AS HEAD of the corporate-finance department of Goldman Sachs in London, Tim Bunting could boast that he had visited New Zealand three times without staying the night. But he found himself burnt out by his mid-thirties; he quit his job after attending 27 dinners on consecutive evenings. Fortunately, he retired quite wealthy, and decided to spend much of his time and money on his collection of cricket books. His collection soon became an obsession.
Cricket books, he says, account for one-half of all books written on all sports. He owns more than 25,000 of them—the largest collection of cricket books in the world—and he built a library in an old rectory in rural Hampshire to hold them.
The best-known of all cricket books is “Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack”, which has been published annually since 1864. Mr Bunting has two complete sets, but his greatest prize is a third, which belonged to (and was annotated by) W.G. Grace, a legendary English cricket player who died in 1916.
Mr Bunting calls that set “the Holy Grail, the ultimate piece of cricket collecting.” It turned up unexpectedly in 2004 in a bookshop near the English seaside resort of Margate. When he learned that it was for sale, he drove perhaps faster than the law allows and got there in time to buy the whole lot for £150,000 ($280,000).
Like many other collectors, Mr Bunting started when he was eight with stamps. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and joined Goldman Sachs, where he had hardly any time for anything other than work, but in his late twenties, he rediscovered his passion for collecting, which he found therapeutic.
He became a student of a celebrated collector named Geoffrey Copinger, who had amassed 16,000 cricket books. When he learned in 1998 that Mr Copinger wanted to sell but not break up his collection, Mr Bunting offered a princely sum (he will not say how much) and promised to build a library to house the books.
His competitors (collecting sporting books is not always a sporting activity) quietly judged that this was an opportunistic purchase, made principally as an investment. After all, he was an investment banker and venture capitalist. Some cricket-book collectors, who started when they were children, instinctively mistrust newcomers like Mr Bunting, largely because he has more money than they do. He is unapologetic: “You can do it without money, but obviously it helps. It gives you space,” he says.
His credentials make the critics sound narrow and mean-minded. After all, he amassed 10,000 cricket books before buying Mr Copinger’s collection, and his particular obsession—cricket annuals, like Wisden but more obscure—had been well advertised within the trade.
He has ancient annuals from Canada, Barbados and Natal. He is especially pleased with a set of 14 that he completed of John Lawrence’s “Cricket in Ireland”. On his shelves there is also a complete set of an annual titled “The American Cricketer” (no kidding), from 1877 to its demise in the late 1920s. He also has drawers full of postcards and autographs.Mr Bunting hopes that in 30 years the collection will be beautifully organised. “My mission,” he says, “is to create a place where you can explore cricket history in literature in an orderly manner.” And it is not for sale, ever. So what will happen to it? “I’ll give it away,” he says.
7 months ago