The Library Catalog of Mabon “Smitty” Smith
When you hear the phrase “book collector” what image comes to mind?
A gruff, older man sitting in a hole-in-the-wall storefront, surrounded by dusty books on overstuffed shelves? An academic with lots of letters after her name and a well-appointed library in her home? A new-money millionaire collecting first editions for their “investment” value? A bibliophile who scours listings and catalogs for the perfect title, edition, binding, but can’t bring herself to crack open the book to read it?
Surely it would be someone with a liberal arts background, at least, and maybe a fancy education; not meat-packer-turned-jailer. Yet that’s the origin of the private library catalog the Grolier Club acquired in March 2021 through the generosity of Michael Laird, proprietor of Michael Laird Rare Books.
Mabon “Smitty” Smith (1920-2002) was a resident of Enid, Oklahoma with an eclectic background; after finishing school he served in the Army Corps for a few years, became a meat packer for a local company, and eventually served as county jailer for almost 20 years. He was a founding member of his church and joined his local Odd Fellows Lodge. And he amassed a collection of almost 450 books, in just about every genre.
Fiction ranges from the works of John Milton to White Witch Doctor by Louise A. Stinetorf to numerous volumes of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. He had books on Francisco Goya, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Simón Bolívar, and Madame Curie; books about music, Imperial Russia, Nihilism, Mexico, Sweden, and diplomacy. Most of the books are in English, but a significant amount are in French, and he also had Spanish-English dictionaries and grammar books and a book of Yiddish proverbs.
At some point, Smitty decided to create a catalog of his collection. Not having any bibliographic training, he focused on recording just the titles, authors, and copyright years. He didn’t try to put them in any formal order, simply recording them by the box that held them, for a total of 349 books in ten boxes listed on 29 hand-written, one-sided pages. Someone else – his wife, Joyce? Another family member? – finished the catalog on an additional 7 pages, listing another 90 volumes.
The copy the Club acquired is not the original, which has been lost, but the sole photocopy made by someone in Smitty’s family and rescued from imminent destruction by the bookseller and Grolier Club member Michael Laird who gifted it to the Club’s Library. This sort of handwritten, inexpert cataloging is a rare survival in the bibliographic world that stresses tradition, erudition, luxury, and quality. It makes for a fascinating find and a good reminder that book lovers come in all shapes and sizes.
This article and the images by Grolier Club Cataloger Janalyn Martínez first appeared on the blog of The Grolier Club and is reproduced here with their full permission and kind thanks. Its current exhibition is 'A Century of Dining Out: The American Story in Menus, 1841-1941'.