Are you a collector?

orange penguin paperback book collection

Five years ago, I would have told you adamantly that by nature, I am not a collector. My fellow book people would often express surprise that I’m not into box sets or first editions, but it wasn’t my thing: I like to read the books, but that doesn’t mean I need to own them. I don’t like to accumulate stuff, I don’t wish to store it, and there are no material goods I love that much.

So today I’m going to show you a few of my collections. Life is funny, yes?

At this point in time, I have a handful of modest collections, and it’s fair to say all are intimately tied to the reading and writing life. Let’s take a peek.

Orange Penguin paperback classics were my gateway collection. I’ve always loved the look of these, and my revelatory moment came at a used book sale, when I noticed there were dozens of these books available for a dollar or less.

Something about the plenty of these exuberant editions, combined with their low price point, turned a switch in my brain. It sounds silly to say it now but until that moment I hadn’t realized I could buy books that I may or may not ever read just because the look of them makes me happy.

I don’t have tons these days—maybe two dozen or so—but I love to keep an eye out when I’m browsing book sales or used bookstores, and sometimes friends send them as gifts. They live on the top shelf in my office, lending my workspace their cheery pop of orange.

These beautiful books are part of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets collection. I fell in love with these tiny editions when I first saw them at Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, and I’ve been collecting them ever since.

I love to buy these when I travel: when I’m on the road, I’m constantly searching new and used bookstores for their distinctive spines. They’re not widely carried, so my collection is growing slowly (not a bad thing); my most recent acquisitions were in Oxford MS and Scotland.

Something I love about the Pocket Poets and the orange Penguins is they give me a mission when I’m entering a new sale or store: the first thing I do is look for books to add to my collection, and then I look at everything else.

My third collection was inspired by a visit to the original CW Pencil Enterprise shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The owner, Caroline Weaver, had a vase on her desk that held every the nub of every pencil they’d used up since the shop opened.

Seeing as I don’t own a pencil shop, I didn’t begin my own collection right away. (I wish I had—my jar would be so much fuller by now!) But I kept thinking about Caroline’s collection, and finally took the plunge. Better late than never, right? (For a great discussion with the Pencil Lady herself, don’t miss this podcast episode.)

Do you have a collection? Are you thinking about starting one? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments section!

P.S. Books so gorgeous they just might turn me into a collector, and a look at our home library.

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  1. Lizabeth Snell says:

    Partial list of my collection of collections: paper weights, glass flower frogs (mostly to hold paint brushes), tea cups & saucers, toys antique & other, toy tea sets, fountain pens (that do not need throw away cartridges), note cards (a suitcase full), vintage suitcases….. ok that’s partial, but I do think collecting is very human & I love the idea of certain types of books.. those that are so very pleasant to hold.. or that are about topics I love. Thanks 🙂

  2. Jamalyn says:

    I love your collections! Thank you for sharing. Collections are fun and personal flair!
    For years, I’ve collected seasonal salt and pepper shakers, it makes me so happy to switch them out for each season and holiday. I find I’m picky about them now, replacing them sometimes, and always seeking out the perfect pair!

  3. Janene says:

    One thing that I have started collecting in the past few years is tickets from various events that my husband and I attend. I have them in a pretty glass jar with a lid. I love looking at them and reliving happy memories. I wish I had started when I was younger! So many fun concerts, sporting events and travel adventures would have made for a great collection!

  4. Joan Odean says:

    Looking at the pictures of Penguin books, the title Caleb’s Crossing caught my eye. The title appealed to me, for some reason. I looked it up on Amazon and one of the reviewers wrote about a very graphic scene in the book involving a defenseless animal that, to this day, is seared on her brain. Thank heavens for reviews; I, too, would find this very upsetting. I wish this type of warning came with all books. Will pass on this one.

  5. Jaimee Driscoll says:

    I’ve been slowly collecting three children’s book series’ – the Wizard of Oz set with the really good (and marginally creepy) illustrations:
    the Maida’s Little series (feminist writing for children!),
    and the Pollyanna books. They’re not very expensive, mostly, and I love reading them.

  6. Katie says:

    I collect copies of Pride & Prejudice. I know what a shocking thing to collect haha. I also collect coffee mugs (my current favorite is my ideal bookshelf mug). I will add one because I like the way it looks or because I’m traveling and want to bring something home. I also like to get a Christmas ornament from every place I travel. I think two of my favorites is my red Harrod’s ball ornament from London and a mini sombrero from Mexico. That one was not meant to be an ornament but on my tree it went anyway. For the past few years the angel at the top of my tree has worn it!

    • Mary Kay says:

      I also collect Christmas ornaments on my travels! I love it because it doesn’t clutter up the house, but every year I pull them out and remember fun adventures. I also have “ornaments” that were meant to be other things- a keychain from Buckingham Palace, a llama magnet missing the magnet from Peru- hanging on the tree! I love that your angel wears a sombrero!

      • Katie says:

        Yes! It’s so fun to pull each ornament out when decorating the tree and remember the trip I was on when I got it. The sombrero just rested on a branch until I got married and my husband put it on top of the angel’s head. At first I laughed and was going to move it, but then I kept laughing and decided it should stay. Also, sorry everyone. I meant to say “my favorites are” in my original post!

      • Jillian Strete says:

        I do the same! I don’t love the holidays and don’t enjoy decorating for Christmas, but reliving every vacation through the tree ornaments makes me smile.

        • Heather says:

          I have similar feelings about collecting books which is crazy because I grew up in & around bookstores. I collect magnets though. Our fridge is covered and I have an entire box filled too. I bought my first magnet on my first trip to Europe when I was just 18. I buy at least one everywhere we go. Other people buy them for me too which makes me look like I’m better travelled than I really am.

      • I too collect christmas ornaments from vacation spots, memorable events of the year (ie a fire engine the year my car caught on fire ) or loves of my family as they grew. They don’t clutter up the house, as you mentioned and i love looking at them and remembering when i take the christmas tree down. I too have non- ornament ornaments like key chains. I also collect patches of places i’ve been (like camping spots) or things i have done. They go onto a blanket that i bought in mexico over 30 years ago. Then there’s my harry potter collection- the books and some things i’ve either bought or made from the stories. Finally i have a miniature house i built when i was 16 and i’m furnishing it and a miniature store my dh made me.

    • Julie says:

      Katie, I think we are collecting soul mates. I too collect copies/editions of Pride and Prejudice – my favorite book! I used to collect coffee mugs but quit because of space and I also stopped drinking coffee (I know!). And I also collect Christmas ornaments from our travels. I just love unwrapping them each year and taking a trip down memory lane 🙂

      • Katie says:

        Julie, my husband keeps me in check with the coffee mugs. Much to my chagrin 😂 Periodically I’ll clean out the cabinet (yes I have a whole coffee cabinet) and make room for new mugs. I’ve got a lot of years left in me, and I don’t plan on stopping the mug collecting! And if I get too many ornaments? I’ll just get another tree 😉

    • Inspired by Hermione says:

      I also collect Christmas ornaments from places I travel. It started because I had my own Christmas tree for the first time and it was DEPRESSING with just Target ornaments on it. My favorite is the annual ornament from the Library of Congress from a few years ago- with Jefferson’s quote about “I cannot live without books.”

  7. Jessica says:

    I sort of collect books in the Everyman Library series. I love these clothbound classics, so anytime a book on my TBR is in this series I always get that particular version. I also collect Christmas ornaments when I travel… it is so fun to decorate the Christmas tree every year and remember all our family adventures!

  8. Candace H says:

    After reading Save Me the Plums: a Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl, I have started a small collection of the Gourmet cookbooks published during her 10years at Gourmet magazine (and I am also searching estate sales for the magazines too… no luck yet).

  9. Allyson says:

    Bookmarks! I collect bookmarks. Easy souvenir to pack when traveling. I keep them in a decorated box. When I begin reading a new book, I pull out the box, peruse them all, and select just the right bookmark to go with that book. Sometimes it’s color; sometimes it’s theme; sometimes it’s the season of year. Yeah, some bookmarks get more use than others.

    • Alison says:

      I don’t like a lot of clutter, but I have learned to fill spaces that need decorating with only thighs that are useful or that I love. So I have collections of the Penguin Clothbound Classics.

      Also, I was born and raised in Mississippi. Although I have moved out of state, I love my home state. So I collect Mississippi pottery, specifically Peter’s Pottery from the MS Delta.

  10. Tiff L says:

    Normally I would say no, I am definitely not a collector of anything. However, if I can find an ex-library book, I will buy it. I love the quality and the uniqueness of having books from various libraries

  11. Vivian Silliman says:

    I love your stack of Penguin books. I’ve read most of them and will research the rest.
    My husband and I collect coffee mugs. It started on our honeymoon in Niagara Falls, Ontario (honeymoon capital of the world – at the time!) when we bought two matching mugs. We quickly realized that two for every trip might be too much. Now when we get home we assess the trip with: “It was a – fill in the blank – mug trip! We probably have well over 1000 mugs, mostly packed away!

  12. Meg Evans says:

    When we travel, we usually try to buy a coffee mug, a tea towel, and a Christmas ornament. Our mug cabinet is getting full!

    I also make it a point to visit an independent bookstore when traveling, and I’ll pick up a book there. I usually get something on my tbr list, but I also check for any pretty editions of Pride and Prejudice, too!

  13. Keri says:

    As far as books go, I am slowly acquiring the Penguin Clothbound Classics. My largest collection is Fiesta dishes. The colors just make me happy.

    • Valerie says:

      Keri, we love Fiesta dishes at our house too! We put them on our wedding registry instead of china, and we use them every day. :o)

  14. I used to be a collector – I was building my Penguin Clothbound Classics collection. They were so pretty but I never read them! I held onto them through a major purge when I moved in with my husband. Then this summer we started to go through our belongings in preparation for moving and I decided to get rid of them. I sold them to half priced books. I decided they didn’t bring me enough joy to hold onto them just because they were pretty! The only collection of books I held onto was my set of Harry Potter books. They are not pretty as the spines have creases from when I read them but I look forward to reading them with our son some day!!

  15. Diane Lee says:

    I am sooo a collector!
    I have a serious Emma Bridgewater Habit (I think you have her pottery in the U.S as well?) If ever a hundred friends came round at once I could give them all a mug of tea and 80 of them could hug a bear while they’re doing it!
    Also pencils from places- Niagara Falls to the Bluebell Railway in Sussex(146) and I just fell into collecting bookmarks as well(245)-though it’s strange how often I end up using a scrap of paper or a bus ticket…
    And books…I said I would stop at 2000…but I haven’t quite managed it yet…
    I love Persephone titles (again I’m pretty sure you have them in the U.S) because they’re so lovely and come with their own bookmarks…

  16. Stephanie says:

    I have never been a collector either until this year. I am in love with the Barnes and Noble classics and now have about 15 volumes. I only collect those I would want to keep (books I like or authors I like) but there are plenty to choose from!

  17. Beverly J M says:

    Through the years I have had collections of coffee mugs with names of states or other messages & nic-knacs,the collection I cherish is my spoon & keyring of places we have visited.

  18. Lisa F. says:

    Without intending to or even realizing it, I discovered I have quite a collection of Penguin English Library editions. Some were gifts and some I bought on my own, but they have added up to a collection!

  19. Birgitta Qvarnström Frykner says:

    Well in some way i’m a collectors in some not. I collect some author for ex i have all Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and a lot of others. I also have 4 different china (or 5 depending on how you count, dayly, fine, christmas, Easter, glass (yes i’m swedish) then special set of a coffeset. When i married first time in 74 you was supposed to have at least 2 sets of 12 plates of each size and special Coffee sets for 12-18 people. Standard then and for me still a must. My books are My largest wize and today with my Kindle My collection is growing without having to buy new book cases.

  20. Kristin McNamara says:

    Everytime I am somewhere they have a photo booth I love to get a strip of goofy pictures with whoever I’m with. They are the perfect size for bookmarks! And I keep a stack right by my bed to toss in a book when I’m done for the night.

    • Sue says:

      I LOVE the idea of photo strips for bookmarks! I didn’t know they still had any anywhere. We used to do that with friends back in the 80’s.

  21. Tiffany M says:

    I totally agree the best part of book collections is the fun of exploring a used bookstore for them!
    I collect different editions of Jane Austen novels, anything that seems unique or beautiful. One of my favorites is an edition of Northanger Abbey from the 30s that looks like a cheap gothic novel.
    I also collect a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from each country I visit in the local language.

  22. Kara Middleton says:

    I notice you have 2 copies of Carol Shields’ The Stone Diaries in that stack. Do you purposely buy duplicates when you find them or was that a fluke?

    I don’t collect anything. I used to collect books, But I moved a few hundred of them several times, twice cross country, and I was over it. I abandoned all my books to a storage unit in Upland, CA. I know, that’s probably sacrilege to many book lovers, but..actually, yes, now that I think about it, I can say I do collect something:ebooks. I am rather obsessed with them.

  23. J. White says:

    I don’t collect but I do keep lots of books, many cookbooks, some I still use and some I have never used. I get books from my daughter who works for a publisher and they add to my to read lists. I really like the look and feeling of books on the shelves. Comforting.

  24. Peggy says:

    Lately I have started collecting Uncle Wiggily books. My dad read to me every night when he tucked me into bed so they are part of those happy memories. My older sister and I have also started a Cherry Ames book collection for our younger sister. Cherry Ames was a big hit for all three of us, but my younger sister became a nurse so she has a special affinity for these books. Evidently I also collect quilting fabric from the looks of my sewing room.

  25. Brittney R says:

    Aside from books, I collect teacups and cake pedestals (pastry chef here). And our collection of Christmas nutcrackers is growing and it makes me so happy. Also we get a Christmas ornament from the places we travel, my favorites are my little delft clogs from Holland and my tiny Eiffel Tower.
    I don’t like to clutter up my house too much, but I also enjoy looking around at things that make me happy.

  26. Susan says:

    Mugs. But, I’m selective. All of the J.D. Robb In Death books, all of W.E.B. Griffin books because my husband reads those and he doesn’t mind re-reading and as he reads very little that he has read all of Griffin’s books is a reason to have his books on hand. I collect journals, too, but I’ve slowed down recently.

  27. Diana says:

    Love your book collections; you’ve given me some great ideas! I love children’s books and have a collection, many found at yard sales. I also collect antique Christmas ornaments and have some from our family trees 60 + years ago. Also Native American baskets, vintage teacups & saucers, Quimper pottery & more!

  28. Emily says:

    I also hate clutter, but I want to collect many of the little pictures, notes and projects my kids create, so I came up with the following solution. I have a plastic file folder box for each child (the kind with the snap on lid) and it is filled with one file folder for each educational year. As my kids bring me creations I save my favorite ones and file it in the folder for the current year. I keep the boxes on a shelf in our hall closet, so the kids can take them down at any time and look through them. It’s a really fun way to preserve memories without taking up much space. When they hand me a drawing they’ll say “This is for my memory box!” It’s so cute.

    • Susan says:

      Hey Emily, I’m a scrapbooker and a great way to ‘keep’ those memories is to take a good photo of their art pieces, their handwriting, their papers they bring home and make a photo book of them – just an idea for previous years work.

  29. Paula Marsh says:

    I collect DK eyewitness books to share with my grandson. The topics and pictures are so interesting. I also collect Christmas tree pins and small Lenox China pieces.

  30. Hannah H. says:

    I have all of Agatha Christie’s books – not a coordinated set, mostly mass market paperbacks since I was in college when I started it, but that would be even more amazing! Maybe I will upgrade someday. I also recently started collecting the Great Illustrated Classics for my kids to (hopefully) enjoy someday! My problem is that I’m definitely type A on collecting, so I have a REALLY hard time when a collection is unfinished. Thank heavens for Thriftbooks!

  31. Kim Lennie says:

    I am a Stephen King fan so I have almost all his books of first editions in hardback. I Started this collection back in the 70’s and still going strong. I also collect cat ornaments that are unique. I must admit though I finally had to stop family and friends from adding to the cat collection it was becoming a little overwhelming, so if it doesn’t fit in the cabinets it doesn’t stay. I am one those if you can’t display what you love then no point in having.

  32. Angela says:

    I collect bookmarks. They are inexpensive and easy to pick up when traveling. Plus, I love to pick out a special bookmark to use when starting a new book.

  33. Joan says:

    I collect books. All of my children books are kept in a special cabinet. Also I don’t throw anything out so I just about collect everything. Anything that my grandmother had that has come into my hands is kept with love. I also collect any family history that I can find and pass it on to my cousins.

  34. Jocelyn says:

    I collect copies of books I loved as a child, like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence and Chronicles of Narnia. Finding new or old editions is great fun.

  35. Sal says:

    I’ve been a primary school teacher for about 12 years now. And for the past decade I’ve kept a large mason jar, which I’ve filled with all the stuff that’s mysteriously made its way into my pockets, and home with me. Basically all the random shite little kids have handed me during the day, that I haven’t know what to do with in the moment – so I’ve just shoved it in my pocket!

  36. Bookertalk says:

    I wouldn’t have classed myself as a collector either but seeing your photos has made me realise that I do have some collections!
    – Oxford World Classics editions of Emile Zola’s novels
    – Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache crime series
    – Virago modern classics

    I notice the Piano Teacher in your photo. I just decided to give that exact same edition away having failed to get beyond page 30…

  37. Dorothy Mantonya says:

    I have two collections that I am constantly on the look out for. One is sugar shell spoons. They only come one to a set and the spoon looks like a shell but each is very different. The second collection is Campbell’s Soup items. Some are hard to find while others are plentiful. I have others but these are my favorites.

  38. Suzy says:

    I started collecting copies of Anne of Green Gables last year. There are so many beautiful covers. It’s been so much fun to have a mission every time I walk into a bookstore, and one of my friends anonymously sent me a pretty copy this summer (no one will admit to being the giver!). One of my favorite copies is a replica of the original first edition that is printed on P.E.I. My cousin’s mother in law picked one up for me while there on vacation!

  39. susie says:

    I definitely have collector mentality, got it from my father (he did coins, and small wooden boxes). As a kid, I collected stationery, later I collected all nearly 200 Star Trek books, but (after reading them all) sold it during a move. Now I have ALL the Dick Francis books (collected twice in fact, once for me and once for my brother), including the new Felix Francis additions. On trips, I try to buy either prints (or cards) of artwork of the country, or Jewelry. I LOVE putting on my necklace from Greece or my earrings from Malta, it reminds me right away of my trip, and they are small and easy to pack. NOW I seem to be collecting all the books recommended on WhatShouldIReadNext!! My TBR pile is taking over my house!

  40. SoCalLynn says:

    I like to buy a postcard of favorite pieces of art when I go to a museum. One day I noticed that a few of mine had a theme, that of a woman reading a book! So now I look for those when I’m browsing museum gift shops. I also collect nativity scenes. I am selective, so I have only about 8.

  41. Sabiha Chunawala says:

    My first ever collections were seashells from each summer on the shore at Fort Myers Beach/Sanibel and Captiva Island. Then I started collecting socks funky, colorful, from places I’d traveled.
    In the book area, I collect copies of Pride and Prejudice my favorite novel and/or Jane Austen sets. I think I have around 20+ copies of the book by now. I’ve also recently fallen in love with the latest Chiltern classics. I have the Penguin Clothbound edition from my favorite authors: Austen, Bronte and Hardy, but that entire collection could take a lifetime to acquire as I’m very late to this.

  42. Marilyn says:

    I collect children’s books as well as adults. I have all of my books from childhood. I also collect bookmarks,dolls and paper dolls. I have just recently started collecting recipes, since , I am learning to bake. I also collect certain magazines and stickers.

  43. Deidre Burwell says:

    When I retired, I began to collect tiny shreds of fabric from my quilts. I store then in glass jelly jars and display them on my studio window sills. The colors are cheerful and remind me of past projects.

  44. Natasha says:

    Yay for a shout out to Faulkner House Books!

    I collect: teacups, sterling silver napkin rings, limoges eggs, postcards, Beatrix Potter figurines…

  45. Heather says:

    Pencils! Not at the ends yet, but I bought one at every museum, town or spot I visited on my last holiday. Inexpensive, lightweight readily available, useful and with unique and pretty designs, these pencils remind me of the many lovely places I visited every time I use one. I plan on “collecting” more on future trips. And now I can start a pencil ends collection. Perfect!

  46. Cheri Lynn Bunch says:

    I love books about decor and have a small collection of them. The Nesting Place and The Cozy Minimalist by Myquillyn Smith are among my favorites. I also love Habitat by Lauren Liess! Joanna Gaines’ Home Body is on my wish list and I hope to add it to my collection very soon! I also love very, very old books. Especially tiny, beautiful ones and I have a small collection that I treasure. I love to get magnets when we travel and I have them displayed on a vintage Coca Cola ice chest. I used to collect Christmas ornaments as well. I too feel very sentimental when I rediscover these holiday treasures when I’m decorating our Christmas tree. One of my sons recently purchased a autographed copy of I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson for me that I totally love. I love that she held that very book in her hands. I might have to add autographed books to my collecting experience.

  47. Janice says:

    Books are always a rotating collection. Readers always have a collection. I also seem to have a collection of lighthouses ever since I said I like lighthouses. My family & friends have gifted this group to me. I am blessed.

  48. Kinsey says:

    I have a small collection of the orange-spined Penguin classics myself, and I’m beginning to grow two Nutcracker collections: one of toy Nutcrackers to display at Christmas, and one of Nutcracker books (so far my favorite one is illustrated by Maurice Sendak!). I probably have to admit to collecting different editions of Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings books, but none are expensive or special editions really; just many copies of the books I love so I’m always comfortable letting somebody borrow them!

  49. Kam Hitchcock says:

    I started collecting Old Canton ware in the early 1970s. The colors of the blue and white thrilled me. And like you when I go to sales and antique stores, I look for the beautiful blue and white first.
    I also am fascinated by statues and other likenesses of all of our gods. This collection is smaller but I love it and am always on the lookout.

  50. Wendy says:

    On a Secret Santa survey, I recently claimed to collect $100 bills, but in reality, I have to fight packrat tendencies, so I curate my late mother’s collections of souvenir spoons and mismatched China plates.

  51. I love having a “mission” when I go into a bookstore – it makes travelling especially fun, and stops that feeling of overwhelm when you walk in somewhere there’s just SO MUCH GREAT STUFF. I’m not sure I’d call myself a “collector” per se, but I do have a soft spot for the Penguin triband books – you know, the ones with the orange strip at the top and bottom, and a white strip in the middle? If I’m on the hunt for a particular title and I see that there are a few different editions, I’ll go the Penguin triband every time 😅 I’ve got a small little unofficial collection of them now, and I love their beautiful simplicity.

  52. Tara says:

    I collect bookmarks, thimbles, and coffee mugs!
    I think my husband is in the acceptance phase regarding the mugs.
    Thimbles are tough for me to find, but started with inheriting a couple of my grandma’s. They can be so unique and easy to find places to display.
    I have yet to find a good way to display bookmarks, but whenever I start a new book I have to pick JUST the right bookmark to go with the story.

  53. Ann Antognoli says:

    I enjoy collecting camels from wherever I travel. Some are unique: Swiss crystal, jeweled from the Mid-East, wooden carvings, antiques, etc. Some are special because they remind me of the friends who gave them to me. I weed them out from time to time because I want them to look like they are part of my decor not simply a collection. Because I have many, it gives me an opportunity to gift my own purchases to friends who admire them.

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