2019 Wreden Prize celebrates student book collecting

July 30, 2019
Rebecca Wingfield
The 2019 Wreden Prize winners. Left to right: Matthew Signer, Mark Van Bergen, and Maddie Kim.

From micro-published contemporary poetry to advanced reader’s copies to illustrated fairy tales, Stanford Libraries celebrates the creativity of student book collecting through its administration of the biennial Wreden Prize for Collecting Books and Related Materials. This year was no exception as students submitted collections on topics ranging from California’s religious history to editions of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. Each student enters the prize competition by submitting an essay about his or her collection and an annotated bibliography of its contents. Mark Van Bergen, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, won the first prize of $2,000 for his essay “Blueprints of a Golden Age: Collecting the History of Interwar Aviation.” Maddie Kim, an undergraduate English major, was awarded the second prize of $1,000 for her essay “(Re)Formulations of History: Testimonies of Colonization, War, and Division in 20th Century Korea.” Matthew Signer, a doctoral student in the Department of History, won the third prize of $500 for this essay “From ‘Internet Freedom!’ to the ‘Candle against Time’: Products of Protest and Commemoration in Hungary and Romania.” The prize winners were celebrated at a reception in Green Library in late May. In addition to the prize awards, each prize winner received a one-year membership to the Book Club of California, courtesy of the Club.

Mark Van Bergen, an aeronautics graduate student, chose to focus his prize-winning collection on the Golden Age of aviation between the first and second world wars, when, with each innovation, “planes… soared to new heights, did impossible things, and left us with a sense of romance and adventure that captivates us to this day.”  The pilot training manuals, maintenance works, navigation books, and other technical manuals, trace the transformation of the airplane from a craft made of wood and fabric at the end of World War I to steel and aluminum jet aircraft capable of pushing the sound barrier by the dawn of World War II. In addition, biographies, such as Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight and Donald Keyhoe’s Flying with Lindbergh offer first-hand accounts of some of the most famous aviation feats of the period. As the first prize winner, Van Bergen is now eligible to compete in the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, the Grolier Club, the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, and the Library of Congress.

Airplane Mechanic’s Rigging Handbook by Rutherfurd Hartz.

Airplane Mechanic’s Rigging Handbook by Rutherfurd Hartz. Photo by Mark Van Bergen.

Maddie Kim, who won second prize, drew inspiration for her collection of fictional and historical reformulations of 20th century Korean history from the stories and novels she first encountered in high school. These encounters with fiction became a way for Kim to connect to her own family’s history, and her own collection grew to include histories of Korea and documents of her own family’s life in Korea, including a teacher’s directory from Soongsil University, where her great-great grandfather taught music.  By bringing together literary and historical texts, Kim’s collection “pushes against the notion of history as singularly defined by outwardly objective sources,” suggesting “that it is instead comprised of manifold perspectives and imaginings.”

Kim In-shik (bottom left), Kim’s great-great grandfather, in the Soongsil University directory. Kim In-shik (bottom left), Kim’s great-great grandfather, in the Soongsil University directory.

Kim In-shik (bottom left), Kim’s great-great grandfather, in the Soongsil University directory. Photos by Maddie Kim.

Matthew Signer, a doctoral student in history, won third prize for his collection of ephemera documenting political demonstrations in Hungary and Romania in 2014 and 2015. While studying at the Central European University in Budapest, Signer began collecting pamphlets and manifestos distributed by activists protesting the Hungarian government’s introduction of a bill taxing internet usage. Signer’s collection quickly grew to include leaflets, timetables, and other ephemeral publications circulated at demonstrations against the Orbán government. As Signer worked on his master’s thesis, his collection expanded to ephemera related to the commemoration of the 1989 Romanian Revolution, including publications of the Revolution Memorial Association (AMR), which was instrumental in commemorating the events of 1989.  Taken together, the ephemeral publications in Signer’s collection attest to the “cacophony of political activism in Hungary and Romania in 2014-2015, offering glimpses into a period of political contention and consolidations, of commemoration and demonstration, all set within the contexts of the refugee crisis and the 25th anniversary of 1989.”

“Hungary is for Everyone!” Leaflet distributed by the Migrant Solidarityy. English and Hungarian versions in collection. Group of Hungar

“Hungary is for Everyone!” Leaflet distributed by the Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary. Photo by Matthew Signer.

The five judges for this year’s prize were drawn from Stanford librarians, local collectors, and antiquarian dealers, reflecting a depth of experience in book history and collecting: Mary Crawford, Grolier Club member and collector; Chris Loker, antiquarian bookseller and specialist in children’s literature; Kathleen Smith, Curator of Germanic Collections and Medieval Studies; Ben Stone, Curator of American and British History and Associate Director of Special Collections; and Glen Worthey, Digital Humanities Librarian.

The Wreden Prize, which is open to all full-time Stanford students, was endowed in memory of William P. and Byra J. Wreden, two lifelong book collectors and supporters of Stanford Libraries. In addition to building two remarkable personal collections focused on bibliographical materials and witchcraft, folklore, and magic, William Wreden was a well-known Bay Area antiquarian bookseller. His wife, Byra Wreden, was also an avid collector, building a significant collection focused on children’s book illustrators, like Beatrix Potter and Kate Greenaway. To read more on the history of Wreden Prize and the complete text of each prize-winning essay, please visit the Wreden Prize website.