Didn’t Need Santa This Year!

I’m sure most of the Delaware Bibliophiles have made it through the 2001 holidays without much trouble, and I hope each an every one of you is continuing to add wonderful material to your collection(s). On Christmas I usually get one or two items that somehow related to books: either something for the Mosher collection, or something usable for it like bookends (I’ve found I can never have too many bookends). This year was on par with what I had expected. A very nice set of marble bookends and a decorative set of rams head bookends are presently propping up some once slanted books on the shelves. But what I still marvel at are two occurrences, one just before Christmas and one just following the same day of rejoicing.

Less than one week before Christmas I got a call from a big city dealer who had just bought a large collection filled with an eclectic variety of books. He apparently paid a lot for the collection and wanted to recoup as much money as fast as he could. Now all year long I pummel my fellow dealers with messages about my Mosher wants. Sometimes I get responses about how exasperated they get seeing yet another notice about “Mosher Books Wanted,” but it does make an impression and here is a very good instance of why it pays to constantly keep in contact with potential dealers about your wants. All this dealer knew was that I’m the guy to whom to quote Mosher stuff. On the phone he mentioned that there were around twenty items. He started to read titles and I knew immediately what series it was from, what the book looks like, etc., and I guess I must have started to yawn or somehow convey with the tone of my response that what he was presenting was rather run of the mill stuff. It continued that way for five or six titles, and then BINGO, I heard a title that snapped me to attention. It was one of the William Morris books Mosher did in very limited editions and it’s extremely difficult to find these and other like titles. There are about a dozen of them, not all Morris titles, but all the same size and of similar low limitations. I had nine of the twelve and this new title, The Churches of North France (1901), would make it ten. There were several other hopefuls, but based on just that one book being there, I was willing to bargain. The dealer didn’t want to mess around with researching each and every title, so he said that the deal would be all or nothing. Well, OK, I thought, even if I had to buy everything just to get to that title it could very possibly be worth it. He asked me to make an offer, which I did. He countered with a price double that offer. I figured, what the heck, if he’s willing to send “on approval” I couldn’t possibly go wrong if the shipment didn’t live up to my expectations. He agreed to send it that very day.

Funny thing, but I often get shipments via UPS the very next day if sent anywhere from Boston down to Washington, D.C., and although this shipment was being sent at the end of the previous day and at the height of the Christmas mail order season, it still got here the very next day. Amazing! I opened the box and got out small separately wrapped parcels of Mosher books. The anticipated title was there –and not only there, but unopened in its original shipping carton, a pristine copy. Secondly, although he never mentioned it, another title from that very same Reprints from ‘The Bibelot’ Series. I already had the title, but this was an equally pristine copy and certainly a grade or two above the one I previously had. Furthermore, and this is a BIG furthermore, all the rest of the books save one were in incredibly fine condition, some even still having the original tissue paper and original tiny gold fleur-de-lis seal intact. I felt my money was well invested and both the dealer and I were very happy with the transaction. That’s how things went going into the Christmas holiday, but this did nothing to prepare me with what would happen shortly thereafter.

On the day after Christmas I got a call from a collector and quasi dealer who once hailed from Boston. He remembered my interest in all things Mosher and he decided he’d like to pick up some additional spending cash by offering some long held Mosher items. We had a good conversation and I found out that my initial worries about his immediate health were unfounded. He just wanted to get some additional funds to pursue some other interests of his own, and he decided to offer me some select items. Select? Good heavens… I tossed and turned in bed that evening and the next few evenings thereafter. Rarely have I been given such an opportunity to add a considerable amount of high quality material to the Mosher collection. The memories of the acquisitions just before Christmas were now completely overshadowed by what was to come, and I was convinced that I had better make haste and set up arrangements to see and purchase the material. No sending it in the mail. No waiting until warmer weather. No delaying until I could get the funds together. NOW was the time I had to kick things into action, indeed, before this fellow would rethink his position and decide differently on the morrow. So hasty arrangements were made for my wife, Sue, and I to drive a considerable distance to purchase the material on December 29.

Upon our arrival we talked about everything but Mosher. We saw major collections of books and all sorts of artifacts. We even walked to a nearby market to get a bite to eat and to take in the local sites, but nothing was discussed about the books. You can imagine what was going through my mind with the kaleidoscope of all these distractions keeping me from the purpose of my stay, but suffer them one must if one can hope to grab the gold ring while steadying oneself on the merry-go-round. Oh, not that it wasn’t delightful talking, reminiscing, and seeing so many treasures, but impatience is a natural sort of thing and I was so close yet still only seeing from afar. But things would change, and change dramatically in the later afternoon.

We finally all got to the point where the word of my craving was spoken: Mosher. I was all eyes and ears, pumped up with adrenaline, and ready for the fray. Sue and I were escorted to the second floor where we entered a little room surrounded by barrister cases. In them I could see some Mosher material drowning in a sea of other books. Then we got down to business. Each piece was called out appearing almost as if to a roll call. Leather bound volumes, come out! Mosher books printed on real vellum, come out! Special printer’s proof, make yourself known! Mosher related letters, come hither! And so the remainder of the afternoon proceeded with each and every summoned book making its way before me and standing in judgment for price offer, counter offer, and eventual agreement. The books began to form little piles and the dollar figures began to mount, and mount quickly for this was choice stuff and I was paying nearly double over the last purchase price paid by the then current owner. Finally twenty books later and I could take no more. Indeed, I’d go into debt taking just these, but it was an encumbrance I was more than willing to force upon myself. My wife, God bless her, maintained her composure and equanimity without flinching, knowing full well that we had been seriously discussing the need to new carpeting throughout the upstairs of our home, and a new floor covering for the kitchen. For the moment the floors would have to wait. Flooring can be ordered up at will, but good books, the books of one’s collection, come only sparingly and have to be purchased when the time is right or they’ll most likely never come around again.

When the day was over I paid half down on the small stash and we loaded two boxes of Mosher goodies in the back seat of the car, and Sue and I prepared to make our journey home once again. It took several hours to make it back to the house. Of course, my conversations were mostly about the books that I had acquired and how important it was to nab them when presented. I’m sure my conversation must get rather boring at times because it keeps revolving around the same thing, but luckily I’m blessed with an understanding companion who enjoys participating in the hunt along with me. Ah, the hunt. Things go so slowly at times, but then all of the sudden a fox darts out of the bushes and the hunt is on! We collectors live for times like that, don’t we?

After 11 PM my wife called it quits and went to bed. I stayed up until 4:30 AM the following morning to attend to matters of book care. Where mylar covers were needed, they were made. Where some bindings needed minor refurbishing, I attended to the areas in question. Where some vellum pages needed cleaning, they received the attention necessary to make their pages flawlessly clean and white. I didn’t get to complete these tasks by 4:30, but I thought it was time to pack it in when I discovered I was dozing off with book in hand only to awake with a start when I must have felt my hands drooping and the book slipping from my grasp. Gasp!

All in all there were twenty one little treasures that entered the Mosher collection that night, included six books printed on real animal vellum. Vellum is the “skin of a newly born calf, kid or lamb prepared for writing [or printing] upon by stretching and polishing with alum” (Glaister’s Glossary of the Book). Also referred to as parchment, it is “the flesh split skin of a sheep or goat, and sometimes of other animals, which is scraped, dressed with lime and pumice, and prepared for writing [or printing] upon” (ibid). Most of the vellum Mosher had his books printed upon was Roman vellum, i.e., vellum from Rome prepared by the same manufacturer that produced the vellum for the Pope’s many decrees and official documents. It is a little known fact that Mosher printed more titles on vellum than any other printer or publisher in the United States. I had already managed to get fourteen of these books printed on vellum ( including a second copy of the 1902 Rubáiyát which I found at the last ABAA show in Boston), but now I added six more to the booty:

Dowson, Ernest. CYNARA: A LITTLE BOOK OF VERSE, 1907. Copy No. 3 of 5 printed on Roman vellum and signed by Mosher. This copy bound by Bennett of New York City in full green morocco with matching slipcase.

Lathrop, George Parsons. THE CASKET OF OPALS, 1900. Copy No. 4 of 15 privately printed on vellum by Mosher and Gertrude Cowdin. Bound in flexible vellum with brown silk ties and title in gilt on spine (in board case). This is a presentation copy with an undated letter on her 13 Gramercy Park stationary: “My dear Mr. Lacy [Frederic Lacy at Putnam’s in NYC]. Will you accept this little book which Mr. Mosher has done for me & which I find so very charming. It has been a favorite poem of mine for a long time. I never felt that I sufficiently thanked you for all the trouble you took with the catalogue of my books which has been of great value to me. Trusting you will be pleased with the ‘Casket of Opals’ Very sincerely Gertrude Cowdin.” Cowdin is the co-publisher of this privately printed book from the Mosher Press, and the only other copy I’ve ever seen in my research travels about the country for the Mosher bibliography was the Norman Strouse’s copy now at the University of San Francisco.

Mosher, Thomas Bird, ed. A LITTLE GARLAND OF CELTIC VERSE, 1905. Copy No. 6 of 10 copies printed on Roman vellum and signed by Mosher. Bound in quarter green morocco over floral boards by “Mr. Bogardus, binder to the Huntington Library.” From the library of M. S. Slocum of Pasadena, CA with his typed note.

Symons, Arthur. LYRICS, 1903. Copy No. 9 of 10 printed on Roman vellum and bound in full flexible vellum with title gilt stamped on spine. Ownership bookplate of Mary Adele Philo and stamp of Edward W. Mische, neither individual about whom I know anything.

Watson, Rosamund Marriott. TARES: A BOOKS OF VERSES, 1906. Copy No. 6 of 7 copies, in sewn signatures ready for binding, in board case. This copy is also signed by the British Shakespearean actor, Edward S. Willard, and is now the second vellum book I have which carries his signature.

Wickstead, Philip H., trans. OUR LADY’S TUMBLER–A Twelfth Century Legend done out of Old French into English, 1900. Copy No. 3 of 4 printed on American vellum, signed by Mosher, and bound in Classic vellum with gray ties; title gilt stamped on spine; vellum proof of the cover and spine design bound in the rear. This copy from the library of Henry William Poor with his bookplate. Of course, the name Henry William Poor, like that of Robert Hoe, is synonymous with quality and rarity in American book collections of the turn-of-the-century. W. H. Poor was one of Mosher’s top customers and bought numerous Mosher books printed on real vellum, many of which he had bound by the Club Bindery. Although this copy is not in a Club binding, it is nevertheless a real treasure and I’ve added it to the ten other books I have from W. H. Poor’s library including two others printed on real vellum.

In addition to the above vellum books I purchased a number of other rarities including some notable bindings. One of these bindings, Sylvie: Souvenirs du Valois (Mosher, 1904), is a decorated full vellum binding by the noted California binder, Hazel Dreis (d. 1963 in Santa Cruz, CA), who studied in Paris and then in England under Roger de Coverly, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson’s instructor. She was a member of the Master of the [English] Bookbinders’ Guild, she then also joined the American Guild of Book Workers in 1926. If you’ve ever seen a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass illustrated by Valenti Angelo and published by Random House (printed by the Grabhorn) in 1930, then you’ve seen a sample of Mrs. Dreis work, for she bound the entire edition using Philippine mahogany sides and red niger spine with five raised bands. My newly acquired vellum binding of hers, which must have been an early binding, is rather charming and still carries with it an exhibition card indicating this was “Hand bound in vellum by Hazel Dreis | gold tooled – hand colored | [and] Loaned by Edward McLean.”

Another binding of merit is that by the Guild of Women-Binders on a copy of Mosher’s Old World Series Rubáiyát. This exquisite binding of full light brown modeled pigskin shows tooled illustrations in relief, the front depicting two figures walking side by side, and the back a design of grape leaves and grapes on the vine. A tipped in clipping from one of the Guild’s catalogues shows that this binding was executed by Miss Gaskell.

Of special interest is a twenty-one volume set of The Bibelot specially bound in 3/4 blue morocco with a certificate indicating it is one of 100 copies reserved for a special binding. I already had two such sets, one in red morocco and one in blue-green morocco, but this one rivals my red set and is so beautifully gilt stamped that one tends not to quickly notice that the spines are faded to green. But what is extra-ordinary about this set is what happened the evening of December 29 when I got it home. I was taking time to just sit back and enjoy these newly acquired treasures. I knew the set was purchased by its previous owner in New England, in either Massachusetts or New Hampshire, but beyond that there was no provenance. Actually I had seen this very copy a couple times before when I was allowed to view these treasures without any hope of getting them. Back then I had noticed how similar it was to my red set, and I even noticed that there was one major difference–the oval medallion on the front of each set was completely different. I knew that my red set incorporated a bird in the medallion, perhaps a play on Mosher’s middle name: Thomas BIRD Mosher. The set I got on December 29, however, had a monogram in it and somehow I never took the time to quite figure it out until I was sitting there in my favorite chair looking at a volume. Then all at once it became crystal clear. The monogram incorporated the letters FML. “I’ll be damned” I said under my breath, and sprang up out of my chair and headed toward my wife. “Look here” as I pointed to the monogram. This is the monogram of Mosher’s long time personal assistant, Flora MacDonald Lamb!!! This was her personal copy and the pristine nature of it goes along with the condition of other Mosher material she kept and maintained after retirement. This IS, most assuredly, Flora MacDonald Lamb’s personal copy of one of her boss’s most important literary productions. Unfortunately I never was offered the Flora MacDonald Lamb collection bought from her relatives years ago, but I have managed to get a book or two from her library, and now have her magnificent copy of The Bibelot.

A more esoteric item, but one which is significant as an incredible survival, curiosity, and example from the production process, is a printer’s proof of one of Mosher’s larger productions, Walt Whitman’s Memories of President Lincoln (1912). This proof set is for the 50 copies printed on Japan vellum (typographically distinguished from the Italian paper copies through the use of different decorative lead initials) and the pages are stapled together with the half-title on a cheap paper. It is interesting to note that when the printer first assembled the pages, the Foreword preceded the Contents page, but the actual books show that this was reversed before final printing. The proof is bound up in its own slipcase with leather label, showing the particular high value one previous owner placed upon it. The proof was sold by Carlson & Turner books back in 1985 and now has reached a home in which other important Carlson & Turner acquisitions reside.

To be sure, there are other nice items in this latest acquisition including two bindings by MacDonald of NY, a Sangorski & Sutcliff binding, a nice little Harcourt Bindery (Boston) binding, a Monastery Hill binding, but two other non-book items stand out. One is a letter from Mosher to Miss Louise Van Dyke dated December 27, 1921 in which Mosher discusses her wants and identifies her as buying “the pure vellum Lincoln and the Gissing on vellum.” It has been difficult to find out who bought the unadvertised Mosher books printed on vellum, and this is another piece of evidence identifying such a buyer. Incidentally, this letter was inside a copy of Memories of President Lincoln (1912) with Mosher’s bookplate in it.

Last, but certainly not least, I acquired my second letter addressed to Mr. Mosher from the owner of the important Ashendene Press in England: Charles Harry St. John Hornby. The letter I first owned was dated 2 April 1897, and this second letter was sent just a little over one month afterwards on 10 May 1897. The two are related and are now re-united in the Bishop Collection of Mosher Books. It records the exchanges between the two printer/publishers and even identifies the visitation by another printer from America:

11 Mount Street, W.
10 May 1897

Dear Mr. Mosher | Thank you very much | for so kindly sending me | the pretty copies of the | “Vita Nuova” [Rossetti’s The New Life of Dante] and the “Kasidah”. | The latter I had thoughts of | printing myself some | time ago when I first saw | it in Sir Burton’s Life. | With regard to ‘Omar’, if | I can at any time | manage to do so I will | send you a copy. I feel | somewhat as if I owed | you one, as I made use of | your Bibliography of the | English & American editions. | (with an acknowledgment | of the source from which | it was derived.) | I had a visit a few | days ago from a brother | amateur printer from | New York – Dr. E. Hopkins, | who has lately set up a | Press [Marion Press], and like myself | does all his work with | his own hands. | Yours truly | CH StJ Hornby.

Curious about whether or not Mosher ever got his copy of the Ashendene Rubáiyát, I contacted Paul Gehl, curator of the Wing Collection at the Newberry Library. Paul had previously helped me with some research for the Mosher bibliography in 1997 and I called on him again to access the Wheeler notes to see if he had Mosher’s copy. Charles V (Van Cise) Wheeler had bought Mosher’s Rubáiyát collection before Mosher died, and compiled a still unpublished three volume typescript entitled “A Bibliography of Edward FitzGerald, Composed of largely items in the collection of C.V.C. Wheeler including the collection formed by T. B. Mosher…” in 1919. A carbon copy set of the volumes was given by Wheeler to the Newberry Library in Chicago in May 1928 and is now found in the Wing Collection. Paul looked up the Ashendene volume and indeed, Mosher had a copy which passed into the Wheeler collection, but it appears that Hornby wasn’t the provider as he had hoped. The copy recorded in the Wheeler collection indicates: “Laid in bill, June 6, 1906, To Thos. B. Mosher, Ashendene Omar – $25.50. Received Payment, M. Kennerly, New York.” M. Kennerly is none other than the publisher and president of the Anderson Galleries, Mitchell Kennerly, who was very close friends with Mosher ever since arriving in America. Since the Ashendene also doesn’t come with an inscription to Mosher, I think it’s safe to say that Mosher didn’t receive a copy directly from Hornby.

And then from New Hampshire came yet another set of packages, all listed as “freebies.” It came from a gentleman I met years ago and to whom I’ve sent many Mosher books over the years. Now the collection is coming back to roost, but beginning this new year I’ve gotten a note that he’s sending an illustrated version of The Bibelot, and a number of other tidbits which I’ve delighted over receiving, So now you can see why I thought it might be nice to end my “Christmas” goodies with the content of the Hornby letter and a brief note on the charitable giving by a New Hampshire gent, and only say before closing that, as you can see, “I didn’t need Santa this year!”

Philip R. Bishop
January 7, 2002

Note: The above was adapted and revised from two articles appearing in the March 2002 issue of the Delaware Bibliophiles’ newsletter, Endpapers, used here with the kind permission of the president and editor of that organization and newsletter, Gordon Pfeiffer.