Angling and Adventure: One collector’s journey to making WSU Libraries history

Vernon Gallup's passion revolved around fishing. Courtesy of Corinne Hensley.
Vernon Gallup's passion revolved around fishing. Courtesy of Corinne Hensley.

Vernon Gallup wanted something different. Something unique. Something no one else had.

In 2008, he made history at the WSU Libraries by donating the largest single gift of rare books in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections’ 120-year past—about 20,000 volumes valued at $1.8 million. 

“He had a love affair with his books. I’ve never known anyone who was so proud of what he had collected,” said Corinne Hensley, Gallup’s daughter. 

The Gallup Collection—filled with tomes on angling, fishing, outdoor sports, and the environment—ranges from the 1400s to present day. 

Vernon Gallup was a wonderful fly fisherman. Courtesy of Corinne Hensley.

Gallup subscribed to nearly every fly-fishing magazine across the nation, and his love of the sport sparked his interest in book collecting, Hensley said. When Gallup and his partners at the Wire Installation Contractors company accumulated a large nest egg, they could finally pursue their passions. 

“He could get that fly just where you told him to drop it,” she said. “He would always go just there. You’d point to a spot, [and] he got that fish.”

Hensley said her father was the most wonderful fly fisherman she had ever seen. 

Hensley said fishing with her father was “just a blast.” She remembers fishing at her family’s ranch in Argentina, casting her line five feet from the shore and catching a fish with every cast, which was unusual. She also recalled a time when she and her brother threw rocks in the water, and Gallup yelled at them to stop scaring the fish.

“The Compleat Angler” by Izaak Walton.

Fishing and collecting his way around the world, Gallup made his way to Europe, where he sifted through libraries to find angling books they no longer needed. He then ordered them through the mail, where even rare volumes like the first edition of Izaak Walton’s “The Compleat Angler”—considered one of the most popular books published in English alongside the Bible—were shipped to his house, Hensley said. 

“The eye of the Gallups for collecting so carefully and also buying books that were expensive at the time but have only gone up in value, like the first edition of “The Compleat Angler,” really is a testament to their persistence and also something that would be very difficult—if not impossible—to recreate in the future,” said Trevor Bond, associate dean for digital initiatives and special collections. 

Gallup’s eye for detail extended to his meticulous card catalog of each book in his library, leaving behind an invaluable record for WSU librarians who are still sorting through the books, Bond said. 

“The Fresh-Water Fishes of Great Britain” by Sarah Bowdich.

His catalog rested in a closet next to his office. Hensley said for every book that came in, Gallup wrote a card for it and placed it in alphabetical order. Although he did not read every book he collected, he looked through each bibliography and index to see where its research came from, who printed it, and why. 

As someone who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English literature, Gallup simply had to do everything “the right way,” Hensley said. He redid his online catalog every few years, spending nearly eight hours a day for three months at his computer, even on vacation. 

“My God, it was a lot of work for him, but it kept him out of trouble,” Hensley said with a smile. 

Whether it was donating money to fishing magazines going through tough times or sneaking Hensley desserts, Gallup was extremely kind and patient, Hensley said. 

She remembers being a picky eater as a child, and her mother would not let her have dessert until she finished her food, she said. 

“So my dad would give me his dessert,” she said. “My hero.”

The Gallup Collection.

Gallup’s collection grew until he and Joan, his wife, purchased a new house in Bigfork, Mont., building a special wing specifically for their books. Across three floors, every nook and cranny was filled, and a dumbwaiter carried books from the bottom floor to the top, Hensley said. 

In 2008, the Gallups decided to donate the collection to WSU. On three separate trips, Bond said moving crews brought the books to the WSU Libraries’ archives, the vans groaning under the weight of so many books. Librarians realized it would take more than 10 years to catalog the collection. Bond’s colleague is still making his way through authors beginning with the letter “A” after six months. 

Bond said the collection has tremendous potential for research, given people are becoming more interested in the environment. Earlier descriptions of rivers and fish species are indicators of changes in the natural world today. 

“A Book of Small Flies”

A bibliographic group from Germany studied “Blacker’s Art of Fly Making” while a researcher in Scotland examined the detailed illustrations of “The Fresh-Water Fishes of Great Britain.” Sarah Bowdich, the author, ground scales from fish species and mixed them into her paint to create vivid renderings of the fish. 

Long after Gallup’s donation, Hensley used her father’s excess money to purchase a scanner, allowing WSU Libraries to digitize the books for consortias like the HathiTrust Digital Library. She said she wanted to provide greater remote access for researchers around the world and reduce damage to the physical books. 

“It’s always a good investment to give to libraries because that’s where students learn the most,” Hensley said. 

Although Gallup was a reserved man who would rather stay anonymous, Hensley said he would be glad to witness his legacy unfold. 

“I think he’d be very happy with the way it’s going, and the wealth of knowledge going out from the university because of it,” she said. “I know I am.”