Taking Stock

I’m not sure just where to begin. I mean collecting has been crazy enough to warrant several articles to the Delaware Bibs, but I haven’t been able to focus given the amount of gardening and landscaping we’ve been doing here at where? Ephrata? Incidentally, you haven’t lived unless you’ve come across an eight-inch Horsehair Worm in your garden, the eerie alien-like appearance of which is unsettling! I’m also doing a bit of research for an upcoming exhibition in which some of the Mosher books play a small part. So many projects yet so little time. Still it’s important to keep up the submissions even though they’re often judged as too personal. But tell me, what are excerpts from one’s memoirs supposed to be anyway if not personal? So let me take stock of a few more or less recent purchases.

Over the last few months there have been a number of select Mosher items entering the collection. Among them is an inscribed copy of the Thomas J. Wise’s 1886 reprint (not forgery) of Robert Browning’s first book, Pauline; A Fragment of a Confession, inscribed by Wise to Dr. Richard Garnett “With the Editor’s Compliments” which then somehow passed over into Mosher’s possession (note: Garnett was one of the authors Mosher reprinted). There’s the lovely two-volume 1890’s book, The Poetical Works of James Thomson (1895) edited by Bertram Dobell with his hand-written sentiment to “Thomas B. Mosher | from his Friend | Bertram Dobell | Dec. 27/94 [1894].” One could write scads of things about the Mosher-Dobell connection but I’ll skip over that saving you from the intricate (now you didn’t think boring, did you?) details. Also from the United Kingdom came an inscribed copy of Hilaire Belloc’s At the Sign of the Lion (1916) with the inscription “To Mr. Carson | From the Author | H. Belloc | Nov: 12: 1923” (Carson being a name unknown to me). But I can’t continue without making at least brief mention of acquiring Mosher’s edited copy of Andrew Lang’s Aucassin and Nicolete (David Nutt, 1896) used for his Vest Pocket Series, nor can I stay completely silent on such acquisitions as a copy of James Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night (Mosher, 1892) with a letter from Mosher discussing his James Thomson collection, nor having at least made scant mention of an amazing find of a 1905 Mosher look-a-like volume printed in London! The pirate being pirated. Got to love it.

Of course the usual sort of extra-illuminated Mosher books have come my way, including an intriguing copy of Mosher’s Old World Kasidah (1923) with several skilled drawings depicting some of the followers of Allah, and a translation of Ernest Renan’s My Sister Henrietta (Mosher, 1900) with an utterly charming watercolor by Edward Harris, an adoring brother who wanted his sister to know his sentiments towards her as he “shall continue to hold you in my fondest regards and esteem.” And then there’s the 1895 copy of A.E.’s (George Russell) Homeward Songs by the Way (Mosher, 1895) with Russell’s signature, and a copy of Richard Le Gallienne’s Thomas Bird Mosher–An Appreciation (1914) with an inscription from the booklet‘s subject. The list goes on and I could recount stories behind the recent acquisitions of bindings by Otto Zahn of the Toof Bindery, another from the Monastery Hill, and yet another real vellum book exquisitely bound by America’s premier bindery: the Club Bindery of New York. A host of very scarce impressions on Japan vellum from one of Mosher’s earliest series, The Bibelot Series, has now nearly completed that series in all its printing states save for one title. Another “pure vellum” printing came from England from the library of a world-renown Shakespearean actor of the time, Not on the same level as the aforementioned, but still of account, are the several post-Mosher publications from The Mosher Press which were added although I scarcely felt I’d be able to find, including a bonus copy of the much later Grebainier’s Mirrors of the Fire (Mosher Press, 1946) with several letters from the author. All of the above are, however, just the highlights with much more I’d have to encamp as esoteric even for book collectors.

Depending on how one views it, the more important acquisitions were in the realm of manuscripts, with one involving a delightful story of how the unique Boston 1892 source text for Mosher’s edition of Thomas William Parsons’s Circum Praecordia–The Collects of the Holy Catholic Church (1906) and it’s attending letters from the Parsons’s family to Mosher were finally re-united after fifty-seven years separation. This story needs to be told all by itself, so unfortunately (no more cheers, please) I’ll skip over it in favor of the other being the survival of an archive of nine letters from Mosher to the New York City publisher and bookseller, Charles S. Pratt. They’re filled with interesting behind-the-scenes content showing Mosher’s early approach to selling to a fellow publisher-bookseller. A stamp dealer managed to save these letters and I guess I should thank him for that, even thought the idiot threw away much of the other correspondence and material in what was probably a good part of, or perhaps the entire Charles S. Pratt archive. We’ll never know. Destruction of such material happens more than we’d care to admit among dealers who know nothing about it except that it does or doesn’t fit into their selling specialty, so they either split it up hawking its parts to the four corners of the realm, or simply destroy what they don‘t need having pre-judged it, in their own inimitable and infinite wisdom, as being valueless. I had thought about detailing a number of excerpts from this correspondence, but have decided that it might be worthy of journal publication, so only say that in the first holograph letter Mosher accepts Pratt’s order and sends out the books before checking on Pratt’s business identity, noting “I have shipped your order complete, Expedited, tonight. There was no time to make inquires and get books to you early [before the Christmas season]. I have simply taken your word for it, as one man to another, and let the Agency report go to Hades!” [and] “I have now treated you ‘on the square’ have I not? All I ask is a like treatment in return.”(Dec. 12, 1896). Personal, colorful and trusting, is it not? Believe me, the other letters are equally so, including the last of January 7, 1899 which gets physically batted back and forth like a tennis ball between the publisher-booksellers, each taking his turn to amend the terms on the same letter indicating what he will or will not do. Delightful stuff, and the stuff of a research collection.

OK, enough of this “taking stock” of what’s happened and on to acquiring more good material. So until next time…   Cheers!

Philip R. Bishop
July 13, 2006

This essay is Copyright © by Philip R. Bishop. Permission to reproduce the above article has been granted by Gordon Pfeiffer, editor of the Delaware Bibliophiles’ newsletter, Endpapers, in which the article appeared in the September 2006 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.