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Richard Morgan: bibliographer & collector of Ohio imprints

By Deborah L. Porter author of article
Source: Interloc News, October 1997

"Collectors with money are like dealers with prices. We never know what we'll pay for a book until we actually pay for it," says businessman Richard Morgan, who also happens to be an avid collector of Ohio Imprints.

Morgan is a man with a mission. His goal? He'll tell you he hopes to promote interest in the history of the book in the state of Ohio. But one senses there is probably even more to it than that. Morgan is slowly building a subject library of all of the items published in the state of Ohio before 1850. This is no small task. He is also working on the completion of a bibliography of this subject, and his database currently lists over 8500 titles!

"I jokingly say I work to buy books and if I had all of the money in the world, I probably wouldn't be working," he says. Well, maybe not working for pay, but Morgan would still be hard at work, finishing his bibliography and adding to his collection.

How does one develop an interest in such a broad category of materials? Years ago, while pursuing his Masters Degree in History at Indiana University, Morgan wrote a seminar paper on South Carolina printer Peter Timothy, which piqued his interest in the printing field. During his first teaching job at Clemson University, in South Carolina, he co-authored the book "A Descriptive Bibliography of South Carolina Imprints 1731 to 1800." After moving to Ohio, he published current awareness materials on various topics, including American History, Psychology and African American history. He then entered the business world in 1970, and currently owns and operates Basic Office Supply in Willoughby, OH, a small town near Cleveland.

Conducting Research

Writing a bibliography requires an organized, inquiring mind, a great deal of tenacity, and an unswerving commitment that is hard to fathom. But Morgan likens his hobby to detective work. "I come across a book or pamphlet on any number of different topics, and look beyond the title. Even though books end up being the production of a well-educated class of people, they nevertheless provide a reflection of the total society—the social needs, desires, and experiences they went through. I also suppose I want to be able to assist people in finding information. Of the 8500 titles in the database, 25% are not known or available to the general public."

When he first began compiling information for his database, Morgan perused all of the available bibliographies on the subject. He then turned to private collector catalogues of local book dealers, particularly those of Ohio booksellers Bob Haymen and Ernie Wesson. "They probably put out over 100 catalogs and I've read every page of every one, although it took a couple of months to do so." He also logs onto the OCLC database through the Cleveland Public Library system, visits area libraries and takes time to go through the rare book areas to gain bibliographic information.

"One summer I spent some time in Cincinnati and visited the Cincinnati Public Library and the Historical Society. I literally copied the cards of titles of books. I also visited the Western Reserve Historical Society which has half of all of the books and pamphlets published in the state in my research area."

Morgan relies on a database management system to store all of his bibliographic information. The bibliography, which he hopes to complete in time for the State of Ohio's 200th Anniversary in 2003, will include annotations about the book and the author, and a multiple subject index. Morgan estimates that over a fifth of the entries in his database are not available in any other database in the world. He will conduct a free search of the database for those that are looking for information on any title upon request.

Building a Subject Library

Since Morgan is a private collector, building a library of this magnitude could be considered a daunting task. "Most collectors have subjects. Mine is a state bibliography with a state interest. I collect anything published before 1850 in the state of Ohio, except the Laws of the State."

He is more interested in the book itself than in its condition. "Most of the books that were printed in Ohio are books of a practical nature—books having to do with education, building, how to plow, how to raise horses. People did not have a lot of leisure time, so there are not a lot of novels. These books were used, so many are in terrible condition. I tell book dealers I am interested in getting the book and will worry about condition later."

The collection of over 1,100 titles is arranged in chronological order alphabetically by author. "My library allows me to look at the evolution of the history of the book in Ohio. I start with an 1803 Acts of General Assembly. Then see a little bit of change and improvement in the condition of the books. I can begin to find gold spines and elegant designs on the books after 1845. There are also decorative books in gold leaf and embossed covers."

Morgan estimates that 7 to 8% of his books are unique titles. "One of my most prized titles is the 1838 McGuffy Speller. Ironically, it was given to me along with another purchase as a free gift because the first 10 or 11 pages are missing. But upon examining the title page on the cover of the books, I found the original 1838 date. There are only two copies of this book and the other one is at the University of Pittsburgh. Even though it is defective, it's one I really treasure because it's unique."

"One of the nicest books I ever bought, I found on Interloc. It is a copy of the only magic book ever published in the state of Ohio. I had told another collector interested in magic that this was the only book published in Ohio that I would probably never get a copy of. Of course I found one within six months of telling him that."

Morgan conducts a search on Interloc the first week of each month. "I've tried other databases. The problem with the Internet is you have to search by author or title. One of the unique advantages of Interloc is I can search for books published prior to 1850 and search for multiple cities. Interloc is the only database that allows me to search by city."

He does have one suggestion for dealers to consider. "If dealers would code their titles Ohio Imprint, all I would have to do is conduct a search on that subject. But," he sighs, "life should be so easy!"

One of the difficult parts of collecting a subject of this magnitude is determining which items are worth investing in. "If the unique item costs $1,500 because it is an 1828 Annual Address of Andrew Jackson printed on silk in Hamilton, OH, which is an item on the market right at the moment, I'm going to pass on it. I wouldn't spend that kind of money on just a single title. On the other hand, I might end up spending that total amount of money on 10 or 15 books. It's hard to say.

I plan to spend the rest of my life developing this collection. I suppose enough is enough when they take your boots off—literally. My desire is that someone will be interested in keeping the collection intact as a reference. You could do a lot of research with what I have, particularly since it has a very high emphasis on educational materials."

But for now, he's content to finish his bibliography and continue adding to the collection in his spare time. "The biggest challenge is I'm a working guy and my hobby costs money. Also, I have a limited amount of time for this hobby, which is a related challenge. I wish I could buy everything, but I can't. Part of the challenge is paying for this—what do they call it?—this Gentle Madness!"