Interview With A Collector: Jerry Morris


Book collector Jerry Morris is the former President of the Florida Bibliophile Society. Always a reader, he became a book collector during his overseas tour in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, before he retired from the U.S. Air Force. He publishes several book-related book blogs (see below). More about Mr. Morris is available here.

You’ve been an avid collector for some time. at what point did you realize that you were a collector, and not just an accumulator or reader?

I have been an avid reader all my life. I became a collector in the late 1980s on my last tour before retiring from the U. S. Air Force. In England, I started collecting dictionaries and quotation books, and then I was accumulating almost everything else except science fiction. Slowly but surely, as my book collecting interests developed, many of the accumulations became collections.

What are your major areas of collecting?

My major areas of collecting are books about books, association copies, Samuel Johnson, Mary Hyde, and early editions of William Strunk’s Elements of Style. But I don’t ignore my other collections. I am always looking for interesting books on NYC and outhouses. Yes, outhouses.

I know that one of your collecting areas is association copies. in fact, you are a contributing author to the recently published other people’s books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell (Chicago: The Caxton Club. 2011), which was reviewed in the last issue of the Standard. It seems that different collectors have different definitions of what makes an association copy. What is your definition?

In the simplest terms, I define an association copy as a book that once belonged to a famous person. My Sentimental Library Collection is a collection of books formerly owned by authors whose books I collect or formerly owned by other famous people. The essay I wrote for Other People’s Books…”Hither-unpublished Obiter Dicta” was based on another kind of association as well: the subject matter of a book formerly owned by Augustine Birrell (1850-1933), an English essayist and politician. Birrell was the irish Secretary who was sacked after the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. He wrote his opinions on revolution, freedom and other related topics in the margins and endpapers of his copy of Lectures on the French Revolution by Lord Acton, London, 1910.

How do you find the books that make it into your sentimental library collection? Is it all serendipitous, or do you actively seek certain books?

I actively seek association copies online and at bookstores and book fairs. Sometimes, though, an association copy will literally fall in my lap. I’ve written about some of my association copies in my blogs, particularly in http://mysentimentallibrary.blogspot.com.

As you may know, IOBA stands for Independent Online Booksellers Association, so a large portion of the audience for this article will be book sellers. Can you offer any advice for the online seller as far as listing books that you would find of interest? How can we help you find our wares?

At this time, there are no IOBA booksellers who list association copies as one of their specialties. That means I have to search the IOBA listings for association copies. The easiest way to attract my attention to an association copy you want me to buy is to use one of two phrases: “formerly owned by…”, or “from the library of….” I’ve also found numerous association copies by searching for “bookplate of, his bookplate, her bookplate, from the private library of, and previously owned by.” The most recent association copy I acquired on another site was identified with the phrase,” Bibliographer Jacob Blanck’s blind-stamp on ffep.” I almost missed that one!

What do you look for in a bookseller? what are the cues and practices that make you comfortable doing business with someone you haven’t met personally?

I judge a bookseller by the quality of her listing. She needs to list the book in such a professional manner that I will want to buy her copy of the book.

Do you have any favorite booksellers? If so, what kind of stock or service has moved them to the top of your list?

I’ve had numerous favorite booksellers. They become favorite booksellers primarily for having books available that I’m currently looking for. For online dealers, I like to see a personal note of thanks on the invoice or even an informal email saying the book was shipped. It is their listings that I will search first for future buys.

Do you recall having done business with any of our members?

I recognize a number of booksellers in the IOBA Member Directory and have done business with several of them either directly or through Abebooks — but never through IOBA. In fact, I didn’t open an IOBA buyer’s account until this past September. My first experience ordering a book via IOBA was quite pleasant, which begs the question: Why did I wait so long? Maybe a little publicity will help. On my biblio-connecting blog (biblio-connecting.blogspot.com) a running diary of connecting with people in the book world, I will write about my first experience with IOBA: buying a copy of Agnes Repplier’s Books and Men from Doug Clausen of Clausen Books in Colorado. And whose stock will I search first for association copies? Doug Clausen’s.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website