William S. Reese, 1955-2018
I hope you’ll forgive the personal nature of today’s post. Through mutual friends, I learned last night of the passing of William S. Reese, one of the titans of the rare book and archives world, and a longtime friend and mentor to me.
I first met Bill in what is perhaps the most unusual (and intimate) of ways - through the books he collected over much of his life. It was my pleasure to sort, describe, catalog, and share his renowned collection of American color plate books acquired by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. This work of several years provided me with an in-depth look at his collecting methods, his writing, and his outstanding scholarship. His book, Stamped With A National Character, was like scripture to me during my work with his collection, as were his notes and emails about his collection. It was an unusual and meaningful way to get to know him.
It was his writing and deep passion for rare books and their role as objects and artifacts in American history that led me to the career I enjoy today. His writing was both erudite and accessible, something I strive for in the writing I do.
After leaving Crystal Bridges, Bill was immensely generous to me with his advice and mentorship. He sponsored me for membership in the Grolier Club, and continued to mentor me as a professional.
Bill also knew John Jenkins well, and continued to deal in Texana, another area in which I frequently relied upon his expertise and generosity.
Reese founded his eponymous rare book company in 1975 (while still an undergraduate at Yale), producing astoundingly erudite catalogs, and sharing outstanding items for sale. He also was an extremely generous benefactor to the rare book world - endowing innumerable fellowships and programs throughout the country.
I could say much more, but allow me to close with Bill’s excellent talk given two years ago at Rare Book School: