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Five Win Hofer Prize for Collecting

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Philipp Penka accepts first prize in the Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting from Hope Mayo, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts.

April 21, 2010 – Philipp Penka has been interested in book collecting for most of his life, but it was a chance purchase, made in a South Carolina basement, that opened his eyes to the little-known publishing tradition of Russian displaced persons in post-war Germany. Spurred by that first purchase, Penka began researching and collecting the books, hoping to preserve the difficult-to-find material for future scholars. That dedication was recently recognized with first prize in the Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting.

Penka, a graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ literature program, second prize winners Rhae Ann Barnes and Céline LeBoeuf, and third prize winners Elizabeth Gish and Andrea C. Rutherford, received their awards in a ceremony held at Houghton Library on April 20.

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Named for Philip Hofer, ’21, the awards are given annually to students whose collection of books or works of art fulfill “the traditions of breadth, coherence and imagination” exemplified by the former Houghton curator. The first prize winner receives $2,000; second prize winners each receive $1,000, and third prize winners each receive $500.

Penka’s collection, entitled “Temporary Spiritual Sustenance: The Print Culture of Russian Displaced Persons in Post-War Germany (1945-1951),” was honored for “documenting a period which is largely forgotten in European publishing history,” said Hope Mayo, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts, and one of five judges who evaluated the entries.

It wasn’t until he began to examine the books he had purchased that Penka realized how rare they were. A close examination of several of the books revealed an unusual censorship stamp. Intrigued, Penka began researching the books, and discovered they – and many others like them – had been published in a brief window following World War II, often by refugees who faced forced repatriation and possible persecution if they returned to Russia.

“I’ve been researching these books ever since,” Penka said, explaining that finding such books is extremely difficult. “They were printed on extremely poor paper, and often were printed by makeshift print operations, with press runs of as few as 30 books. In many cases, people knew they couldn’t take these books with them as they were repatriated, so they simply threw them away.”

Penka’s collection was just one entry in what Mayo called an especially strong field. In addition to the first prize, judges awarded two second prizes and two third prizes.

Like Penka, second place winner Céline LeBoeuf’s, ’07, interest in book collecting began at an early age. At 14, she read Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs as part of a school assignment, and immediately began reading and collecting other works by the French writer, philosopher, feminist and social theorist. Her collection, “A Transatlantic Love Affair: A Collection Dedicated to Simone de Beauvoir,” includes Beauvoir’s complete works, as well as an array of secondary literature and magazine and journal articles on Beauvoir.

“She was very appealing to me, and I could identify with her,” LeBoeuf said, of Beauvoir. “She was very independent and dedicated herself to philosophy, and that was very inspiring. I’m studying philosophy, so I feel as though I’m following her path in some ways.”

Among the items in LeBoeuf’s collection is a rare, signed first edition of Beauvoir’s novel “Quand Prime le Spiritual.” Written in the 1930s, the novel was initially rejected by publishers, only to be published in 1979, after Beauvoir had achieved fame as a writer and philosopher. LeBoeuf found the book, which is inscribed with the message “To my friend, ‘In all modesty, this little work of mine – Simone de Beauvoir,’” in a rare book shop in Brussels.

Other winners who could not be reached for comment on the prize include: Rhae Ann Barnes, who was awarded second place for her collection, “The Print Culture of Blackface Minstrelsy.” Third place was awarded to Elizabeth Gish for her collection, “Feminist Theologies: Precursors, Foundations and Innovations – A Book Collection,” and Andrea C. Rutherford for her collection, “Adventures in ‘Outsider’ Art: Russia, South Africa, India, Germany, France”.