Antiquarian bookseller Louis Collins died Tuesday at the age of 77. Paul Constant at the Seattle Review of Books reports that Collins "collapsed while walking his dog...and had passed away before medics could arrive."
Collins worked in the book business for over 50 years. He spent the majority of that time in Seattle, selling books by appointment out of a house on 12th and Denny. This year, he and business partner Bill Wolfe relocated the shop north side of the city.
"He had books no one else had, and sold books no one else could," said Jamie Lutton, owner of Twice Sold Tales on Capitol Hill. "I bought a 10-volume encyclopedia of animals from him after saving up my shekels, and I loved that thing," she added. "I was nervously fond of him and admired him greatly. This is a huge loss for the community.”
Lutton also appreciated Collins's efforts in starting and maintaining the Stolen Book Network, an e-mail chain booksellers use to report stolen inventory or known thieves. "Louis did the hard work of organizing everyone to send each other pictures of thieves so we wouldn’t buy from these people, or else look out for them," she said. "I don’t know who’s going to take that over with him gone."
Chris Weimer, owner of Magus Books in the University District, said he'd been shopping at Collins's shop since he moved to Seattle in 1990. He remembers Collins as an affable character who was somewhat reserved but generous with his knowledge and expertise.
"In the days before the internet, he was very, very good at finding books for people," Weimer said. "He’d go around to bookstores all over the country, all the time, and if somebody asked him for a copy of something, he’d say he saw the book in X Y Z Bookstore in Sacramento two years ago, or whenever, and then suggest they call to inquire."
Dave Cornelius, owner of Easton Books in Mount Vernon, WA, knew Collins back in those days. He described him as "one of the best bookmen in the Northwest."
"He used to go around the country in a station wagon and do book fairs," Cornelius said. "Twenty years ago, when the internet got really hot, the book business declined rapidly. The last time he toured around, there were very few books to buy. He said he felt like a duck landing in the water, but this time the water was frozen over."
Nevertheless, Collins rolled with the rough times. Cornelius said Collins moved a lot of his good stock online early on, and led the charge in building up the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair into the glorious beast it is today, bringing in approximately 100 dealers from around the U.S and the UK. As regional book fairs go, it's one of the best in the country.
David Gregor of Gregor Rare Books in Langely, WA, had known Collins for decades and had run the fair alongside him for 13 years.
Gregor remembers Collins as a social guy, except for when it came time to hit the road in search of rare books.
"I took it as a real honor one summer when we decided to do a book fair together in southern California. We packed a bunch of books in his van, headed south, and stopped by stores along the way. He was very protective of the so-called 'secret places,' but I successfully convinced him we were interested in different books, which turned out to be the case."
"He was one of the last of the old guards in Seattle," Gregor added. "Not many left."
He will be missed.