Receiving the Unexpected

As I’ve done countless times, I once again walked down to the Ephrata Post Office but this time I found a note in my p. o. box that there was a package too big to fit into my box. I wasn’t expecting any package so what in the world was this? Indeed, the package was far too big, and heavy, and I had to lug the thing up hills to my home. I took off the letter label and inside was this note:

March 29, 2008

Hi Phil,

Surprise! Whether this is pleasant or nuisance is your call. In any event over 20 years ago at an early Horst Auction I picked up the enclosed for next to nothing with the intent of some day surprising Mr. Bishop not with their value but volume.

Well Surprise! Here they are following two decades of dry storage in a very comfortable dark closet. Please don’t fret, they are a gift and the joy is mine in being able to surprise a fellow bibliophile. If indeed they are worthless please toss or do whatever it is you do with unwanted volumes (lost souls).

I know the joy of being surprised even when the something is of little or no value and borders on the … “Oh no, I don’t need it, can’t use it and what on earth am I going to do with it.”

Best wishes,

Enclosed was a smattering of things including three volumes of The Bibelot, two being indexes. There was a copy of Reese’s A Wayside Lute (3rd Mosher ed.), and copies of two Old World Series books, The Story of Ida and The Sonnets of Michael Angelo. There was also copy of the Le Gallienne’s Thomas Bird Mosher–An Appreciation, and a copy of Isabel Fiske Conant’s Scrapped Silver (Mosher Press, 1928). The Le Gallienne piece is something I tend to horde whenever and wherever I find it (I must have a dozen copies but keep buying more–perhaps to use as an insert to a publication some day), and that copy of Scrapped Silver is in a variant binding from what I already have, so that was really most welcome. Most amazingly, however, was the addition of twenty-five copies of Eugénie M. [Mary] Fryer’s Unending Quest (Mosher Press, 1932). Fryer was the librarian at the Philadelphia Museum School and had this book printed through the Mosher Press. Imagine, twenty-five copies of her book in fine condition. The book is practically worthless to others, but it’s still amazing to me to have twenty-five copies with their original glassine protectors. Of course I now have the distinction of being the Guinness world record holder for having the greatest number of copies of Fryer’s Unending Quest, from which, incidentally, I was able to upgrade the copy I had in the collection prior to this gift. Amazing. And so I owed the sender a thank you note of some kind which I did write and send. I hope he liked it.

So who was this mysterious gift giver. You probably know him: Preston Davis. For those of you who do not, Preston is a fellow Delaware Bibliophile member and author/compiler of the astounding two volume Howard Pyle: His Life–His Work. A Comprehensive Bibliography and Pictorial Record of Howard Pyle: Author, Illustrator, Teacher. (New Castle and Wilmington, DE: Oak Knoll Press & The Delaware Art Museum 2004). It was a lovely gift and I wrote back to Preston on April 2:

Dear Preston:

Good lord, and what a surprise it was indeed. At first I didn’t recognize the “Mr. Paul Davis” return label and thought this might be a customer returning something he bought from me at a show. I also wasn’t expecting to receive a heavy package and so walked the 1.4 miles with your box under my arm and progressed up the mountainside. When back at the house I opened the attached envelope and there appeared your note. I was indeed surprised and couldn’t get over the 25 copies of Fryer’s Unending Quest. Unended it was for copy after copy appeared.

What can I say dear fellow except a very deeply felt “thank you” for your kindness. In times past I have received such packages as yours, in fact I wrote about it in “Unexpected Kindnesses.” So you continued the unofficial tradition. The day I received your gift I e-mailed a friend and I thought you might appreciate a copy of that text so I enclose it for you. As you will see, there is a lot of coincidence in your note & gift.

All the books have been safely distributed. All the Fryer copies have gone into the collection, as has the Richard Le Gallienne piece. I am giving a Canadian collector the one Index volume and a copy of the Fryer book. He has neither. Norman Strouse started the gift giving and I’ve continued the tradition as well, and so some of your gifted books will be re-gifted to others. It’s the least I can do.

Here’s a great big THANK YOU for your unexpected kindness. Deeply appreciated and greeted warmly,

With my very best wishes,


Along with my what was then a private thank you to Preston I wanted to give this public thanks. Preston’s name is now entered upon the list of folks responsible for such “out of the blue” gifts as previously covered in my September 2004 essays to Endpapers entitled “Unexpected Kindnesses” and “More Kindnesses Remembered–An Addendum” alongside those of Norman Strouse, Dey Gosse, Mark Samuels Lasner, John Ballinger, Donald Dede, Terry Halladay, Pat Beresford, Francis O’Brien, Bevinn O’Brien, Dick Fredeman, Sid Neff, Tom Boss, Sue Bishop, Louise Hoffman, Joseph Catalano, Bill Close, Bob Seymour, Jean-François Vilain, Elizabeth Baird, Rich McErlean, Michael R. Thompson, and Jim Earl (please excuse if I forgot anyone’s name). All have earned a position of biblio-bliss in that great heavenly Library of Rare and Unusual material.

By the way, the gift represented two coincidences: the Horst Auction that Preston names is right down the road from my current home, just outside Ephrata, PA. Secondly, I’m sure Preston was not aware of the fact that his note was written on my birthday.

March 31, 2008
Philip R. Bishop


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 September 2008 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.