Bibliomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving the collecting or hoarding of books, has taken many forms over the years. As early as 1809, the English bibliographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin published a book on the subject. In more recent years, Nicholas Basbanes’ bestselling A Gentle Madness (1994) tells the stories of several modern “bibliomanes”—people who are literally crazy about books, in good ways and bad.
A book recently donated to the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections—Ovid’s Art of Love (London: Jacob Tonson, 1709)—once belonged to a little-known bibliomane named Bindon Blood, a Dickensian character whom other book collectors nicknamed “The Vampire.” Born in Ireland in 1775, Blood amassed a huge collection of books over his life. But he didn’t buy them to read, or even (as was common at the time) to furnish his house. According to John Hill Burton, author of The Book-Hunter (1882), Blood’s books were “piled in great heaps in garrets, cellars, and warerooms, like unsorted goods. They were accumulated, in fact, not so much that the owner might have them, as that other people might not.”
A rich man, Blood liked to attend auctions, “watch the biddings of persons on whose judgment he relied, and cut in just as the contest was becoming critical.” At one auction, he snatched up a rare book he already owned a copy of, just to be mean to another bidder who desperately wanted it. Eventually, though, the tables were turned and Blood became the butt of his own joke. Other book buyers “began to observe that he was degenerating by degrees in the rank of his purchases, and, at last becoming utterly reckless, buying, at the prices of the sublimest rarities, common works of ordinary literature to be found in every book-shop.” Auctioneers came to love “The Vampire,” because they knew they could sell him books at high prices that were worth nothing.
J. H. Burton was never sure what happened to Blood’s books after his death in 1855 but said he would not have been surprised if Blood had burned them all to keep other people from owning them. At least one book, however, which Blood inscribed as a young man in 1794, has survived and is now part of the Rare Book Collection at LSU, where it may be enjoyed by any and all.
– Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books