Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize Winner Auroura Morgan on Illustrated Botanicals, Field Guides, and Tattooing

Auroura Morgan

Auroura Morgan

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Auroura Morgan, winner of the 2023 Honey & Wax Book Collecting prize for female collectors aged 30 and younger.

Where are you from / where do you live?

grew up in Cookeville, Tennessee, it’s a small town about an hour and a half east of Nashville. I currently reside in Nashville and consider it my home.

What did you study at University? 

As an alternative to classic education at a university, I chose a trade that involved an apprenticeship. Now I’m a professional tattoo artist and own my own private tattoo studio called Black Lantern Tattoo Co.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

My primary collection focuses on illustrated reference and spans over 150 years of illustration in print, including illustrations from the 1850's up to present day. My focus is collecting reference material that serves as inspiration and gaining knowledge of the natural world in my career as an artist. The majority of my collection is illustrated botanicals and field guides. But I also collect books on human anatomy, illustrative techniques, color theory and tattoo history. If a book contains an art style in print that translates well to tattooing or information pertinent to tattooing, it qualifies for being added to my collection. 

I prefer collecting hardcover copies (when available) in good to excellent condition, with all plates intact. I typically prefer earlier editions and printings, but I’ve become flexible on that depending on if more plates or illustrations were added. I also have a secondary collection that focuses exclusively on hardcover leisure reading genres that I’m personally interested in like philosophy, psychology, poetry, and fiction novels. 

A selection of Auroura Morgan's collection
Auroura Morgan

A selection of Auroura Morgan's collection

A selection of Auroura Morgan's collection
Auroura Morgan

A selection of Auroura Morgan's collection

How many books are in your collection?

The amount of books in my primary collection contains roughly 90 books and growing. My secondary collection currently sits at around 30 books and growing. All total I would say I have about 120 books.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought for my collection was the National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America. It's one of the few paperbacks I have in my collection. I got it on a trip to the new bookstore in my hometown in my early teens. This one definitely sparked the theme of botanicals for my collection.

How about the most recent book?

My most recent book is the Popular Edition of Birds of America by James Audubon from Macmillan publishers in 1950 with 288 full color plates. It’s a smaller hardcover copy, but I was excited to get my hands on any edition I could that contained these illustrations.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My favorite in my collection is Wild Flowers of the World by Brian D. Morley and Barbara Everard. It's got so many large and beautiful color illustrations. But I'm also quite obsessed with the lithographs in The Meyers Lexicon.

Best bargain you’ve found?

The best bargain I have ever found on a book was actually for my leisure collection. There’s a buy, sell, or trade bookstore in my neighborhood called McKay's that has bins of free discarded books placed at the entrance of the store. One day I was glancing over the bins and on top I found a hardcover, first edition, first printing (complete with errors) of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s actually one of my most prized possessions, because it's such a wild and unbelievable find for $0. With it being a highly sought after collectible, I often wonder if it was left there for someone to find or if no one at the bookstore recognized the value of this book.

How about The One that Got Away?

The one that got away was a beautifully bound large edition of Birds of America by James Audubon. I wish I'd taken better notes on the details of the book. It was bound in black leather with gold letterering and was at least 11in x 14in, if not larger. It was $175 and was the largest and prettiest reproduction of this book I've seen. I was younger and didn't have the extra money to buy it. I actually regret not borrowing money or attempting to negotiate a hold until my next paycheck.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The holy grail for my collection actually changes all the time. At one point it was getting a set of The Meyers Lexicon, which I did attain. Currently I’m into finding books that contain older botanical illustrations from the 1500’s up to the 1850’s. So a reproduction copy of The New Herbal of 1543 by Leonhart Fuchs is really high up on my list. I’m really into anything regarding the history of botanical illustration and field guides at the moment. So I'm attempting to collect an entire set of the early Houghton Mifflin field guides with the green/teal hardcover bindings. I’m also on a mission to collect first edition hardcover copies of every book that Alan Watts wrote, since he’s my favorite philosopher in recent times. I’m constantly finding out about books that would make lovely additions to my collection. I'd say the holy grail is the joy that I get from experiencing these books, once I actually get them. 

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

My favorite rare bookstore would be Rhino Books in Nashville. I often ask their staff for recommendations based on my collecting interests. It's common for me to go home with a stack of books everytime I visit them, most of my books have come from them. I would describe their bookstore as a book lovers paradise, because I have spent hours and hours there. They have a beautiful floor to ceiling maze of hand selected books, complete with a very friendly bookstore kitty, and there’s also a coffee shop next door.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

I can’t imagine such a reality, unless books never existed. In the off chance that that reality exists, I would probably turn my home into a mini botanical garden with beautiful exotic plants from all over the world. I would probably primarily focus on cacti, because their blooms are beautiful and seem to be vastly underrated as far as flowers go. A chromatically arranged flower garden would probably be another option ranking high up on the list.