

The Bible is a totem. One colleague describes it as an iconic book. The more secular elements of society simply dismiss it until the loss of the senate makes them scratch their heads and say, “there are people who still take this stuff seriously?” While the numbers may have fallen off a bit, Bibles remain big business. Large print editions may be selling better these days, but the species is hardly endangered. In a world where so much seems uncertain, there is a natural appeal to a book that hasn’t really changed too much for a couple thousand years. Oh, and which claims to have God as its author. As I walk by that pile of pennies on the sidewalk, an almost magnetic force slows me down. I really want to stop and pick them up. I walk on knowing that in a box in my attic I have some real collectors items, in certain segments of society. For the ISBC I might be considered already a wealthy man.

2 responses to “Literary Hunter-Gatherers

  1. I’ve already intimated in you’re comment section my penchant for pilfering Gideon bibles on Hotel rooms. I also, BTW, collect leather bibles. Ever since I stumbled on J Mark Bertrand’s Bible Design Blog several years ago, I’ve been on the look-out for good quality leather bibles. But since my funds are perpetually low, I can’t afford buying the expensive stuff, so I end up looking through deals in eBay, on used book shops, and even on book swapping sites. I don’t even read physical books anymore! (I do have OliveTree on my Android phone.)

    I just don’t get it. I am hardly a bible-worshipper (deconversion does that). Yet the pull of scoring a valuable bible on the cheap is too hard to resist. I have half a dozen or so vintage leather RSV bibles in their original boxes, all bought real cheaply online!


    • Dan,

      Thanks for your confession! Given my current profession I can sometimes locate leather Bibles for reasonable prices. Since I am a vegetarian who tries hard to avoid leather, though, I seldom take advantage of the fact. Bibles, however, do have a unique appeal…


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