A two-story building located behind the Monte Vista Historic District home of attorney Bill Fisher holds a secret even most of his neighbors don’t suspect.
Fisher, an internationally recognized collector, has created an esoteric library and an extensive collection based on contemporary Spanish-language literature.
“I call Bill a young, generous and sharing padrino of Latin American history and culture,” said renowned Latin literature scholar Tomás Ybarra Frausto.
Fisher, a native San Antonian who works for Cox Smith Matthews Inc., and his wife, physician Mariana Muñante, share their comfortable home with their children, Christina, 13, and Matthew, 10.
On the outer wall of Fisher’s library is the illuminated “BOOKS” sign from the former Rosengren’s downtown bookstore. Inside, meticulously organized, lovingly preserved manuscripts, movie posters, books, letters and memorabilia fill the shelves, walls and storage spaces and overflow in artful stacks on Fisher’s desk.
Literature and publishing have always been a part of Fisher’s life. He has served on the Gemini Ink board for years, and is the incoming president of the board of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation.
When he was young, his parents, Lewis and Mary Maverick Fisher, started the North San Antonio Times and owned a suburban newspaper chain. Later, they founded Maverick Publishing, now part of Trinity Press. Both parents are published authors.
The collecting gene goes even further back.
“My dad’s father had a sort of private museum in upstate New York with all sorts of things … bizarre Civil War artifacts, American Indian material and antique medical equipment … and lots of old books,” Bill Fisher said. “I loved poking around in them.”
Lewis Fisher has become a passionate collector, too, amassing an amazing array of historical San Antonio images — the focus of a new book in the works with Trinity.
“My dad’s collecting started after mine did. I introduced him to eBay, where he has far outstripped me,” Bill Fisher added.
One of the younger Fisher’s best-known collections is focused on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s life and work, including books, correspondence and original manuscripts. A few years ago, he was invited to speak at the Library of Congress about Neruda’s deep appreciation for the institution and the close relationships he developed with the staff.
“That was my ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus’ moment,” Fisher said. The talk is on YouTube.
“I read Neruda for the first time in Alamo Heights (High School) 12th-grade Spanish class,” Fisher said. “I give a lot of credit to Alamo Heights teachers for sparking and encouraging my interest.”
But it wasn’t until his junior year at Rice University, when he spent a semester in Santiago, Chile, that he started buying Spanish-language literature.
Fisher’s zeal for collecting became keener when he attended law school at the University of Texas in Austin. That’s where he met Kurt Zimmerman, who is now president of the Book Hunters Club of Houston.
“We were trying to buy some of the same books, and the bookseller put us in touch,” Zimmerman said. “Starting young has given us lot of opportunities. Bill has become one of the foremost book collectors in the country. He’s also a phenomenal scholar.”
New Mexico-based antiquarian book dealer John Randall, another longtime friend, praised Fisher as “the most intelligent collector I have ever worked with. It’s getting harder and harder to find anything in his field that he doesn’t already have.”
Ybarra Frausto said highlights of the personal library include the Neruda items, a collection of pamphlets and handcrafted little books by Cuban artists, and Mexican-American books, with a special focus on tomes published in San Antonio during the period of the Mexican Revolution by Casa de Lozano and La Prensa.
“I had heard of his collection before I moved from New York to San Antonio, but I was surprised to find out how vast it was,” Ybarra Frausto. “And he is always willing to open his collection to serious researchers, scholars and other collectors.”
To Fisher, book-hunting has led to a wide network of literary colleagues, friends and experiences. His collection centered on the work of Mexican-American writer Josefina Niggli, who spent years in San Antonio, is a case in point.
“I got a catalog from a book dealer friend with a fascinating cover of one of her books. I loved it,” he said. “But she only wrote five books and I ran out of things to collect, so I started getting letters and other things.”
When he discovered the 1953 MGM movie “Sombrero,” starring Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban, was based on Niggli’s memoir of growing up in a Mexican village, he collected the entire production archive of the movie. He learned the late John Igo, a much-beloved San Antonio literature professor and writer, had gotten to know Niggli at the San Antonio world premiere of “Sombrero.”
From Igo, he learned of “The Defeat of Grandfather Devil,” an adaptation of the traditional Los Pastores play that Niggli wrote for a performance at Mission San Jose.
“This is not just trophy-hunting for Bill,” Zimmerman said. “It’s his connection with the book world.”
And, Fisher keeps on collecting.