In four years of collecting, Greg Freeman has amassed about 350 books in a rare book collection that last year earned him second place in a national book collecting contest.
His focus is on Tudor and Stuart books and documents, from 16th and 17th century England. In between working part-time at Companion Books in North Burnaby, the Surrey resident searches for his treasures and reads them, works with hefty titles such as “The Historie of the Counsel of Trent: Containing Eight Books,” and “A True Account and Declaration of the Horrid Conspiracy Against the Late King” (1685).
It’s an impressive hobby for Freeman, 26, not only because of his youth but for the fact he “barely graduated high school.”
A selection of books and documents from his collection are currently on display at the special collections library at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus until Jan. 20.
He said he just “kept buying older and older books and just ended up collecting.” He’s “grown up in the church” and his interest in theology and history led him to focus on writers of the English Reformation period, when religion was a common subject for writers.
His favourite is a 1607 Geneva Bible which mades up the majority of the text of the King James Bible, today’s standard English translation, which followed. “I read from it every day.”
Freeman said some of the items in his collection have cost him in the four figures.
“I stay away from spending money in the usual spots for a young person,” he said of his ability to save up for his hobby.
When asked if he wears white gloves while reading the antiques, he said with a sheepish laugh, “I suppose I should be wearing them but I don’t. I read them very carefully, of course, but basically as any other book.”
While the printing press was invented in the mid-1400s, most of the books and documents in his collection were still handmade—hand printed on paper made of cotton rags (much more durable than today’s wood-fibre paper) in bindings of leather, sheepskin or vellum.
Freeman said he revamped his collection after not winning a prize two years ago at the first national book collecting contest, which is for Canadians under 30. He was “quite surprised” by his second place showing this time around.
Freeman is considering going back to school and is interested in attending the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, “but trying to get up the money for that sort of thing is pretty difficult.”
So far, selling some of his rare books is not something he’s willing to consider.
“I’d probably rather keep my books, actually. I’ll have to find another way for financing.”
Eric Swanick, head of SFU’s special collections library, said he put on the display of Freeman’s collection as a result of his role as a director for the W.A. Deacon Foundation, one of the sponsors of the collecting contest along with the Bibliographical Society of Canada.
“It’s always good to have a new crop of book collectors to come along,” Swanick said, noting special collections libraries are often the ultimate beneficiaries of such hobbyists.
Book collecting was much more common as a hobby at one time, he said, noting people are often drawn by the “excitement of the chase.”