Interview with Keith Crotz by Meg Miner Transcribed by Kate Browne BEGIN TRANSCRIPT
Meg Miner: Good afternoon. This is Meg Miner. I’m the archivist at Illinois Wesleyan
University. Uh, today is April 21st, 2016, and this is my sabbatical project looking
into our former president Minor Myers, Jr., his life as a book collector, um, and
a collector, apparently, of many other things. Um, and how all that came about and
the ways that it might have influenced the people that he knew and the institutions
that he served. So, with me today, uh, via Skype and cell phone is, um, Keith. Keith,
please introduce yourself and, uh, tell me how you knew Minor. Keith Crotz: Hi, this
is Keith Crotz. Uh, I met Minor on several phone conversations and then he came to
my book shop, American Botanist Booksellers in Chillicothe, Illinois. Miner: So, you
were—he knew you were a seller and he would call and make inquiries, then, about what
you had? Crotz: Yes, indeed he would. And he would occasionally buy from our catalog
that we issued four or five times a year. Miner: And what— Crotz: Our catalogs would
contain used, used and rare books on gardening, farming, and, uh, ornamental horticulture.
Miner: And about what time period was this? Crotz: This would have been, um, 1990
through say ‘91, ‘92, maybe. Miner: And then he would call and you would either ship
it or he would come and pick it up, or— Crotz: I would generally ship things to him.
He did visit the shop one time and bought a goodly number of items. Miner: (laughs)
And these were things he knew going there or he just saw—he came for something specific
and then found other things? Crotz: Exactly. He came for something he wanted to look
at. He liked ornamental horticulture from the 1870s, uh, both British and American.
Formal gardens, landscape architecture, uh, monographs on specific plants that were
popular at that time period. The latter quarter of the, uh, 19th century. Miner: Do
you recall any conversations about why he developed this interest? Or what specifically
he was collecting for? Was it for, like, design or to understand the plants, or…?
Crotz: His interest—his historical interest is what I, you know, gleaned from him.
And he was interested particularly in the Phoenix Nursery Company. In Bloomington,
Illinois. Miner: Oh, so local history. So— Crotz: Local history, yes. Miner: Yeah.
So, did he come alone on these visits? Crotz: Yes, he did. Miner: I had heard from
somebody else that they—that he had some—occasional people that he went shopping with.
So I wasn’t sure if this was a group visit or not. Crotz: Nope, he was the only one
I met. Miner: So, how interesting. Did you get a sense that he was doing this kind
of, uh, work or you thought it was just more of an interest in the period and the
place then? Crotz: Yes, I think period and place would make more sense to me. I never
was able to get from him exactly what he was gonna do with all these books he was
accumulating. And it was interesting, then, in the long term to attend the auction
of his library, and see just what it was that he had put together. Miner: What did
you think of that? Crotz: Um, from a professional standpoint, he had pursued volumes
of titles without real respect for the investment value of, you know, latter 19th
century horticultural books. He wasn’t concerned if a plate was missing or if the
binding was cracked or worn. He wanted the information inside the book. Miner: Do
you think that’s unusual from what you’ve seen of other kinds of collectors? Crotz:
Um, in garden books, not so much, because they’re not collecting them for monetary
gain. They’re for the information. But, um, in his case, it was volumes. Miner: Did
you see any familiar ones that you’d—that he purchased from you? Crotz: Oh, yes! Yes,
I bought a number of boxes and brought them back. Miner: Brought them back. What do
you think a collector would make of that sort of end of his collection? Crotz: Um,
disappointed, I think. So many years of putting it all together and then just a general
shotgun dispersal of it. Miner: Okay. Did you ever get the sense from him that he
ever sold any parts of his collections? Or was that just not part of your conversations?
Crotz: That wouldn’t—never came up. Miner: Okay. I— Crotz: I always tried to maintain
a certain—(speaking to someone else) several different colors. Yeah, she got a one-three
and a one-five. Yeah. (return to interview) All right, sorry. So, where was I? Miner:
You were saying— Crotz: Yeah, no, he didn’t talk about what he sold. I never queried,
you know, what he did with the books, what his intention was. You know, once he got
them. Miner: One thing that’s puzzling to people who I’ve talked to who are book collectors
themselves is that, you know, obviously your comment about condition, um, but also
that, um, he didn’t, uh, collect, it seems like, for monetary—you know, like, to make
an investment for, you know, his legacy or, um, or really to even redistribute his
collection. But he also wasn’t a member of any of the sort of book collecting societies
as far as I can tell. I haven’t found anybody yet that knows— Crotz: No. Miner: Yeah.
Crotz: No, and he didn’t—yeah, he didn’t belong to the Council on Botanical and Horticultural
Libraries. Um, he didn’t go to say, the Morton Arboretum that I know of in Lisle,
Illinois. I asked, you know, a number of questions like that at one time and, no,
he did it because he liked it. So I left it at that. But that’s interesting that we
all collectively have a similar viewpoint. Miner: Right. Crotz: That makes me kind
of smile. Miner: Yeah, me too. And, you know, it’s funny thing that people who have
puzzled over it or thought, well, he really couldn’t have been serious about collecting,
but—um, and I do think that by talking to people such as yourself that I’m starting
to get a better idea of, uh, his purposes in these things so your comment about it
being location-specific and local history- specific is very interesting and telling
to me as well but, yeah, it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t– Crotz: Right. Miner: –the
kind of guy who was gonna be a joiner into anybody’s club. Or be very critical about
any how many gathers there were or doing any, you know, sort of—what they taught me
in library school about books. You know, that sort of analysis. So. Crotz: Yeah, he
didn’t care about the signatures, the color plates, the bibliography per se was secondary
to his interests. Miner: But he didn’t say to you that he was sort of writing about
this particular topic or anything. Crotz: No. I, I would—if I were to venture a guess
toward that, he was very interested in the gentleman, and later the son, and people
who bought the Phoenix Nursery after it went bankrupt. Miner: Okay. Crotz: He had
a certain love for that one Bloomington, Illinois nursery. Miner: Well, and there
is a connection to that nursery in Illinois Wesleyan so that might have been part
of it. Crotz: Ah, there you go. Miner: Yeah. Crotz: I did not know that. Miner: Yeah.
Well, that’s wonderful. So, he was a catalog purchaser, you said, and sometimes on
the phone. Did he ever ask you to look out for specific titles or types of things
like this particular nursery? Crotz: No. No, other than just Phoenix. I went through
some notes on my computer database that I had to go to a different computer to bring
up even it’s so old. Miner: (laughs) Crotz: That was his interest was that nursery.
Miner: Yeah, that’s great. Um, did he ever talk to you about books in libraries or,
or any sort of, you know, sort of underpinning philosophy of his collecting interest?
Crotz: Uh, not that I recall… Miner: Sure. Okay. So, um, are there other things you
think we should know about your encounters with him or the kinds of things that he
was after? Crotz: Um, no. No, it—if—it was—if the subject and the title caught his
attention, that was important to him. I don’t think he came in armed with a list of
any particular authors and titles. He just wanted to lock and see what was available
on the shelves. Miner: Okay. Crotz: And that was pretty evident, at his, you know,
the sale of boxes. Miner: What was evident? That… Crotz: That—evident that there was
not a great deal of discipline— Miner: Yeah. Crotz: —in his interest or his buying.
Miner: Have you countered—encountered other people like that in your experience? Crotz:
Oh, yes. Yes. Individuals that, um, buy because they want to read on a particular
subject. And I say, you know, this is a $60 book. You can get it at the library. No,
I don’t know when I can get to it but I want to have it. Miner: So is there a common
characteristic that you see among these people? Just their interest in those topics?
Crotz: You—I don’t think that you can paint them with that broad a brush. Miner: Okay.
Crotz: Each collector is very individually different. Um. I don’t want to use packrat
as a word, but you have the impecunious collector who is very careful and—I think
that’s the right word. Miner: I love that word. I’ve not heard it before. Crotz: You
have those that—there’s a book collecting title with that name on it, I think. And
there are books about book collecting, you know, Round and About the Book-Stalls.
There are quite a few books in the 1930s and ‘40s that deal with the subject of book
collecting as a discipline. Miner: Hm. Yeah, and some of those were in his collection
too. We kept some of those. We kept about ten percent of what he had. Crotz: Ah ha.
Miner: I don’t recall this particular title. Crotz: That’s interesting. Miner: Yeah,
impecunious. That’s an interesting word. I’ll have to look into that some more. Um.
Crotz: Yes. Miner: But we kept part of the collection that we were collecting in in
our special collections. So, um. But most of it just really wasn’t suitable for an
undergraduate college. Crotz: No, no. Miner: Um, so— Crotz: I mean, The Italian Gardens
of the Renaissance, even for a graduate would have been too much. Miner: (laughs)
So the type of collector—I don't know—any—I lost my thought. You were talking about
different types of collectors. Crotz: Yeah, some were, um, you know, like, Dr. Myers
was with volume. Others were very surgical in their specific interests. Um. Others
would, like, you know, two or three books, or some would say to me, I want the best
book about this particular garden topic. And, you know, having read bibliographies.
Having read, um, Wave Hill and some of the Washington, D.C. botanical libraries, you
know, they’ve got their idea about what’s important—so you try to put that together
for a person. Miner: Huh. Are you a collector yourself? Crotz: I collect books by
an author named Rick Bass, and esteemed the fictionist Hunter S. Thompson. Miner:
Hm. So not gardens. Crotz: That’s about it. Miner: Okay. Crotz: No. No, I sell garden
books. I do not collect garden books (laughs). Miner: That’s interesting. That is
so interesting. How did you get into collecting? Crotz: Well, it—um, I started out
collecting books on—my mom was an English teacher so I was always reading. And so,
I started with some early fiction authors and put together a collection of some of
those. And, of course, in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, put together collections of,
uh, some guy named Stephen King. And was laid off from a job and started—I was in
Philadelphia at the time and I started working part-time for a bookseller and after
a while they said, you know, why are you interested in fiction? You’ve got these botany
degrees, you’ve got this experience with plants. There’s only two other plant-associated
booksellers in the United States. You need to go over and do that. Miner: Oh wow.
Crotz: It turns out my undergraduate degree in the history of science helped considerably.
Miner: Hm. Crotz: So, you know, thirty some odd years alter, here we are talking.
Miner: Where did you, uh, take your degrees? Crotz: University of Illinois and Southern
Illinois University. With a year at the Field Museum just to connect everything together.
Miner: Wow. That does wrap it up. (laughs) Did Minor ever talk to you about how he
got interested in this kind of collecting? Crotz: If he did, I do not recall. Miner:
Sure. Well, is there anything else we should know about him or does that cover the
range? Crotz: No, I can’t think of anything. I wracked my brain trying to dredge up,
you know, any obnoxious trivia that comes to mind regarding him. He was just fun.
He was pleasant. He was jovial. He wasn’t, you know, a particularly serious individual
when it came to the books he was lookin’ at. Miner: Huh. Well, who can ask for more
than that? Crotz: Yeah, and it was fun. And, you know, Minor Myers, you know, I’m
interested in this, this, and this. I’m associated with Illinois Wesleyan, etc. And
he’s the dagum president. And it was just like talking to another guy. Miner: (laughs)
so pretty down to earth. Crotz: That’s what I found fascinating. Yes, yes. Miner:
Well, that’s really good um. Well, I really appreciate— Crotz: I hope this is added
some substance. Miner: It has, yeah. I love to talk to people who are—you have a particular
knowledge of an area that no one else I’ve spoken to does. So the bit about gardening
is really interesting. Crotz: Ah. Miner: And unique. So thank you so much for that
contribution. And thank you for coming to the auction. I hope you helped them find
other homes. Crotz: Well, thank you. Miner: I hope they found other homes. And, uh—
Crotz: Most of them—I still have a few of them, but not many. Miner: All right. Crotz:
And some I might be keeping just because I like ‘em. Miner: What’s so bad about that?
All right. Crotz: Nothing, nothing. Miner: Well, thank you so much, Keith. I do appreciate
it. Crotz: Thank you. It was my pleasure. END TRANSCRIPT Page 1 of 8