A. Edward Newton Book Collection Competition

A. Edward Newton

"Everyone's shelf will contain different books, and the books that give joy to youth may not delight age, but the pleasure of reading continues. The habit, firmly established, enables one to endure, if need be, misfortune and even disgrace."
- A. Edward Newton

About the Competition

The A. Edward Newton Student Book Collection Competition is the longest-running collegiate book collecting competition in the nation, and encourages reading and collecting in an age of declining readership. Started in the 1930s by a renowned Philadelphia book collector, A. Edward Newton, the competition awards cash prizes to the three Swarthmore College students who submit the best essays and annotated bibliographies of their book collections. The winners are also invited to give a talk about their collection in McCabe Library.

See our past winners.

Contest Guidelines

The contest, held annually, is open to all undergraduate students and prizes are awarded to the three best book collections as judged by the Newton Committee, composed of librarians, faculty and students.

  • Books must be owned and have been collected by the student.
  • Entries must include:
    • an annotated bibliography for the collection of at least twenty-five books and;
    • a one-page essay that defines the theme, framework, and scope of your collection. The essay may include information describing how, when, where and why the books were acquired.
    • bibliographical annotations should describe how each book relates to the rest of the collection, and how, where, when, and why books were acquired. Annotations are expected to display the collector's understanding and knowledge of his or her books.
  • If you are unsure of how to write an annotated bibliography, please consult these winning examples from past years.
  • The bibliography is often strengthened when categorized into discrete units/subheadings, if applicable, since it indicates the collector's understanding of the collection as a whole. Non-print material and core texts from your coursework may be included, but should not constitute the majority of the collection and must complement the theme of the collection.
  • Each collection will be judged by the extent to which it represents a well-defined concept giving it unity and continuity, for example, a theme, an author, a subject, a publisher, a genre, etc. Judges are especially interested in idiosyncratic collections and essays that demonstrate intellectual rigor and thoughtful reflection. The essay and annotated bibliography should showcase the collector's& demonstrated dedication as well as the collection's originality, creativity and potential for growth.
  • Format of entries: .pdfs (preferred) or Microsoft Word documents, with name of applicant on 1st page only (as submissions are anonymous during evaluation), but with page numbers and title of collection on all subsequent pages.


The top three collectors will receive cash prizes of $600, $300 and $200. All three winners will give a brief talk about their books at a reception. The top prize winner is eligible to participate in the Antiquarian Booksellers of Association of America National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Winners will also grant the Newton Committee permission to reproduce their winning entries for use on this website and as sample entries for future participants.

2016 Competition Information

The deadline for the 2016 A. Edward Newton Book Collection Competition is 11:59 pm, Tuesday, March 1st, 2016. Please send completed applications to Roberto Vargas (rvargas1), 610-328-6107.


Around 1928, Swarthmore professor Robert E. Spiller brought a group of students in his English class to see A. Edward Newton's famous collection of rare books. Newton was impressed by the students' intelligent questions and asked Professor Spiller how he instilled in his students such an interest in books. Spiller explained that several years earlier, there was a gentleman who conceived the idea of awarding a small sum of money each year to the student who had formed the best collection of books-not the largest collection, but the best. Inspired by the competition, many students embraced their once-latent bibliophilism and became collectors themselves. Unfortunately, Spiller continued, after the passing of the award's creator, there was no provision to continue the award, and it was feared that that year would be the last.

Newton was struck with the idea of doing much good with little money, so he offered to fund the annual prize in 1930 and to make a gift that would allow the prize to continue after his death. Since then, the A. Edward Newton prizes have been awarded annually to the three best student book collections at Swarthmore. Each collection is judged on the strength and coherence of its theme, as well as the collection's potential for further expansion.

About A. Edward Newton

A. Edward Newton(1864-1940), a native of Philadelphia, was a businessman by vocation and became the president of the Cutter Electrical and Manufacturing Company. But he was also a collector of rare books and the owner of a library of 10,000 volumes. He wrote many books on bibliomania and the business of book collecting, including:

  • The Amenities of Book Collecting and Kindred Affections (1918)
  • A Magnificent Farce and Other Diversions of a Book Collector (1921)
  • The Greatest Book in the World (1925)
  • This Book Collecting Game (1928)
  • A Tourist in Spite of Himself (1930)
  • On Books and Business (1930)
  • End Papers (1933)
  • Derby Day and Other Adventures (1934)
  • Bibliography and Pseudo-Bibliography (1936)

He was also a critic, a playwright (Doctor Johnson: A Play, 1923), and a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly.

About book collecting outside of Swarthmore or about the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, visit the Antiquarian Booksellers of Association of America.