The Mosher Bookplate

Well, here it is, December 24th, Christmas Eve, and I’m adding this last occurrence just to show that the game goes on. Here’s a letter I just sent to Thomas G. Boss:

December 24, 2003

Thomas G. Boss:

What am I going to do with you!? I was just finishing cleaning the Mosher collection shelves in preparation for family visitors this Christmas Eve, and then the doorbell rang. Now what? Opening the door there stands a UPS delivery man who handed me a small package with the return address of BOSSFINE ART / BOSS FINE BOOKS. What could this be? I knew I hadn’t spoken with you for a over a month, so I hadn’t ordered anything. “What could this be?” I said again to myself. I opened the package, and to my surprise guess what I found? Well, of course, you already know: Keenan’s new book The Art of the Bookplate. Inside was the loosely inserted THOMAS G. BOSS FINE BOOKS With Compliments. But wait, there was more: on the half-title the inscription in the author’s holograph “December 7th, 2003 | For Philip Bishop– | Best of luck in your | bookplate endeavors! | J.P. Keenan”

Now what is amazing is that on that very same day of December 7th, I e-mailed the following letter to James Keenan:

December 7, 2003
James P. Keenan:

I just bought 5 copies of your new books, The Art of the Bookplate, as gifts to a few friends. I was pleased to see the bookplate of Thomas Bird Mosher on p. 122, and am always delighted to see his plate exhibited. Overall your new book, though light on the scholarly side, is still a joy to thumb through and I offer my congratulations.

As for your write-up on the Mosher bookplate, there are several errors.

(1) Thomas Bird Mosher was born in Biddeford, Maine, not in Portland, and

(2) my understanding about Frank R. Rathbun is that he was from Auburn, New York, although you may have information which I do not. For your own reference, I am including some of the information on Mosher’s bookplate that appeared in my Mosher bibliography in 1998 done for The British Library and Oak Knoll Press (p. 485):

The bookplate Mosher used in books from his personal library was designed in 1897 by Frank R. Rathbun of Auburn, New York, with the designer’s monogram of an “F” with two “R’s” mirror imaged on either side. The bookplate was part of an exhibit (entry 1371) of bookplates from the Club of Odd Volumes held at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1898. Mosher’s bookplate is described as “emblematical pictorial” in the Burnham collection. The original plate was photo-mechanically printed on Japan vellum paper from Rathbun’s original drawing, but the later scarcity and high price of Japan vellum may have necessitated Mosher’s printing of the plate on Van Gelder paper. It has been said that when Parke-Bernet auctioned the Mosher library in 1948, any of Mosher’s books that didn’t have the bookplate were given one. These plates may have been from a reserve stock Mosher had prior to his death…

According to the Honey Jar, a small 1890’s Columbus, Ohio magazine which often focused on bookplates:

First we have the plate of Thomas B. Mosher (of Bibelot fame). Concerning its origin the owner says it is drawn from the Old German. On a shield the base, sinister and dexter points of which round off into scrolls, an open book supported by two dolphins, tails entwined. Two demi-griffins of heroic size act as semi-supporters. On a ribbon beneath the shield and between a number of conventionalized flowers “Ex Libris Mdcccxcvij.” Below is “Thomas B. Mosher.” All within a serrated border.

Sappe, D. C., ed. HONEY JAR A Receptacle for Literary Preserves. Vol. III, No. 1. (Columbus, OH: Champlin Press at the Sign of the Green Wreath, November 1899), p. 16.

(3) Mosher was not “affectionately known… because of his liberal interpretation of the copyright laws” but because of his literal interpretation of the copyright laws. Of course, one may say this is an arguable point, but my research has shown that Mosher very carefully stuck to the letter of the law, a point duly recognized–while still lamented–on the other side of the Atlantic. And it is to your credit that your overall write-up on Mosher is leagues ahead of the abominable statement William E. Butler made in his American Bookplates (London, 2000) when mentioning Mosher as “the noted printer and bookplate designer, T.B. Mosher…” How ridiculous.

(4) I was a bit surprised not to see any mention or citation of the book published by Thomas G. Boss which directly spoke to your contention that the Friel bookplate was the largest one designed by Rockwell Kent (see on p. [101]): Ben Mazer’s Rockwell Kent’s Bookplate for John Whiting Friel. Boston: Boss Fine Books / Boss Fine Art, 2002. Perhaps I missed it in my quick overview of your book.

The above points aside, I’m pleased to give your book to a few clients and friends and congratulate you on an entertaining treatment of the subject.

Best wishes,
Phil Bishop

So Mr. Thomas G. Boss, you had the same idea I had. Of course I didn’t bother sending you one knowing full well that you’d already have an advanced copy. I also bought a copy for myself, but heck, now I have an inscribed copy. All I can say is thank you so very much for the gift, and on Christmas Eve none the less. That as indeed very thoughtful of you and much appreciated. Now somebody else will receive a copy compliment of Mosher Books. But wait, the story still isn’t finished. When the doorbell rang at 3:20 PM, I had just finished doing all the dusting and rearranging I was going to do. Just before putting the last three books from Mosher’s library back onto the shelves, I opened them to check if there was anything special about them. I’ve been separating any of his books which were inscribed or otherwise warranted separation from the herd. The very last book was Max Ehrmann’s The Wife of Marobius–A Play (NY: Mitchell Kennerley, 1911) with Mosher’s bookplate.But there was something else loosely inserted next to the plate: THOMAS G. BOSS FINE BOOKS With Compliments. You had given this to me a couple years ago and I separated it along with two other given to me my Norman Strouse. Then the doorbell rang. Now just how eerie is that?!!!!

Blessing to you Thomas G. Boss, and…

Merry Christmas!

I described this gift to another one of Tom Boss’s long-time customers who seemed not to appreciate the significance of the intersection of coincidences, so I thought it might be better if I spell it out here. Not only was this a gift, copies of which I had just distributed gratis to several other folks, but it was an even better copy having been personally inscribed to me. If that isn’t an announcement for “what goes around, comes around,” then I don’t know what is. Furthermore, it was inscribed the very day I wrote to the author, and then held back for a couple weeks until it was finally mailed. When it was sent, it arrived the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and just as I was tucking away another one of Tom’s gifts to me given years before. I’m always attuned to such fateful intersections, but this seemed to me to be an extraordinary set of convergences which impress me to wonderment.

©Philip R. Bishop
26 December 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 September 2004 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.