“A little library, growing every year, is an honorable part of a man’s history. It is a man’s duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessaries of life. Books are the windows through which the soul looks out. A home without books is like a room without windows.” ― Henry Ward Beecher
This month we feature an atypical newsletter. In the age where eBooks sales are outpacing sales of the old-fashioned kind, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the nature of books, collecting and the civility of a good library. In 2010 Amazon sold 143 e-books for every 100 hardcover books. While the Kindle, Nook and iPad have certainly helped book sales and turned a lot of people onto reading more, there is still something special about the real thing.
It starts simply enough. A golf book you buy really catches your fancy. You look up other books by the same author. As you read more, you want to learn more. It’s like an insatiable appetite. The more you read and acquire, the more you want to have. You wind up with a modest collection of golf books. It begins to get serious when you start taking non-golf books off your book shelves to make room for the additional golf books you’ve acquired. Soon, it takes over most of your library. Then, you’re stacking books on the floor.
While not as exciting as holing a shot from the fairway, we share the experience of delight you have when opening a newly arrived package. The postman and UPS driver are your friends. Oh, the anticipation of opening the newly arrived package.
You start to rationalize it, “I know it’s a lot of golf books, but I got a really good price on The Links.” You mentally tell yourself to set a budget. But time and time again you fail to meet the budget. Then you start to look at the finer books and start buying at auctions. Again, your budget gets blown and it ratchets up another notch. “Yea, but this is such a rare book, I may not have another chance to get it, especially in this condition.” Well, it was only a mental budget anyhow. You know it has reached fever pitch when you start hiding your purchases from your spouse.
When does it cross the line from being a serious collection to running amok? We ask ourselves the same question all the time. Our feeling is as long as we continue to get pleasure from the experience and set some limits, it is worth pursuing.
How did it all start? Joe Murdoch admits in was The Complete Golfer by Herbert Warren Wind that got him hooked. I was also hooked by Wind, but in my case, it was Following Through.
Most of us follow the same pattern. You start buying everything you can. The emphasis is on quantity and not quality. Greg Norman’s Shark Attack, Lee Trevino’s Super Mex. Fine books, no doubt, but hardly collectible. Then, you start to discriminate. You buy the rarer books and it gets more expensive. Like acquiring a taste for scotch, you keep refining your palate. You know it has gotten serious when you start trading up your books. You have The Walter Hagen Story, but you don’t have it with the dust jacket in perfect condition. So you pursue it and then sell your old copy.
Like the game we all love, collecting golf books is an obsession; a mania; an addiction. We find that collecting golf books and playing the game are perfect complements. You finally get the chance to play Maidstone; when you get home, you research Maidstone club histories that you now must have, so you can savor your experience. It works the other way too. You’ve seen all the great Royal Liverpool books, and now it’s eating at you; you’ve got to play the course. And so it goes. A virtuous cycle in our opinion, but an obsessive one none-the-less. In the same way you are anxious to get out on the course because you know you can shave two strokes off your score today, you are always looking for that hidden gem with a dust jacket or a rare nineteenth century golf book.
One of the greatest collectors in history was C.B. Clapcott, a postal employee in England. In one of the great collecting feats of all time, he built a world-class collection on what had to be modest wages. We can all learn from Clapcott. He was driven by passion, not by the desire to see price appreciation.
Our parting wisdom is that you’ve lost it when you think Dave Pelz’s Putting Bible is more important than the real Bible. So what if you can’t pay for your kids to go to college because you’ve spent it all on golf books. It’ll be better for them to make it on their own anyhow. It builds character!
“As a rule people don’t collect books; they let books collect themselves.” ―Arnold Bennett
“I cannot live without books.” ― Thomas Jefferson
“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.” — Walter Benjamin
“I have no mistress but my books.” — S.J. Adair Fitzgerald