There is an art to collecting. Collections do more than describe the collector’s passion. Collections– especially those which are exhaustive and meticulous or otherwise one of a kind in nature– represent more than simply a pile of bound papers and printed photos.
History, and the subject matter that encapsulates it, was for most of humanity’s course of being a sacred space. The preservation of history and the ability to keep traditions and memories alive were a subject to which the most learned and educated men devoted their lives. Names such as Pliny the Elder and Herodotus are remembered some 2,000 years after their deaths because they were renowned historians.
The advent of the internet has revolutionized the world in very short order. Change has come suddenly and ferociously, bringing with it both blessing and curse. For every Amazon.com that has thrived with the digital revolution, there exists a Blockbuster Video or other former titan of industry whose demise was brought about by the web.
Tangible Collections in a Digital World
The world of collecting has been drastically affected. While websites such as eBay and Abebooks.com provide incredible ease in cataloging and obtaining collections of printed material and other memorabilia, in many ways the art of collecting has suffered from digitization. Not too many years ago, physical copies of magazines and statistical publications were the only way to catalog sporting achievements and accomplishments.
These days, tangible collections are being depleted faster than the Amazon rainforest in favor of digitized holdings held on the servers in some industrial park somewhere. The paper ticket is being replaced by a bar code on a smartphone.
Just as tangible holdings of historical documents seem to be going the way of the wooly mammoth, the substance of what can be collected today is changing. The NCAA stopped printing media guides in 2009 in favor of digital versions. Magazines of all ilk—not just collector publications—are shrinking in size, quality and frequency of issue. Many venues no longer print or issue physical tickets. Magazines, NCAA Guides and tickets were themselves the very substance of collections. They are what is collected.
The Value of Completeness
The Complete Library of College Football includes an annual guide from every year that it was printed. The span runs from 1891-2009. It also contains quite a few other examples of “every _______ that was printed…” entire runs of magazines, all five editions of Camp’s American Football, the complete catalogs of media guides from dozens of universities. As time goes on, collections such as this become less and less common. In fact, were someone to want to replicate the collection in terms of size and scope, it may very well be impossible—even with unlimited resources.
Does the decreased frequency of tangible holdings make them less valuable? No. The economic laws that pertain to scarce resources dictate that the scarcer something becomes, the more valuable it is. This is true in the ocean with bluefin tuna. The damned things sometimes sell for several hundred thousand dollars per fish (despite—or perhaps because of— the fact that there aren’t nearly as many as there used to be). The Complete Library of College Football is scarce today. It will be scarcer still as time passes.
What does this mean? The College Football Preservation Project was founded on the notion that allowing the historical substance of college football to perish is a stupid thing to do. The Complete Library of College Football has been placed for sale by the dedicated collector who spent 50 years accumulating a massive treasure trove of the game’s written history. There have been many offers to purchase single pieces or separate catalogs. Some of the offers have been for healthy sums of money. They have been declined in favor of keeping the Collection together, preserving it for future generations of fans.
This approach makes the job of selling it quite a bit more difficult. It limits potential buyers, imposing restrictions of cost and space needed to house it (expect a delivery of three semi trucks). The target for acquisition shifts to dedicated, affluent individuals or institutions—university libraries or the campuses of enterprises that make money from the sport of college football.
Digital Can’t Replace Depth
This approach is more difficult than piecemealing it on eBay, hawking a book at a time. The owner believes keeping the entire collection intact, however, is the appropriate course of action because it is of substance. Collections do have value. History, and the ability to interact with its preservation, makes people better.
The depth of questions like “Who was Jim Thorpe?” or “Why were the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame legendary?” can’t always be answered through a quick Google search. Many times, what was written during Thorpe’s time or the college careers of the Four Horsemen hasn’t been digitized and thus, important parts of the history get lost. In short, there’s nothing that can replicate a depth of resources.
Perhaps more than anything else, this is what the Complete Library of College Football is all about. Keeping history alive and bettering people because of it. There is value in obscure, historical titles. The ability to look upon hand signed communications written by the minds who shaped the game inherently has worth. College football, in its evolution, has long presented some of the best America has to offer. Digitalization has its place, but that certainly does not mean that tangible collections should become a thing of the past.
If you’d like more information about the Collection, maintain a similar passion for preserving the substance of college football history, or have an idea about prospective home for the Complete Library of College Football, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at [email protected].