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2002-06, 333, 334, Neil A Radford, Vale

Ben Haneman

There was a collector named Ben

Most of those who knew Ben Haneman will have a favourite anecdote, or two, about him. Mine is about his collection of books of limericks.

Some years ago Ben invited the Friends of the University of Sydney Library to meet at his home and see his remarkable collections. He spoke about how he had collected the various items and showed off some of the choicer morsels. Afterwards one Friend asked him about a shelf or so of books of limericks that didn’t seem to go with the rest of his books, which were more scholarly and rare.

Ben explained that he had friends in South America, a family with school-aged children, with whom he corresponded. Several years before, the children had written to say that in their English class they had been studying limericks but it was not possible to obtain books of English limericks there, and could he please buy some and send them over? Ben went to a bookshop and bought a couple of books of limericks. He was wrapping them up to take to the post office and idly leafed through them. To his dismay he saw that all the limericks were rather risqué, and not at all suitable for schoolchildren. So he put the books aside and went out and bought some more which could be safely sent to the children.

But now he had two books of limericks which he wouldn’t normally have bought for himself. Someone who was not collector would most likely have given them to some charity booksale. But Ben was a collector, gripped by that familiar obsession which mandated that two had to be joined by others of the same kind. Thereafter, whenever he came across a book of limericks he had to have it, and over time he had amassed several dozen. Thus, a small specialist collection had formed unexpectedly. When the collections start to form themselves, you’re a real collector.

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