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As Big as Dallas: Geroge W. Cook gift brings rare historical materials and collection support to DeGolyer

Giving to Central University Libraries

This piece originally appeared in Central University Libraries 2013-2014 Annual Report.


George Cook

A photograph taken at the Ford Exposition, part of the Texas Centennial celebration in 1936.

In February 2014, through a charitable bequest from the estate of the late George W. Cook (1949-2012), DeGolyer Library became the home of what will be known as the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection.

For most of his life, Cook was a collector. A boyhood fascination with stamps and coins continued into adulthood but was eclipsed by a passion for materials relating to his hometown of Dallas and the Lone Star State. After retiring from a relatively brief career in banking and investments, he ordered his life around amassing Dallas and Texas primary sources, says Russell L. Martin, III ’78, ’86, director of DeGolyer Library, who was instrumental in securing the collection for SMU.

“There are probably 20,000 items altogether, which we are beginning to process,” Martin says. “He was omnivorous – collecting everything from relics of downtown buildings to advertising blotters, pencils, matchbooks and yardsticks. Anything and everything tied to Dallas history was interesting to him. But probably his most concentrated attention was focused on early Dallas and Texas photographs and postcards.”

In addition to the collection, which has been appraised at just under $700,000, Cook gave the DeGolyer a residual interest in his estate.

“We’ll use some of George’s funds for housing and processing the collection, and we hope also to offer fellowships for research in the collection,” he says. “But the greatest gift is that we’ll be able to continue to buy and add to the collection, adding new resources to the foundation George has left us.”

The friendship between the library director and the collector spanned more than a decade. The two began bumping into each other at book fairs shortly after Martin joined SMU in 2001. “He was always friendly, engaging and interested in what the DeGolyer was doing,” Martin remembers.

Sivils Diner

Matchbooks / Sivil's tray / Life magazine cover.

“We also owe a great deal to his executor, Terry Christensen, and outside consultant Carol Roark, both of whom spent countless hours dealing with the myriad details of a complicated estate and complex collection,” he adds. “John Rowe, a great friend (and donor) to the DeGolyer Library also encouraged George to consider making the bequest. We appreciate very much their efforts, and we look forward to making the materials accessible to researchers, both online and in the library.”

The collection complements other DeGolyer holdings, Martin says. “Texas and the West are among our great strengths, and the George Cook Collection gives us some incredible resources for documenting the history of Dallas and the state. He was especially interested in social history and in people from all walks of life, not just the elites.”

Chronologically, the collection appears to range from a promissory note signed by Davy Crockett in Tennessee in 1829 to memorabilia from 20th-century Dallas, Martin says. Among the first items from the collection to be displayed publicly are a serving tray and matchbooks from Sivil’s Drive In Restaurant – a Dallas institution from 1940 until it closed in 1967 – and a Life magazine cover dated February 26, 1940, depicting a Sivil’s “curb girl.”