Phone-book collectors without borders

“…The luminaries of phone-book collecting [include] Gwillim Law, a computational linguist in [Chapel Hill,] North Carolina, who at one point possessed more than 3,500 outdated volumes. (He has since started selling them off.)

“Law was inspired to begin his collection by an interest in cover art…. He continued collecting because ‘I just enjoyed the possibilities for looking things up…..At one point, I did a study of what fast-food chains there were in Connecticut by looking at all of the Yellow Pages.’ ”

— From a Talk of the Town item in The New Yorker, September 13, 2010

Phone-book collecting actually ranks among the more conventional of Gwillim Law’s many pursuits. He is, for instance, the father of statoids — that is, “major administrative divisions of countries.”

This entry from Law’s “Infrequently Asked Questions” page suggests his preoccupation with the concept:

Q. Are there any statoids whose names are palindromes?

A. Yes, there are eight…. Hajjah, Yemen; Karak, Jordan; Matam, Senegal (the latest addition); Nan, Thailand; Neuquén, Argentina; Oio, Guinea-Bissau; Oruro, Bolivia; and Oyo, Nigeria.

2 thoughts on “Phone-book collectors without borders”

  1. Trying to reach Mr. Law – regarding some original artwork that I believe was on the cover of phone books – either southeast or alabama – my father had a framed piece in his office (he had something to do with at&t, bellsouth, south central bell as his job) I know he knew the donnely people as they once flew quail to our house for a party. Anyway – i’ve searched out my limit and looking for your help if available. I have photo of artwork and would love to share with you and see if you have any input or suggestion. I’m currently having this reframed for my mothers 83rd birthday and would like to offer her some history. Artist name on it is Mallory.
    Thank you – if you reply direct to my email I will know where to send image.

    any help appreciated!

  2. absolutely fascinating – I was on a dating site and read a profile of a woman who said she grew up in the “United States Minor Outlying Islands”, a place of which I had never heard (and I am well-educated, intelligent, and have looked into (I thought) most everything. And yet here was a place totally new to me – a name, at least. (BTW I am well over 65yo.)

    So I had to look it up, which I did, and found out that it refers to several – many? – islands whose individual names I have heard of – most of them at least.

    But then I saw they were called “statoids”. Another new word!

    So when I looked that up and learned that it is to states and androids are to us, I saw, at the end, that it was written by Gillim Law, of Chapel Hill, NC.

    and then, I learned that he was famed for his collection of out-of-date phone books, and that he got into that, I guess “esoteric” is the nicest adjective I can think of, interest by seeing the cover art on phone books. That is something i have never even thought of, or noticed for that matter. Then I saw that his article had had no views and no comments. (or something like that – I forget where, and I can no longer find it on my filled-up computer desktop, I DID say WELL over 65 lol.
    anyway, I thought of suggesting to Mr Law (Dr. Law?) that he put interesting phone book art on his website to attract more viewers. I don ‘t know that it would, I just like to discuss with others the strange thoughts that go through my mind.

    And then I discovered the Chapel Hill Rare Book Blog which I find to be immensely enjoyable and regret that I did not know of its existence the times I was in Chapel Hill.

    My best regards to Mr G. Law, UNC, and the Chapel Hill Rare Book Blog.

    Gregor Weitzel

    PS is that strange or what? From trying to meet a date, to the US Outlying Islands, to “Stations” and its author, to UNC and the Chapel Hill Rare Book Blog that contains poetry regarding the “Great War” the “War to End All Wars.”

    (We wish.)

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