Written by: Louis Gereaux
Collectors in other fields usually search out hard-to-find items: rareness is valued in and of itself. Rare books are no exception. However, the word rare does not have the same connotation in book collecting that it does in coin or stamp collecting. Rare books are not valued because of their rarity alone. A rare book is valued for its content as well as having only a few copies available which must be appreciated by the collector.
James Lenox was an early North American book collector. He began collecting in the early 1800’s. At that time there were few rare books available in North America. He was mostly interested in early, fine printed volumes and manuscripts. These he attained from Europe when libraries sold off their collections. He commissioned a spacious building in New York City to house his collection of books which eventually became the New York Public Library, now considered the largest public library in the United States. There were other larger book collections of more everyday books from the Astor and Tilton families, and Andrew Carnegie, famous for his library contributions, gave a cash donation of millions of dollars to fund the NYC public library, but Lenox provided the rarer books.