Last updateFri, 08 May 2020 6pm


The Hidden Finds in the Rare Book Collection

George Germek, Rare Book Collection Administrator Shares its Value

Rare Book Collection 1For those who are interested in classic literature dating back to the eighteenth through twentieth century, George Germek, administrator of the Rare Book Collection in the Guggenheim Library, is a golden resource.

“The Rare Book Collection also has older books, like manuscript leaves from about 1300.” These manuscripts, said Germek, are the most popular books in the collection among students. “Some will say that students aren’t interested. They’re born into the computer age and they wouldn’t really be interested in leaves from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, but I find that to be completely untrue,” he said.

“They can’t believe that they’re touching something that’s 700-years-old that somebody worked on, that’s still existing, that’s still intact.”

The antiquity of these books is what draws many people to them. Beautiful bindings and cover art attract attention and make them more desirabl e to most collectors.

Many illustrations students see in textbooks today come from originally published editions.

However, it is not only the physical appearance that makes these books rare collector’s items.

“What makes a book rare is really hard to say. Scarcity increases its rarity, as well as how it was produced, like if there were any sorts of problems in production.”

Germek uses Ulysses as an example of value due to difficulty in publishing. Historical impact, how it was sold, and its influence on society also help to determine value. “A rare book is something you don’t see every day,” he said.

Germek collects books for value beyond money. He talks about the scholarly value and its importance when collecting for a university library. “The signed Virginia Woolf book is probably worth $10,000, but we don’t look at it that way. It’s more like, we have a signed Virginia Woolf, come see it.”

The books he seeks are based on what will be used by professors and students. If a professor expresses an interest, Germek will do all he can to find that book. The chase, he says, is the best part of the job.

The people he communicates with are exciting as well. “It’s a lot of fun to deal with people from London, Oregon, and Boston and go to the New York Antiquarian Rare Book Fair.”

Rare Book Collection 2Some rare books go for tens of thousands of dollars. If these books are so expensive, how does Germek acquire them? Most were simply taken off the shelves in our own library.

One of the books he found in the University Library is a large and worn book, The Noble Grapes and the Great Wines of France.

What makes this text significant is the card and stamp inside reading, “from the estate of Jacquelyn Kennedy.” Another example is a book of laws and documents of the state of New Jersey, which was found just sitting on the shelves and is probably worth 20 or 30 thousand dollars, said Germek.

Some of the books once available to students for circulation through the library have become rare literary treasures.

Technology has made it easier to access to literature through online databases and Kindles available for use in the University Library.

Germek also talks about an iPad application to accompany The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot which gives an explanation of the work as well as commentary on it.

However, he believes that books will not be phased out. The physical appeal still fascinates students, professors, and collectors, especially in early editions as displayed in the library. “It’s real. That’s what it is, the real thing,” he said.

Some works that can be found in the Rare Book Collection is the first Johnson’s dictionary, books on colonist Africa, Shakespearian sonnets, books by Lewis Carol, The Canterbury Tales, works of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Books in other languages, particularly French and German literature, can also be found here. This room is the centerpiece of the library, according to Germek.

Many students are unaware that the University has a rare book collection. However, it is not like the restricted section at the Hogwarts library.

Germek wants, and encourages, students to visit. He hopes to advertise this collection through an open house shortly after winter break and also through a first-year seminar class on rare books that he will teach starting next semester.

PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth University


Contact Information

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Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151