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Island Profile: Sharing a devotion to books and bookmaking
Book collectors Bill and Stuart Buice of Shelter Island Heights are a couple for whom the printed and bound word is a way of life.
He grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and in many ways that deep Southern background continues to inform both his speech and courteous manner. He attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, graduating in 1961, and went on to Duke Law School.
It was during those years that he met his future wife, Stuart, then a Duke undergraduate and a fellow Southerner raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. On their first date, most certainly a foreshadowing of events to come, they attended a book auction at the Gotham Book Store on campus.
They married in 1964, after Stuart graduated from college and Bill from law school. They moved to New York, where Stuart did graduate work at New York University in American history. “We lived in NYU housing,” Bill remembered, “and we loved all of those Fourth Avenue bookstores. There are only one or two left now.”
Bill began work in the city, first as an estate planner in the trust department of Manufacturers Hanover Bank for two years and then at the firm where he is now a partner: Davidson, Dawson & Clark, LLP.
As busy as he was with his work, he had always had an ongoing attachment to books and literature. It led almost inevitably to an interest in collecting. “I was interested in the English Romantics, Keats and Shelley and the other young Romantics as well,” he said. “I got very interested in the whole period, from 1780 to the 1830s. It was a time of great ferment in England, and I started collecting the English radicals, Wordsworth and Coleridge.”
His interest also involved the radical women of the period such as Mary Wollstonecroft.
Stuart is an avid Bloomsbury Group aficionado and has collected the works of Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and others.
For many years, Bill served as president of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, which supports scholarship among academics in the field of English Romanticism and maintains the Keats-Shelley Memorial House in Rome, where Keats died in 1821.
“That’s been fun,” he said. “We’ve had a great deal of fun traveling to Italy and England and have met a lot of fascinating people. It has been an absolutely wonderful journey for us.”
In the mid-1970s, he joined the Grolier Club, the oldest club in America dedicated to the art of the book. Founded in 1884, it maintains a clubhouse on New York’s East Side. Bill has been very active, serving as president for seven years in the 1990s.
“It still exists,” he said. “It’s very strong and it’s provided us with wide friendships in the world of the book outside of New York City.”
One might have expected a scream of pain after asking this lover of the printed page about the rise of e-publishing. Exactly the opposite was the case. “I owned one of the first e-books,” he said. “I thought it was like Gutenberg. I thought there was a new Gutenberg out there. He changed the world and e-publishing might very well do the same thing and in fact it is. It’s revolutionizing the way people obtain knowledge and how they read.” He bought one of the first readers, long before Amazon’s Kindle and the others, and was fascinated with it, he said.
“We don’t have much shelf space left, being collectors,” he added, “so we use it to read our mysteries and books like that. I think the library may suffer because we don’t have many books to take to the book sale any more.”
“I don’t think the book is going away. Beautiful books will always be with us. The art of fine printing is very much alive and well in the United States and abroad. People will buy books whether they’re beautiful or not but electronic readers are obviously here to stay.”
Bill and Stuart are Shelter Islanders now of long standing. Through a neighbor in the city, they were invited for a weekend in 1966. “We fell in love with it, came back the next year with them, then rented for a few years. Then we bought our first house in 1969 on Clinton Avenue and this one in the Heights in 1990. Our children have grown up here. It’s been a wonderful experience. They spent their time at the Heights tennis courts, the beaches, working summers in the restaurants, teaching sailing at the Yacht Club. It’s been a wonderful place for them to grow up and this is the place they want to come back to.”
Their son Charles and his family live in Brooklyn with their two children and rent here for the summer. Daughter Merrill and her husband and children live in San Francisco and come here as well, staying with Bill and Stuart.
Both Bill and Stuart have been active with the Heights Property Owners Corporation as well as with the Shelter Island Library and Union Chapel. Stuart is active in the Garden Club and cherishes her protected garden behind the large white house on Prospect Avenue.
Bill is especially enthusiastic about Bliss Morehead’s Poetry Project. “That’s a really important undertaking,” he said, having been one of the readers at the last presentation in the Havens House barn.