A near-lifetime collection of Texas-related books and pamphlets was crowned with the April 23 dedication of the Mike Cox Texas Collection at the San Marcos Public Library.
The dedication came five years after Cox began donating his extensive Texana collection to the library. So far about 5,500 books and pamphlets have been delivered to the library and about 1,500 more books and dozens of pamphlets are yet to come. The collection covers most aspects of Texas history and culture, from books on ancient pictographs found in the Trans-Pecos to Texas Rangers history books to books about Texas books.
An elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters and author of more than 35 non-fiction books, Cox began looking in earnest for a forever home for his collection in 2013. While discussing his desire to donate his books with half a dozen or so libraries in Texas, nothing worked until he approached the San Marcos Public Library in December 2016. That same day he emailed the Library director Diane Insley, when asked if she would be interested in her collection, she replied that she was.
Since the San Marcos Library is only a 30-minute drive from where he lives in Wimberley, Cox was delighted to find a place for his books close enough that he could still use them for reference. . It delivered the first batch of books, over 900 titles, in January 2017.
“San Marcos is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, so I know my collection will be useful to more and more researchers and family historians over the years,” Cox said. “I couldn’t be happier with how library staff enjoy my books.”
Cox grew up around books in a family of writers, readers, and history buffs. He began collecting Texana while in seventh grade at what was then Lanier Junior-Senior High School in Austin. Although he initially acquired books for research purposes, by the late 1970s he was actively collecting Texas material “just because” as well as for use as a personal reference library.
In the early 1980s, it occurred to Cox that if he found a piece of Texana for sale that he recognized was below market value, assuming he didn’t need it for his collection, he should buy it to resell it. In the fall of 1983, he and the late Austin bookseller Tom Munnerlyn opened State House Books on South Congress Avenue. While Munnerlyn later bought out his stake in the store, Cox continued to sell used and rare books through mail order catalogs and at book and paper shows across the state. He also continued to build his personal library, visiting used and antique bookstores from coast to coast as well as in Europe.
Dr. Arro Smith, director of the San Marcos Library’s Technical Services Division – and curator of the Cox Collection – said at the dedication that 25% of donated books are rare and 2% are bibliographically unknown. All, he says, are in excellent condition and are titles that will be useful to researchers.
The collection is open to scholars by appointment, but due to their value and, in some cases, their rarity, the books cannot be borrowed.
“Giving away most of my books hasn’t been easy,” Cox said, “but most collectors are only a little less afraid of having their collection shattered at an estate sale or sale. auction than death. I couldn’t be happier with the relationship I have with the San Marcos Library.
Cox said at the inauguration that he would continue to collect as long as he was able to get around to a bookstore, antique mall or museum. But from now on, he added, if he finds something that isn’t already in his San Marcos collection, he will buy it for the library.
Information provided by San Marcos Public Library