Mosher and Dr. Butterworth

At the most recent Sha-Dor Antiquarian Book Fair in Baltimore over the Labor Day 2003 holiday, I promised Jack & Linda Lapides that I would do an article on “Mosher and Dr. Butterworth” after she heard a snippet from the story and responded with some glee over its details. It is a delightful story about how we met and conducted business over the years. Dr. Butterworth was a totally delightful man in whom all the “old school” loves and rules of books were inculcated by an indulgent mother.

Dr. Theron H. Butterworth
Dr. Theron H. Butterworth

I met Dr. Butterworth in July of 1992. I had first received a typed letter on July 7 in which he indicated that he had gotten my name from a Dr. Timothy Mosher, a radiologist who had examined him at the Hershey Medical Center. While going through the examination Dr. Butterworth (or Theron which he finally demanded that I call him) was inquisitive as to whether or not Dr. Mosher was any relation to the publisher Thomas Bird Mosher. Theron’s mother, Elizabeth Pearce Rockwell Butterworth, had bought many Mosher books from the publisher over the years, and had directly corresponded with the publisher and later with his assistant, Flora M. Lamb, following the publisher’s death in 1923. The radiologist told Theron that he was distantly related, but also mentioned that there is a fellow over in Millersville, PA who currently has an exhibition of the Mosher books at Temple University. Occasionally Dr. Timothy Mosher collected some of the Mosher books, and apparently even bought a couple from Theron, but for the most part wasn’t interested in collecting them to any great degree, so Theron wanted to contact me to see if I had any interest in the books still in his possession. A couple of days later I was on Dr. Butterworth’s doorstep at the Alpine Nursing Complex in the Hummelstown – Hershey area. The tall, stooped over yet still dignified gentleman who answered the door beckoned me to enter and offered me a seat along with some refreshments, and thus began a delightful relationship with this tender, retired U.S. government health services employee.

Theron’s upbringing in an upper middle class home and his cosmopolitan experience were evident in his mannerisms, diction, and memories. I spent many hours together with him discussing his family background and upbringing, especially as it related to books. His mother always made him and his sibling wash their hands before touching any of the books in her library, or before she read them a story. When I got to know Theron, many of the family’s best books had long been sold before he moved into the closer quarters of the nursing home complex. No matter, we developed a delightful and respectful friendship. He had a number of books not worth my while to purchase, but I made arrangements for another Lancaster area book dealer, Jane Shull of the Book Bin Bookstore Unltd, to purchase the majority. Others were given away for library book sales, and a few items I purchased outright, but the Mosher material–well now, that was another matter. However, before getting to that, I just have to digress a little by telling a few little stories within the story.

I distinctly remember Theron calling me once and asking if I’d be interested in this or that book, and then he mentioned some wooden figures from Alice in Wonderland which sounded intriguing. When I got to his apartment, Theron brought out a little box filled with 28 articulated figures from Alice, including Humpty Dumpty, Bill the Lizard, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Jabberwock, the Cheshire Cat, and others. He told me the story about how his mother would buy these when she visited England and would send him a few from the set each time she traveled there. He recounted how he used to take Bill the Lizard to school with him and tease the girls. Actually he wanted to give them to his children, but nobody expressed any interest, so he offered them to me. At his dining room table with me at one end and Theron at the other, we got down to the nitty-gritty. I asked him what he wanted for the set. He named his price and I looked at him and told him I was sorry, but I couldn’t take them at that amount. I could visibly see his already bent over frame slump down even lower, his eyes staring down at the table in dejection. I paused, but then continued. I wasn’t willing to purchase them at that price, I told him, but added that I would take them at three times that amount. He looked up at me in amazement and I dare say in wonderment. “What?” he questioned. I proceeded to explain that I knew very little about them, and that I felt they were lovely little things. I liked the provenance, but his sense of what I should pay for them was, in my simple estimation, off. His smile returned to his face and I just knew we were in for another long afternoon of stories and reminiscences.

On another occasion we had come across a little booklet entitled Mr. Samuel Whiskers–A Play in Three Scenes and an Epilogue From the Story of ‘The Roly-Poly Pudding’ by Beatrix Potter adapted by Theron H. Butterworth. Indeed, Theron had done this back in 1933 through Frederick Warne & Co. of London, and reprinted with the original inscription Theron had hand-written for his mother: “Oh mother, mother, there’s been a ‘normous man rat in the library and he’s made us into a play. to Mother – July 30th 1933 – Theron H. Butterworth.” Theron gave me a copy of this adaptation of Mr. Samuel Whiskers, and a few days later I received a little box in the mail. When I unpacked it, there was a little vintage clay-fired and hand painted mouse–or rat, I didn’t know–just a little bigger than a golf ball in the seated position and dressed in an overcoat. He was missing a few of his whiskers and one of his ears, and his tail was a little worse for the wear, but still he was quite recognizable at least as a rodent. I called Theron and thanked him for sending the little mouse. “What mouse?” he replied in amazement. “That’s no mouse, it’s a rat–Mr. Whiskers!” Golly, I had really put my foot in the ol’ proverbial mouth. After concluding our conversation and offering my thank you’s and pardons, I set to mind the task of writing Dr. Butterworh (I never really got that hang of calling him Theron) a letter from the rat, Mr. Whiskers. Well, apparently I outdid myself because upon receiving the letter, Dr. Butterworth–OK, it’s Theron!–Theron’s secretary read it to him and they both apparently sat there howling in laughter at the insights and reportings little Samuel Whiskers relayed to him, and the comforting thoughts Mr. Whiskers had to say about his new home to which he was so rudely crated up and sent. Funny thing though, I’ve lost my copy of that letter, but still remember what a BIG hit it was with Theron and his volunteer secretary who had to read it to him because his eyesight was failing. I still have Mr. Whiskers who sits in a special drawer (at least that’s what he tells me he does) which I’ll mention a little later.

Of course, the original reason why I went to see Theron was because of a small Mosher collection he wanted to sell. (Gads, I did digress) Theron had discussed with me how his mother would sit down and write letters to the publisher, Thomas Bird Mosher, and later to his assistant after the publisher died. He also explained to me that many of the books his mother ordered were for gifts to other people. I did buy a lovely little stash of Mosher material from him which included his mother’s account book entitled

Catalogue of Books / Thomas Bird Mosher / Publisher / Portland / Maine
Property of / Elizabeth R. Butterworth / 79 Forest Ave./ Glen Ridge New Jersey

It’s an accounting of all the books she bought from Mosher, how much she paid, which editions she purchased, e.g., “2nd edition Japan Vellum”, etc. Some of these are crossed out and a name is written on the X like Diane, Dick, Rudge, given to Betsy on her 52nd B.D., Cari Dreckmeier for wedding gift, given to Stuart H. Merriam, and so on. She also includes some notes like that adjoining The Story of Amis & Amile about which she indicates “My first Mosher Book… gift from Chas. Rathbun.” To be sure, this is not an astounding find, but it is noteworthy in that it records a collector’s purchases directly from the publisher. More importantly, however is that it also came along with a little box filled with letters from Mosher in 1914 and from his assistant, Flora M. Lamb, from 1926-1941. I was very pleased to find these among the Mosher Press material and gladly added them to the collection along with a number of the books themselves.

When Elizabeth Butterworth wrote to Mosher or to Flora Lamb, she did so at an Empire-styled writing desk which also housed her Mosher collection, including a full set of The Bibelot (21 vols) bound in 3/4 red morocco leather with highly ornate spines. After several years of meeting with Theron, I could see that his physical well being was further deteriorating. He called in an appraiser for his furnishings and gave me a call asking if I’d have any interest in buying any of it except for a few items he wanted to keep with him when he moved to a more intensive care nursing facility. When I visited, he toured me around his little fiefdom and I saw a lamp, a box, the sectional barrister case Theron took with him to Princeton, and the writing desk his mother used when corresponding with the Mosher Press. We agreed on terms for all those items, with the proviso that he would get hold of his secretary who volunteered to handle his correspondence and record the story behind the desk. It’s an intriguing tale, and the following is from a typed letter from Theron H. Butterworth to me in which he reveals the romantic history of the desk:

My Great Grandfather’s Desk

My great-grandfather, Dr. Richard Watson Rockwell (born June 9th, 1810 died May 29th, 1890) was a Homeopathic physician and spent most of his life in Danbury, Connecticut. He was the son of Enos Rockwell and an Indian maid. According to tradition and some record in a volume entitled, I believe, “The Rockwell Family in the United States” it is indicated that Enos was kidnapped in a raid in a town in Connecticut and taken to live with Indians up north. We have no knowledge of what tribe. It might be the Micmacs because they were up in the New England area. He grew up with them and married an Indian girl (daughter of an Indian and a Canadian soldier). He came to Connecticut, settled in Danbury and had a child, Richard Watson Rockwell, my great grandfather.

Richard married Elizabeth Pearce by whom he had one son and several daughters. The son, Augustus Pearce Rockwell, was my mother’s father and by grandfather.

Dr. Richard Watson Rockwell had in the room which served as his office a desk recently described by an appraiser as an Empire Bookcase Desk, two section twelve pane two door bookcase, with hinged flap, three drawer base, turned feet, soft wood with veneer, replaced knobs, missing beading and some veneer). It was valued at 1,000 – 1,500 dollars. This desk has been in our family until recently when it was sold to a private buyer [Phil Bishop]. The rest of this paper details so far as is known the several locations and usages to which great grandfather’s desk has been put over the years.

The earliest history of this desk came to me from my mother, Elizabeth Pearce Rockwell Butterworth, who as a child used to sit on her grandfather’s lap, as he worked at this desk. There is a little drawer in the bookcase section of the desk where he kept a pair of small scissors. Mother told me that her grandfather used these scissors for many purposes in his practice and gave them to her to cut out paper dolls. This had to be in the latter part of his life for my mother was not born until February 1874. When the desk was sold recently the scissors were still in the drawer with a tag on them in my mother’s handwriting explaining about them. Dr. Rockwell kept on the shelves of the desk his professional and other books. On the bottom shelf to the left was his large chest full of various homeopathic medicines. When my mother received the desk, the chest was still in its place. Later it [the chest] was given to a museum.

I have not exact information about the disposal of the desk after great grandfather, Richard Watson Rockwell died. I can only assume that the things which he had in his home, including the desk, came to his son, my grandfather, Augustus Pearce Rockwell who was living in Bronxville, New York at the time.

My first memory of the desk was when it was in the upstairs living room of our home on Willard Avenue in Bloomfield, Hew Jersey. I was five years old when we moved to Bloomfield and I have a very clear memory of that house. This was mother’s personal desk at which she wrote letters [including those to the publisher, Mr. Mosher] and did her accounting. I have an early memory of standing beside her with my nose about level with the desk. Mother was writing Christmas cards and I was allowed to lick the Tuberculosis Association Seals, sticking one on the back of each envelope. Mother kept photograph albums and supplies of stationery in the large drawers of the desk. In the bookcase section of the desk she had books including her Biblio [sic, The Bibelot]. These are the beautiful little books with paper cardboard covers produced, printed and published by Thomas Bird Mosher in Portland, Maine. Later as bound volumes of these books were available they were also kept on these shelves. This is also where she kept her little notebook in which she entered the purchase of each of the little Biblio books and also where she made entries when she gave them away. As I grew older, I was shown these books and sometimes she would read to me out of one of them, things that a child would enjoy. She handled them as though they were gold or silver. Mother considered books as friends and always handled them with great care, and clean hands. We all had to wash our hands before we touched a book. I don’t think she ever sold any but she did give some of them away. Birthdays, Weddings, Christmases. Always to people who she knew would understand and appreciate them as something more than just a collection of words telling a story or reproducing a poem.

The family moved to Glen Ridge, New Jersey in 1923. All the furniture went to the new House. This desk to the best of my knowledge was placed on the third floor and used for storage. I next remember it as a china cupboard and the drawers being used for linen in the Glen Ridge home of my sister, Mrs. O’Neal Gordon. Some years later my sister and her husband moved in with my father and mother at which time the desk was probably returned to the third floor. Neither my sister nor I can remember it being in any of the furnished rooms of the house.

My next memory of the desk is when it came into my possession, my sister having given it to me, in the mid 1960’s. It was in my home on Huntington Street in Washington D.C. Then in my apartment on N. Pollard Street in Arlington, Virginia. And finally in my apartment in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania from January 1981 till December 1993 when it was sold. In all these locations it was used as a glass cabinet and the drawers for linen. I think it interesting to note that when the family sold the desk the purchaser was a man with a very deep interest in and love for the books of Thomas Bird Mosher. Once again Mosher books are on the shelves of this old desk.

Theron H. Butterworth
December 10th, 1993

To this day, Mrs. Butterworth’s catalogue, the small number of books in immaculate condition which Theron still had available from the original collection, two sets of The Bibelot, and childhood pictures of Theron and his sister, pictures of his mother and father, a large portrait picture of Theron and another of his mother, and some letters from Dr. Butterworth to me are still in that desk. It’s become sort of an altar to this family, and to the Mosher books they loved. And in the little drawer described above is that same pair of scissors with an attached label saying “Great grandfather Dr. Richard Watson Rockwell always kept these scissors in this drawer. He was the father of Augustus Pearce Rockwell, who was the father of Elizabeth Pearce Rockwell Butterworth who is the mother of Elizabeth Butterworth Gordon. 1944” as well as an original photograph of Richard Watson Rockwell (b. June 9, 1810; d. May 29, 1890) who originally had the desk built in Connecticut, or so I had been told by Theron. Also in that drawer is the little guardian of the desk and it contents: a little one-eared rat by the name of Mr. Whiskers who mourned the loss of his life-long friend and companion…

Theron H. Butterworth ’27

Theron H. Butterworth died in his sleep in Hershey, Pa., July 27, 1996. Butts came to us from Montclair Academy and Princeton Tutoring School. At Princeton he was a member of the freshman crew squad, the university band, Whig Hall, and Gateway Club. After graduation, he earned an MS and PhD at the U. of Wisconsin in bacteriology and dairy science. He then became a professional milk sanitarian, serving with the Texas Dept. of Health and the U.S. Public Health Service in Houston and Washington, D.C. From 1951-55, he worked in the secretariat of the World Health Organization in Geneva, earning assignments in India, Libya, and Liberia. He retired from the U.S. Public Health Service in 1972. He was chairman of the American Public Health Assn.’s public health section, and a trustee of the Society of Public Health Educators and of the American Natl. Council for Health Education of the Public. Many of his articles on public health education were published in magazines. He married Alice Sumner in 1931 and had four children: Nancy, Shirley, Charles, and Mary Elizabeth; a grandchild, and three great-grandchildren. In his later years, he became separated from his wife and lived at 451 Sandhill Rd., Apt. 223, Hershey, PA 17033. To his children, the class extends its deep sympathy.

The Class of 1927
(Princeton Alumni Weekly, 10/09/96)

©Philip R. Bishop
10 November 2003

This article is Copyright © by Philip R. Bishop. Permission to reproduce the above article has been granted by Gordon Pfeiffer, president of the Delaware Bibliophiles and editor of that organization’s newsletter, Endpapers, in which the article appeared in the March 2004 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.