Hot Shop: Grey Parrot Gallery
Grey Parrot Gallery is a trove of priceless primary sources.
Alex Branch removes a slightly browned piece of paper from its plastic sheath. “Hold it in your hands,” he says. And in an eerie, pull-back-the-veil sort of moment, the remarkably legible script of Lilyann Williams comes to life:
I am a woman that in the year 1787 was taken a prisoner by the Creek Indians in your state and my husband afterwards died. I was pregnant when taken, and while a prisoner brought forth a female child—and in May 1795 I was brought into Savanah and exchanged for, but the Indians refused to give up my child, which is now near twelve years old—and now being informed that . . . there is a way . . . to get her from [the] Savages . . . I humbly petition your Excelency to . . . take such steps as to you may seem mete. [1799, letter to Georgia Governor James Jackson]
After more than a decade of amassing rare books, maps, and historical documents such as Lilyann Williams' letter, Branch, founder of real estate investment firm Branch Properties, signed on managing curator Kenneth Hosley to help transfer his treasures to a Buckhead shop. A professed cartophile, Branch is fascinated by the shifting shapes of land over centuries. “A map gives you so much more feel than reading a history book,” he says, pointing to a 1625 map that depicts California as an island. “It’s the extent of what they knew at the time.”
Bibliophiles will enjoy browsing through benchmark titles of American literature, all first editions, rare printings, or signed—Gone with the Wind, Atlas Shrugged, To Kill a Mockingbird, In Cold Blood, an edition of Alice in Wonderland signed and illustrated by Salvador Dali.
When appraising an item, Branch explains, you look for three things: authenticity, condition, and rarity—which is why a 1925 first printing of The Great Gatsby might be worth $5,000, but its fragile dust jacket would be “a steal” at $90,000. Similarly, his pristine Audubon turkey, once the much-handled first page of an “elephant folio,” is worth about $165,000.
One might think it foolhardy to make such an acquisition in a poor economy, but there’s security in wrapping one’s money around a book or seeing it mounted in a frame. “It may become a little less liquid,” Branch says, “but it’s not affected by the price of gasoline."
Address/phone: 2300 Peachtree Road, A-101, 404-352-2990
More collection highlights: a 1535 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia with descriptions by Michael Servetus; a 1602 atlas by Abraham Ortelius; a 1779 signed letter by George Washington; an 1831 map of pre-removal Cherokee lands in Georgia; a first-printing, first-edition copy of A Christmas Carol; Victorian family bibles; and several pieces of Biedermeier furniture. Among the most affordable items are early-twentieth-century city maps and signed, first-edition contemporary novels for as little as $15.
Photo by Amy Herr