One of the most pleasurable activities of my job is purchasing and accepting donations of books, manuscripts, photographs, postcards, trade catalogues, etc. Adding items to the library collections is a thrill. I love the hunt and the chase. When a package or box arrives in the library, my day is made.
Just how do we add to the collections? We have a very modest yearly fund that supports purchases. This fund came to us from a thoughtful Andover resident who left the library a bequest in his will, the income from which we have been using for a number of years. While alive, he enjoyed donating books, photographs, postcards, etc. to the library– items that he had purchased in bookstores, antique shows, and garage sales. We are ever appreciative of friends of the library who continue this tradition.
Where do we purchase items? There are a number of avenues. Firstly, there are dealers who know us well and will contact us directly with objects that they think will interest us. Mostly, however, they send us their catalogues either online or in print. Some specialize in technology, others in manuscripts and yet others in labor or women’s history. The key is to scan the catalogues as quickly as possible. Otherwise, you will find the item gone. The extent of the competition is truly amazing. You think: “Who would want this obscure pamphlet about a carding machine?” Believe me, there are collectors out there for every subject imaginable. You can meet collectors at book, photograph and ephemera fairs— also very good places to make contacts with dealers. And these collectors can be quite aggressive—I’ve been elbowed a number of times as I flipped through boxes of photos and postcards. The fairs are fun though. This is where the thrill of the hunt really comes into play. You ask a dealer if he has anything in the textile line. “No,” he says. But your instinct says he does, and, lo and behold, you find something in a dusty box of trade pamphlets. Yes, money is a problem and I have had to pass up many an item that was too costly for our budget, but you need to be selective based on the gaps in the collection or the needs of the curators.
Yet another source of objects is eBay. This is where the killer instinct of the collector really demonstrates itself. How many times have I tried to scoop an item by bidding at the last minute? And how many times have I been scooped? However, I have learned over time not to get so invested in a particular item for sale. My blood pressure can’t stand the strain.
We also rely upon donors to add to our collections. The sources are varied. Many books and technical material come from donors cleaning out attics and basements of their relatives or spouses who worked in the textile industry either as workers or managers. Sometimes we receive their textbooks, their notes, and on-the-floor machinery manuals. Occasionally, we receive the collected papers of someone engaged in the fashion industry or those of a scholar of textile history. We are fortunate to have received the records from a number of textile companies that have gone out of business. Sometimes, they come from the owner or his family, or a lawyer and sometimes from neither. I can still remember a phone call from a town librarian who anxiously told us that the contents of a textile machinery company were being discarded as she spoke. We rushed down and rescued the records even diving into the dumpster parked in front.
Sometimes we are disappointed of course. We collect auction catalogues of mill buildings being sold. I contacted companies in the South that handled more recent auctions but they had discarded their catalogues. On eBay, I lost a wonderful image of a mill girl who was pulling thread through her shuttle with her teeth. I just didn’t bid enough. We also lost the records of a mill when it burned down before we could get them out. Never mind. It is mostly fun running down objects for the collection. I love the excitement and am also surprised that so much remains to be collected. You would think that most collectibles have long since disappeared. But how wrong you are…