Shirley Balser, a rare-books and art dealer, died Monday of a pulmonary embolism at Sinai Hospital. The Pikesville resident was 80.
Miss Balser was born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park.
"She was a 1946 graduate of Forest Park High School, where she was art editor of the yearbook and wrote for the school newspaper," said her sister, Trudy Kaufman of Pikesville.
After earning a bachelor's degree in literature and art from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1950, she worked as a copywriter in the advertising department of the old Julius Gutman department store in downtown Baltimore.
From 1951 to 1961, she was employed as an advertising copywriter at the Gilbert Sandler Advertising Agency Inc. in the Standard Oil Building on St. Paul Street.
Miss Balser, who had studied creative writing at the Johns Hopkins University, maintained a lifelong interest in books and paintings.
"She had the courage to put her knowledge of art and books to the test and opened Studio North on Allegheny Avenue in Towson in 1961," her sister said. "She had art openings on Sunday afternoons and served wine. It was a happening."
Mrs. Kaufman said that her sister had taught herself how to use a miter box, cut mats and framing to frame the artwork she exhibited in her shop.
Drusilla P. Jones, who since 1987 has owned Drusilla's Books, a North Howard Street bookstore that specializes in antiquarian, rare and out-of-print books, worked for Miss Balser in the early 1970s.
"The artwork was in the front of the store, with the books in a backroom," Ms. Jones recalled.
"I spent many hours making facsimiles of the book covers, which were then filed in notebooks by subject matter. The actual books were kept on shelves in the basement. It was like a rabbit warren down there," she said with a laugh.
None of the books were marked with prices, Ms. Jones said.
"If a customer asked the price of a book, she'd tell them to come back in a few days. It was like she really couldn't part with them," she said.
"Shirley was a very reserved, almost shy person, but I learned plenty from observing her and listening to the requests of the customers about what they were looking for," Ms. Jones said.
"She came to my shop, and we remained friends. I really was very fond of her," she said.
In 1978, Miss Balser closed the Towson shop and moved her inventory to an apartment on Slade Avenue in Pikesville, where she lived until her death.
"There was no longer public access, and it was by appointment only," her sister said.
Miss Balser placed this entry in the Yellow Pages of every major city in Maryland and Virginia: "BALSER SHIRLEY 16 TO 20TH CENTURY PAINTINGS PRINTS & BOOKS."
"From the Renaissance onward, first editions, illustrated books, Maryland - for the collector who has no imprint from Maryland's years as a British province, she has a copy of Vallette's Commissary Guide, Annapolis 1774, Anna Katharine Green, with the engraved title page, bound in brown calf," wrote James H. Bready, author of the Sunday Sun's Books & Authors column in 1981.
At her apartment, "Shirley had every nook and cranny filled with books and artwork," Ms. Jones said. "She always had good books. She was a good scrounger and bought things she thought would be of interest."
Miss Balser, who had not retired, recently participated in the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show at the convention center.
In addition to books and art, Miss Balser enjoyed writing poetry and was active in several poetry societies.
Services were held Wednesday.
Also surviving are several nieces and nephews.