You could find books on the shelves at Louis Collins's Capitol Hill bookstore that existed nowhere else on earth.
Last night, the news started spreading on Facebook that Seattle used bookseller and Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair cofounder Louis Collins had died. Collins reportedly collapsed while walking his dog yesterday and had passed away before medics could arrive. By this morning, Collins's Facebook page was filled with loving tributes posted by friends and antiquarian booksellers from around the world.
Collins got his start as a bookseller in San Francisco, using his remarkable memory as a resource for customers who were in the market for specific rare titles. He worked as a bookseller for nearly a half century, right up until the day he died. For many decades, he sold books under the Louis Collins Books shingle out of a little blue house at 12th and Denny on Capitol Hill. He finally sold the property last year and moved to the north end of the city.
For a bookseller who made his name as a kind of human Google in an analog time, Collins adapted surprisingly well to the computerized age of bookselling. “I liked the idea of computers” before the internet, Collins told me, and he claimed to be the first bookseller in the city of Seattle to have his own website. Collins cultivated a hugely impressive collection of titles that couldn't be found anywhere else online, and he regularly shipped those books to loyal customers around the world.
He deeply enjoyed working as a bookseller, but the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair was a true labor of love. (The Book Fair has, for purposes of full disclosure, been a sponsor of the Seattle Review of Books since this site's inception.) When I interviewed him in 2016, Collins told me with no small amount of pride that while the doors of the Book Fair are open “it’s the best bookstore in America.” And at the end of the weekend, “when everybody packs up and goes home, it’s gone.”
Collins deeply believed in Seattle as "a great book town" with "great bookstores." Even when he worked as a bookseller in California, he would make frequent trips up to Seattle to buy books from our great readers. “There have always been very good customers here,” he told me. It was here in Seattle, among our readers and our collectors and our lovers of books, that he felt most at home. We will miss him greatly.