Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2020 Issue

How Big Is Your Book Collection? This Man Says His is 1.5 Million Books

A portion of Anke Gowda's “library.”

So you think you have a large book collection? Anke Gowda probably doesn't think so. Gowda is a man from the Indian countryside who started collecting books as a young man. He is 72 now. As he explains, he was born into a poor household, his father having been a farmer. He developed a great interest in reading, but had little access to books. He decided to do something about it. Did he ever.

 

Fifty years ago, he decided to collect at least 1,000 books a month. If his estimates are right, he actually did much better than that. He now says, “I have already collected more than 1.5 million books.” I cannot vouch for that number, nor challenge it. I doubt Mr. Gowda can with certainty either as he has not catalogued them nor kept them in neat order. How could he with so many? One thing is clear – he owns an incredible number of books.

 

Not surprisingly, Mr. Gowda does not have a very focused collection. According to the Indian Express, he possesses “books on literature, science and technology, mythology, critiques, travelogues, research, astrology, women’s and children’s literature, etc.” He says he has books in 22 different Indian languages as well as eight foreign ones. Additionally, he has tens of thousands of magazines. He also collects stamps, coins and paper money, movie posters and newspapers on the side.

 

One would imagine these are not the most valuable of books. Mr. Gowda is not a rich man. He worked as a time-keeper in a sugar factory for 30 years, spending most of his money on books. He describes his book collecting as a hobby. He is now retired, living on a pension, but still adding another thousand books a month. He buys them from booksellers but also gets many free, either deaccessioned by libraries or discarded by individuals. Under the circumstances, I suspect he has a few duplicates in his collection.

 

For years, he kept them all in his house. He sleeps on the floor and cooks in a small corner. Fifteen years ago, his house entirely filled, an industrialist helped him build a large structure of approximately 24,000 square feet to hold more books. His “book house” is open to scholars and tourists to visit. Undoubtedly, there are scholars who would like to access his books, but I have no idea how they would find what they want.

 

Here is the most amazing thing about Mr. Gowda. He is married. Apparently, his wife supports him and his venture. If this woman isn't a saint I don't know who is. I don't know whether Gowda has any children, but if he does, they must be hoping he outlives them.

 

Anke Gowda has been managing the library by himself for years. He cannot afford to hire help. He is now looking for volunteers to help organize his collection. He may have some already, but it will take a lot of help to get this library in order.

 

Has Mr. Gowda assembled the world's largest private book collection, now or ever? Maybe. The legendary 19th century book collector, Thomas Phillipps, had a mere 100,000 books and manuscripts in his collection. Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who died just last year, had 300,000 books, still just a drop in the bucket. However, there is one competitor, the man who is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest collection in the world. His name is John Q. Benham of Avoca, Indiana. How many books does Mr. Benham possess? According to Guinness, it's the same as claimed by Mr. Gowda – over 1.5 million. It will take a lot of counting to determine who is number one. And this leads us to one final question – why do they do this?

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HARRISON, Benjamin. Document signed (“Benj Harrison”) as governor of Virginia, certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a Black Revolutionary soldier. $6,000 to $9,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTED ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: FIRST PRINTING OF LINCOLN’S IMMORTAL GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HIGHLY IMPORTANT MORMON ARCHIVE. ALLEY, George. Archive of 23 Autograph Letters Signed by Mormon Convert George Alley to His Brother Joseph Alley. $10,000 to $20,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [AVIATION]. [ARMSTRONG, Neil A.] Aviation Hall of Fame Gold Medal MS64 NGC, Awarded to Neil Armstrong in 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: NEWLY DISCOVERED FIRST PRINTING OF "WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE... " FROM THE ONLY NEWSPAPER ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL PROCESSION. $4,000 to $8,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: THE MOST IMPORTANT GEORGE WASHINGTON DOCUMENT IN PRIVATE HANDS; GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COMMISSION AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF, 1775, ONE OF ONLY TWO ORIGINALS. $150,000 to $250,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: A VERY RARE ACCOUNT OF BLACKBEARD’S DEATH AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIRATE ITEMS EXTANT. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [VIETNAM WAR]. The original pen used by Secretary of State William P. Rogers to sign the Vietnam Peace Agreement, Paris, 27 January 1973. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: SONS OF LIBERTY FOUNDER COLONEL BARRÉ ANNOTATED TITLE-PAGE, “WHICH OUGHT TO ROUSE UP BRITISH ATTENTION”. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions