(Postcript update below.) To rate collectors by the use they make of their collections rather than simply by completeness, or by the rarity and excellence of individual items, makes great sense.
Jed Birmingham’s new series about collectors of Burroughsiana is essential reading for anyone interested in the usefulness of collecting books of any kind, not just those by William Burroughs. He writes:
A central premise of my list on great Burroughs collectors: It is not enough to have great stuff. To be a great collector; one must be more than an accumulator. The act of hunting and gathering is basic to human development. A great collector must evolve.”
(Fair warning: You have to be something of a specialist to understand Birmingham’s references. Possibly more important, you have to be something of an iconoclast to appreciate his provocations.)
He has yet to say what he thinks of Jeff Ball and his Burroughs collection. Here, for an example, is the kind of rarity that Ball goes in for. It is one of his latest, most interesting, and I presume most expensive acquisitions. What makes the item so appealing, apart from its rarity and the personal intimacy it projects, is the way it illustrates an easily overlooked connection between the two artist/writers.
Postscript: March 24—On the advice of staff to “personalize” this blogpost, I might as well mention that I met Gette way back in 1972 during the three-night soirée TROIS SOIRS PARMI . . . which Bernard Heidsieck hosted in his grand Paris pad at 19 Quai Bourbon on the Île Saint-Louis. Gette was into a bug thing for his “performance.” I thought of it as his form of Nabakovian butterfly collecting with a conceptual art twist. My own leetle sumzeeng would get me #metoo banned today. I played a video on a 2-inch monitor. It sat shoulder high on a pedestal in the middle of a room as vast as a Louvre gallery. Word buzzed through the crowd. (“Yum, that’s quoit noice!”) In fact, the best thing about it was the Peeping Tom effect. As people gathered to lay eyes on “Notre-Dame de Vidéo” some jockeyed for position. Rowdies cut in line to grab a peek. Fist fights broke out. What a spectacle that was.
Just kidding about the fist fights. The jockeying was very polite, and there were no rowdies.