If Indiana Jones had been hunting antique books instead of antiquities, Steven Spielberg might have based the character on J. León Helguera. The Vanderbilt University professor emeritus of history has spent the better part of a lifetime on the trail of rare books. It’s a trail that ended most often in Colombia, a country better known today for criminal activity than scholarly pursuits. During Helguera’s collecting heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Colombia’s riches were in its culture, not its cocaine. “Even Bogotá taxi drivers were experts on civil and criminal codes, and the country’s newspapers were models of Spanish grammatical correctness,” Helguera recalls. “These days, drugs have changed the face of society there in the most horrible way, and Bogotá has been ruined by urban sprawl.” When he began collecting 50 years ago, the books and newspapers that are invaluable today were collecting dust in corners of Bogotá shops or in the attics of private homes in Cali. Once, a tip took the young Helguera to a shop where a tailor was using 19th century newspapers to make suit patterns. The tailor’s markings can still be seen on these rare broadsides, which are part of the 9,000-item collection that Vanderbilt’s Heard Library recently purchased from Helguera. The professor also donated several thousand antique books to the university in 1999, and his collection of vintage photographs resides in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Over the years, Helguera’s search for printed treasure has taken him to Caracas, Lima and Buenos Aires, as well as to Vienna, Seville, Madrid and New York City. And though his active collecting has slowed now, Helguera relishes his memories of the thrill of the chaseeven the times he came up empty-handed. “I still wake up at 2 a.m., enraged at the ones that got away from me,” he says.
By Angela Wibking
No pics of the thong wedgie? Damn!
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You're talking about Sofia Vergara of course?