The Joy of Books, Art, & Baseball Cards: Collecting as a Spiritual Pursuit

The Joy of Books, Art, & Baseball Cards: Collecting as a Spiritual Pursuit November 14, 2020

Anyone looking for a holiday gift for that special, hard-to-buy-for friend or family member? Or for me, for that matter??

From Micah Mattix’s Prufrock:

Callaway Arts and Entertainment took hundreds of thousands of photos of the Sistine Chapel’s frescoes over two months, and it has now published them in life size in a three-volume book weighing 25 pounds and measuring 24×17 inches, which was five years in the making:

“If you’re always on the hunt for limited edition photobooks and have ultra-deep pockets and bookshelves, here’s one for your collection: the The Sistine Chapel. It’s a giant $22,000 trilogy that contains views of the Sistine Chapel’s art captured in gigapixel glory through 270,000 individual photos.

“‘The publication of The Sistine Chapel trilogy is a pioneering technological breakthrough,’ Callaway says, noting that it was the result of a five-year collaboration between it, the Vatican Museums, and the Italian art publisher Scripta Maneant.

“To publish the masterpieces of the Sistine Chapel on the pages of the book in 1:1 true-to-life scale and with 99.4% color fidelity, a team of photographers visited the chapel over 67 consecutive nights while it was closed off to the public. They used a 33-foot-tall scaffold and rig to capture every inch of the chapel in 270,000 separate digital photos.”

That’s right. It costs a cool $22,000.

So I may not be ordering this one. But I have already this morning inquired at my university’s library, about a possible purchase. And if we do acquire it for our collection, I will be among the first to take an extended look.

Why Do We Collect?

“Collect” — it means most simply to gather together; assemble.  But also:  to regain control of (oneself or one’s thoughts, faculties, composure, or the like)… “I collected myself,’ we might say. And it can also. be a noun: a “Collect” can mean any of certain brief prayers used in Western churches especially before the epistle in the communion service.

Thus: collections, and collecting, can be understood as deeply spiritual pursuits. By that I mean that a collection reveals some of our strongest values and beliefs–even our passions. The crew that has photographed, assembled, and published this extravagant collection featuring the Sistine Chapel have done so precisely because of their sense of its beauty and their passion for beauty.

When I was a kid, I collected keys. And baseball cards. I had rookie cards for guys like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale. I loved and idolized all thos players, and many more: Maury Wills, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente. Today those cards would be worth — well, a lot.  A single card — say, the 1952 Topps rookie card for Mickey Mantle — can be found listed on the web right now for between $60,000. — 90,000.  Willie Mays? Much less, but still a lot (question: why so different, if both rookie cards are from the same year?). Sadly, I lost my entire collection, which had been stored neatly well into the 1980s in old shoe boxes, stacked neatly in an old wardrobe closet in the basement of my stepfather’s house. After a horrific divorce between him and my mother, we somehow never recovered those cards. For all I know they are languishing at the bottom of a waste dump somewhere outside of Indianapolis.  I could sure use the cash today, for a variety of things. Like paying off my mortgage. When I think of the loss, I need a moment to “collect myself.”

How was my baseball card collection a spiritual pursuit? Walter Benjamin once wrote in his famous meditation “Unpacking my Library,” in Illuminations,

One has only to watch a collector handle the objects in his glass case. As he holds them in his hands, he seems to be seeing through them into their distant past as though inspired. 

Like those photographers in the Sistine Chapel: those cards brought me much joy. I recall handling them with the lovingkindness expressed by Benjamin.  His famous conclusion: “To renew the old world – that is the collector’s deepest desire.” 

Renewal; and a return to some version of the past as inspirational.What could be more spiritual than that??

Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash

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