FW Man Collects Nearly 50,000 Books

Collection stashed away in old bookstore

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A retired Fort Worth book lover rewrites what it means to be a collector. His hobby is as storied as his 80-year life and only fits in his old bookstore.

    Like all interesting stories, what’s behind the storefront on Throckmorton in Fort Worth is a tale you can’t judge by what you first see, but only by what you explore inside.

    FW Man Collects Nearly 50,000 Books

    [DFW] FW Man Collects Nearly 50,000 Books
    Fort Worth collector now stashes his nearly 50,000 books in his former bookstore. (Published Monday, Jul 25, 2011)

    Eighty-year-old Brian Perkins is a collector of the written word. To him, books are like the glue that keeps the pages of his journey bound together.

    This one starts on the secluded first floor of his old bookstore, now known as the Back Door Book Shop.

    “Oh, that’s a long story. Four years old I suppose when the book mobile would come to Portland, Iowa every three weeks and they would let you go in that school bus arrangement filled with books and pickup all the books that you wanted,” said Perkins.

    Perkins opened his store in 1955 and ran it until the end of its last chapter 40 years later in 1995.

    “When we retired we sold our last 80,000 books. It took 10 trucks to haul them away,” said Perkins.

    What's left in the space is his private collection -- a small library of somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 books. Perkins says it’d take three days just to figure out the number.

    “I don’t want to count them,” said Perkins.

    With so many books in his collection, people might be surprised to learn he’s rather picky. He sticks to what he calls "unusual” or “uncommon."

    “I’m looking for things that you can’t find. I probably look at 50 books at least for every single one that I buy,” said Perkins.

    Hundreds of books sit on top of each other in stacks almost reaching the ceiling. Even with being selective Perkins still has large sections including military, art, science, any religion you want, and more.

    “That doesn’t include books on how to write books or books about writers," said Perkins.

    Still, you won't find much fiction in Perkin's collection.

    “Every book is different, there have been 80 million of them. Or I say every book is different. That is why I don’t buy fiction… how many times can you tell a story? I think when I retired they were publishing 900 novels a year… about 3 a day and that had been going on for what you know 50 years,” said Perkins.

    Though the collection looks like stacks or piles to some casual observers, Perkins insists there's a rhyme and a reason in his grouping.

    “There must be something good about them or they wouldn’t be here. This may not look like it’s organized but there is a rudimentary foundation to it. I can’t imagine the guy who invented the Dewey Decimal system,” said Perkins.

    Perkins profits by renting out the first floor -- leaving the interest that became his job, to once again be his full-time hobby.

    “In 1969 they told me at that time that I either had to buy the building or take my books and get out. So…it…. Moving the books was sort of an impossible job which should have taught me something then,” said Perkins.

    “I would like to get these priced and organized. I realize it’s never going to happen, but it gives me something to do,” said Perkins.

    Now Perkins helps people looking for a book they might not be able to find elsewhere.

    “I’ll go up there and let them look around and see if they can find it and then charge them too little for it,” said Perkins.

    He’s always searching for more at thrift stores, estate sales, anywhere.

    “Oh you go out everyday and you look I have no trouble finding books -- I have a half car load about a week. If the first one you hit is a bonanza you don’t go home, you just keep going, might get two of them it just involves looking, looking, looking,” said Perkins.

    Some of Perkins’s collection came to him after the previous owner ran out of room.

    “I’ve bought 6,600 books from TCU that they had acquired and did not have a place for in their library and those are I think German language encyclopedia,” said Perkins.

    His collection isn’t limited to typed text.

    “Sheet music when you’re in books any sort of printed-paper you stop and look at and sometimes occasionally you run into sheet music and you just can’t leave there and I have quite a bit of sheet music,” said Perkins.

    Not yet in the will, the future of his oversized collection remains unwritten.

    “It depends. It’s complex. I’ve decided I’m not going to spend the rest of my life worrying about it about who gets what,” said Perkins.

    Leaving him to enjoy his passion in the way most people read -- quietly, in plain sight, open for those who are interested.