In the July 1909 issue of Scribner’s Magazine a short story appeared by Edith Wharton entitled “The Daunt Diana.” It’s a story about an antiquities collector, Humphrey Neave, whose passion for and knowledge of Roman antiquities was highly regarded and followed by an inner circle of collectors all over Europe. To the sobriquet of “collector” one would have to add “connoisseur” in what Neave chose to acquire and in his relationship to those things. As the story reveals, the Daunt Diana was a very special Roman bronze once housed in the Daunt Collection. Kindred spirits reading this short story will resonate with a certain understanding of Neave and what he tried to do, and I personally found it not only exhilarating, but deeply moving–so much so that I vowed to write about select items in my Mosher collection using extracts from Wharton’s sympathetic work on connoisseurship in its highest form. The result is this submission to Endpapers which, quite frankly, I’m somewhat hesitant to place before its readership.
The following comments are collected under extracts from an on-line version of “The Daunt Diana.” To be fully revelatory, I must say that my first connection to this impactful story was via an audio tape sent to me by S. A. Neff, Jr, a meritorious binder and piscatorial book collector living in Sewickley, PA just outside of Pittsburgh. For more information on Neff, see my book review of his now recently concluded six-location traveling exhibition: “THE COLLECTOR AS BOOKBINDER–The Piscatorial Bindings of S. A. Neff, Jr.” in the Guild of Book Workers Newsletter 123 (April 1999): 13-15. Neff is a collector-connoisseur par excellence, and upon his own listening of the tape he felt I might likewise appreciate it. Indeed, its message struck me like an affirmative thunderbolt. I hope that others in this book collecting game will avail themselves of the story, and if they see themselves in Neave’s shoes, I think they’ll delight in the resonance the story affords. If when reading it it doesn’t affect you in any way, no matter. There are all sorts of “collectors” starting with amassers all the way to the near mystical connoisseur. The level of translatability for the reader depends on the refinement of the person vis-à-vis his or her own collecting instincts and accomplishments. It’s not a matter of bad, good or better, but rather one of difference and degree within that difference.
He’s a psychologist astray among bibelots… He really has –queer fatuous investigator!– an unusually sensitive touch for the human texture, and the specimens he gathers into his museum of heterogeneous memories have almost always some mark of the rare and chosen.
The above lines actually relate to an introductory character, Ringham Finney, who is the inner narrator of the story. Finney is relating this story to someone who is never named but who tells the reader this is who reveals what happened to “Little Humphrey Neave.” I rather see Finney as our modern day Nicholas Basbanes, sans the “queer fatuous” adjectives of course. Basbanes is full of stories relating to the rich “human texture” of bibliophiles, bibliomaniacs, and all such “specimens” exhibiting a great passion for books. Indeed, his book, A Gentle Madness, is akin to Finney’s “museum of heterogeneous memories,” and a delightful modern account of our affliction has never been so ably written. I recommend it to all if you haven’t cracked open its covers and drunk from its contents. But a Ringham Finney is not a Humphrey Neave, a distinction Edith Wharton so adroitly reveals in her story.
But they weren’t nameless or meaningless to Neave; his strength lay in his instinct for identifying, putting together, seeing significant relations… [and] he gradually sharpened his instinct, and made it into the delicate and redoubtable instrument it is…
Ah yes, the ability to properly identify, to make connections, to ferret out underlying meaning and association, these and all such investigatory tools are what the collector begins to amass in his or her arsenal as time goes along and the collection becomes larger yet more focused and meaningful. There are numerous personal examples I could mention, but there is one particularly delightful experience strung out over time which I’d like to recount.
In 1987 Edward D. Nudelman, a Seattle, WA book dealer, issued his catalogues seven and eight with a number of Mosher books listed, many either very limited (50, 25 and even one of just 6 copies) or in one instance, unique. I made arrangements with the dealer to send all the Mosher and Mosher related books to me and we agreed upon coming up with a lot price once I had closely examined the books. Of course this was extremely generous of him since we did not know one another, but on the phone he seemed assured that I was an honest fellow and that he might very well sell most if not all of them. I ended up purchasing 95% of the lot, including one little unique volume which always charmed and intrigued me. Nudelman wrote it up this way in his catalogue seven:
Thomas B. Mosher’s Copy, Extra-Illustrated
20. (Bodley Head) Peters, William Theodore. POSIES OUT OF RINGS AND OTHER CONCEITS. London, 1896, John Lane, the Bodley Head. First edition. Light pink cloth with gilt cover design by PATTEN WILSON. Title page with superb Nouveau illustration by Patten Wilson. THOMAS BIRD MOSHER’S COPY, EXTRA- ILLUSTRATED WITH SUPERB COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS THROUGHOUT CONSISTING MOSTLY OF FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS, VERY EXPERTLY EXECUTED. PRESENTED BY THE ARTIST, “M.N”, TO MOSHER: “For my Friend-T.B.M. from M.N., June 14, 1901”. From Mosher’s estate. WITH LOCK OF GOLDEN HAIR ATTACHED WITH RIBBON NEXT TO POEM. A most scarce and certainly unique item. Near fine. 12mo. $325
What a lovely little treasure this book is, and the illustrations clearly have a personal significance for Mosher beyond mere visual embellishment, especially with the poems they accompany. The lock of hair gently tied with pale blue ribbon was in itself a sign of friendship, a forget-me-not from a close friend or even one who had in some way fallen in love with the recipient. On that very page appear the lines:
A Shining lock of golden hair doth my purse hold;
Though lacking silver it is always lined with gold.
* * *
Since you are gone, all night I lie awake,
Dreaming and dreaming, oh! my love of you.
Yet two not always company can make,–
I and my moonlight shadow are but two.
Ever since I bought this little book I just had to know who this artist “M.N.” was, but upon close inspection it became clear that one first had to get the initials correct. In the inscription it did look like M.N., but on another page amidst a lovely little sprig of blue flowers there clearly appears the initials “M.H.” With this corrected initial the search was afoot, but the next breakthrough would have to wait years later until a book show in Boston.
At one of the early 1990’s M.A.R.I.A.B. books shows held at “The Castle” in Boston a dealer approached me saying that he had something in which he thought I might be interested. The dealer was Thomas G. Boss, a book seller from whom I have bought many wonderful Mosher items over the years. Tom went back to his booth, opened up his briefcase and pulled out a copy of Mosher’s edition of D. G. Rossetti’s The Blessed Damozel (1901). To be sure, I already had several copies of this imprint, but as he opened the front cover to reveal a hand written note I immediately noticed the initials M.H. The note reads:
M.H.: Apl 22, 1901
I send you this –before publication–
as I promised, and hope it will please
you. I am not intending to issue it till
Sept so please keep it to yourself —
entre nous as it were!
There was also a personal calling card for Mr. Thomas Bird Mosher with his pencil written note, “A Happy Xmas & New Year. Dec. 15, 1922.” Obviously, the calling card originally accompanied some much later gift, but M.H. kept it in the book for safe keeping and thankfully nobody ever bothered to remove it. “So what,” you might say, but it is an important piece of evidence which points to the possible longevity of the relationship between M.H. and T.B.M. I was tickled pink with this acquisition, but it wasn’t over yet. A year later I discovered something during one of my 2 A.M. morning communions with the Mosher collection. There in the dead of the night I was sitting in my comfortable chair looking at this little volume and at Mosher’s note thinking about who this M.H. was. She was most likely the M.H. illustrator of the Posies out of Rings I bought from Nudelman. But who was M.H.? As I was puzzling over this I happened to notice something I never saw in all the times I handled this copy of The Blessed Damozel. “What’s this?” I queried as I touched the edge of the Japan vellum paper note which wasn’t fully pasted down. I lifted the paper and there, beneath the note, written on the endpaper by an elegant hand, were the astounding words, “Marie H. Hoke April – 1901 Mobile – Alabama.” I was thunderstruck. My god, is this she? I got the Posies out of Rings down off the shelf and compared the writing of the inscription to the newly discovered writing. It was in the same hand! By the same woman! M.H. is Marie H. Hoke! What an evening that was and I couldn’t wait to share my excitement with my wife when she got up. Part of the riddle was solved and the two little books revealed their hidden associations. What made me lift that little note I’ll never know, but thank god I did for I was able to do more now that I had the fuller name.
My research for the Mosher bibliography, Thomas Bird Mosher–Pirate Prince of Publishers (Oak Knoll Press & The British Library, 1998), took me far and wide visiting institutions, searching library databases, and investigating private collections. One of my connections was with The Huntington Library, a connection which would reveal much more about the mysterious Marie Hoke. I had read a sweet little book entitled Excerpts from the Letters of Thomas Bird Mosher published by the Bookworm Press of Pasadena, California in 1972. The book contains seventeen extracts from among the 146 letters from Thomas Bird Mosher to fellow publisher, W. Irving Way of the Chicago publishing house of Way & Williams. Way later left the publishing business and had moved to Los Angeles where he lived a very modest life among his books and bookish friends working as a book jobber and as the honorary librarian for the Zamorano Club. My interest in this long standing correspondence between Way and Mosher was obvious, and I wrote to Kristin Cooper at The Huntington Library’s Department of Manuscripts to acquire photocopies of all the letters. A side note: The Huntington has this rich treasure trove of letters between these two men beginning with an early letter of March 20, 1894 which presumes, when read, that there had to be an earlier letter which sparked this life long correspondence. Indeed, there is an earlier letter, and that letter appears tipped into W. Irving Way’s copy of Mosher’s Ballads & Lyrics of Old France along with a letter and envelope from Andrew Lang. This letter, entirely in Mosher’s hand, is dated March 12, 1894, and it is housed in the Bishop Collection and not The Huntington. Small one-upmanship to be sure, but it is a nice to know that The Huntington doesn’t have all there is to have on this friendship by mail.
After receiving copies of all the letters I scoured through their content to find suitable material for my Mosher bibliography. Along the way, however, I noticed Marie Hoke’s name and though I still don’t have a full account of who this woman was, I have been able to piece together enough to know that she was a mutual friend of W. Irving Way and Mosher, that she had lived down South but moved to California, that she inherited money through an uncle and apparently did rather well for herself. There are numerous references to Marie in the Way-Mosher correspondence including Mosher’s inclusive statement that “Our friend, Marie Hoke, is now on her way back to the sunny south where an old uncle like the soldier of Algiers lies dying. She has gone to confort [sic] him and I hope if there is any property she will inherit it for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mosher to Way, Jan. 14, 1914). Perhaps the most wonderful find was the following from the Mosher to W. Irving Way letter of July 7, 1914 in which Mosher writes:
Peters [author: William Theodore Peters] was a curious old boy and I have a portrait of him in my office with his signature. He sent it to me years ago and I always felt that he had expressed something worth while which he never managed to express. Of course you have seen his “Posies out of Ring,” [sic] a lovely little book. I sent one to Marie Hoke and she then gave it back to me with some very fine water colors inserted by herself and a little lock of hair tied to page 21. Marie was a wonder, not beautiful I admit but with a heart that should have met a better fate. She is now I think practically on Easy Street and I hope she will remain there. I would not loan you this, old villain, under any consideration but when I say it satisfied me well in many ways you may be sure I am not talking through my hat. You never appreciated that little lady you scoundrel.
Not only was Mosher a friend of Marie Hoke’s, but there was an intimacy to the little extra-illustrated volume that Mosher didn’t want to fully reveal even to one of his closest friends. And with the evidence on that tiny calling card loosely inserted into the volume, the friendship between Mosher and Marie Hoke continued at least up to December of 1922, less than a year away from Mosher’s death.
Above I mentioned my communing with the Mosher collection. It is, in fact, that intimate and sometimes even that reverential. In communing with the collection I prepare for making connections between the volumes or the constituent parts of the collection (books, manuscripts, notes, catalogues, etc.). Sometimes it’s reacquainting myself with the history or the personal meaning of the books. In a way it’s like making the various parts talk to one another, and they’re given voice through the collector’s insights. It is important, however, to make the volumes and letters speak beyond the self. Just personally knowing what they are all about is rather like an exercise in solipsism. If nothing is said or written about them and their interconnections, then all that one has learned, deduced, imagined or otherwise “seen” will be for naught when one dies. Some collectors record their penciled notes in the books themselves, others take to writing their notes on 3″ x 5″ cards–or now on the computer. Some write about their collections or have others write about them, if in no other way than to prepare an auction catalogue of the collection. As for me, I prefer to write about the books and put what I’ve learned into publications like a bibliography, monographs, or even in the form of these entries in The Petite Memoirs. I want to have some assurance that when I’m no longer the custodian of the collection that there will at least be part of my spirit and understanding infused with it through these writings. Most importantly, I want to resurrect what would otherwise be dead. Books on a shelf and papers in a file are just so much dead material, like tombstones and burial plots. The entities have to be made alive again through their reappropriation into the fabric of our lives, and the best way mankind has been able to do this has been though writing and re-breathing the works, having them again sound off the palates of our mouths or become vivid in the innards of our imagination. History is a way to revivify and to recapture that which has escaped us through the inexorable action of the sands of time. To be able to create a story out of these books, these papers, is as important as our own gratification and feelings of closeness we get when collecting. This, to me, is what collecting can become, far beyond the mere assemblage of things to line the shelves.
Good Lord! To think of that lumpy fool [Mr. Daunt] having those things to handle! Did you notice his stupid stumps of fingers? I suppose he blunted them gouging nuggets out of the gold fields. And in exchange for the nuggets he gets all that in a year — only has to hold out his callous palm to have that great ripe sphere of beauty drop into it!… And I’ve had to worry along for nearly fifty years, saving and paring, and haggling and intriguing, to get here a bit and there a bit — and not one perfection in the lot! It’s enough to poison a man’s life… It was, in short, the old tragedy of the discrepancy between a man’s wants and his power to gratify them. Neave’s taste was too exquisite for his means — was like some strange, delicate, capricious animal, that he cherished and pampered but couldn’t satisfy.
I don’t want to spend too much time with this topic because it brings up rather unpleasant thoughts of what I’ve experienced over the years among some of my fellow book sellers. I have witnessed such callousness around books, like one book dealer I know who has so many piles of books on the floors that he literally invites customers to walk on his books. In reference to this another book dealer made cute remarks like: “just think of it–so and so has better books trampled on his floor than we dealers have on our shelves” or other such rot like that. Personally I don’t see where any such activity like this should merit any kind of positive comment. It’s obvious that the dealer has no respect for a book except where it can bring him the shekels he demands. Another example which has happened to me twice is that a dealer indicated the preciousness of a certain book and then threw it across the room to me in utter disregard as to what would happen to the poor thing should it be dropped. Luckily ol’ fumble fingers actually caught both books so nonchalantly tossed.
Neave, however, is talking about another type of individual other than the seller with which we probably all have to grin and bear. He’s pointing to the rich who have an inkling of what they’d like to collect and then rallies all sorts of folks to “get these things!” They work from something like a list of high spots and simply out bid and out purchase anybody else, and within a relatively short while they end up with a “collection”–the best money can buy. But their own personal discovery and mastery of the collection is at least partly missing if not fully lacking. Daunt had the money and had the goods, but in his hands they were just so many pretties and he hardly knew how to appreciate their beauty and significance. It took someone like Neave to form a special aura around his purchases giving each a special sense of past history, of relatedness to other items, and intrinsic value in which most dollar assessments fall far short of the mark.
I personally know two such “lumpy fools” who collect Mosher but who have lost the sense of relatedness if indeed they ever had it to begin with. One such wealthy collector found out that I had purchased a special little Mosher book from a past president of the ABAA. He called the ABAA dealer and demanded my address which was mistakenly given to him. Then this same megabucks collector called my home demanding that I sell him the book. After two unanswered calls he pestered my wife to tell me to sell the book to him since he needed it to fill a hole and that he’d give me three times what I paid for it. He later wrote me a stinging note indicating that that book was meant for him and that I’m not a book dealer if I don’t sell him this book. I couldn’t care less if he offered me ten times my cost. I wasn’t about to sell just because money was being flashed before me, and as a matter of principle he had no right to even know that it was I who bought the book in the first place. A year or so before this incident I had personally visited this collector supposedly to buy some Mosher duplicates he offered me in a letter. He brought me there under false pretenses and had absolutely no wish to sell even one of his duplicate or triplicate copies of Mosher books. What he did do is run around from bookshelf to bookshelf eagerly pointing out how valuable this or that book was, and before he could finish his description of one book he was already reaching out to get ahold of another to show what a gem that was too, and so on and so on for hours on end. I have never beheld such a classic bibliomaniac display –a man truly possessed by what he had and what he was about to acquire.
Another collector of considerable means also possessed a number of Mosher books, and the story I may someday tell will easily tie or surpass the story I just recounted. I’ll refrain from that for now however, and only say that this person comes closest to ol’ Daunt in my mind. More important at this point is the feeling Neave had about hi inability to satisfy “Rolls Royce tastes” with a Ford Falcon income. I have long ago had to face up to the fact that I’d never be a millionaire or even close to it. Money and business are peculiarly foreign to me. I care little for the former and absolutely despise the latter. Rockefeller and Trump types are not my heroes in life. Even if they were, I don’t have the temperament or skill to “make it big,” so I’ve had to resign myself to a steady, passionate approach to building a collection which, quite frankly, isn’t bad at all. The importance is that I have learned to live within my means and have equally learned how to live with books. The delightful book, At Home with Books (NY: Carol Southern Books, 1995), presents example after fine example of ardent collectors and the physical accommodations for the books in their lives. Beyond this physicality there is also a more ethereal realm of integrating books into one’s emotional and mental well being. There are accommodations for books in the way we live our lives, formulate our thoughts, and in how we play out this drama of life. My Mosher collection is much more than a collection of books on my shelves. They are part of the way I define myself and in which I move and have my being. One doesn’t BUY that.
Whatever they [his hands] hold — bronze or lace, hard enamel or brittle glass — they have an air of conforming themselves to the texture of the thing, and sucking out of it, by every finger-tip, the mysterious essence it has secreted… Year by year, day by day, he had made himself into this delicate register of perceptions and sensations — as far above the ordinary human faculty of appreciation as some scientific registering instrument is beyond the rough human senses — only to find that the beauty which alone could satisfy him was unattainable — that he was never to know the last deep identification which only possession can give. He had trained himself in short, to feel, in the rare great thing — such an utterance of beauty as the Daunt Diana, say — a hundred elements of perfection, a hundred reasons why, imperceptible, inexplicable even, to the average “artistic” sense; he had reached this point by a long austere process of discrimination and rejection, the renewed great refusals of the intelligence which perpetually asks more, which will make no pact with its self of yesterday, and is never to be beguiled from its purpose by the wiles of the next-best-thing… You see, the worst of Neave’s state was the fact that his not being a mere collector, even the collector raised to his highest pitch of efficiency. The whole thing was blent in him with poetry — his imagination had romanticized the acquisitive instinct, as the religious feeling of the Middle Ages turned passion into love. And yet his could never be the abstract enjoyment of the philosopher who says: “This or that object is really mine because I’m capable of appreciating it.” Neave wanted what he appreciated — wanted it with his touch and his sight as well as with his imagination.
At book shows I often have the opportunity of showing select items from my stock. In the past customers have commented about how I so gingerly and lovingly handle the books. Why not! Some of these volumes are hundreds of years old or in one-of-a-kind bindings and one should be respectful. Of course I’m always concerned about how the volumes are opened and about the stress on the leather hinges. Needless to say, I try to be very respectful of the books knowing that I am temporary custodian of something which will hopefully be handed over to future generations. On rare occasions some people are treated to seeing some of the books in my own personal collections and I treat my own books at least as lovingly as the books that I sell.
The personal and intimate experience of handling a book that’s a work of art, or of some other importance or significance, always remains a real treat to me. Sometimes it’s more like caressing than handling. It’s a wonderful experience to gently run one’s fingers over the raised bands of the spine, or to feel the onlays decorating the book’s covers, or to feel the minute recesses of the gold and blind tooling. Likewise, the feel and appearance of real vellum pages is worlds apart from a Japan vellum or a Van Gelder paper’s feel and look. Holding and feeling the book while one is looking at it indeed can be a great joy.
I suppose it would look curious to the uninitiated to see a bookman smell the aroma of a book. One does this partly to further experience the materials used to make it, sometimes to determine if the book has been mistreated through dampness, smoke, fire and mold, and in some cases to even judge the origination of the book. I can usually tell when a modern bookbinding has come from Bernard Middleton’s bindery. Many a British antiquarian book smells a bit different than its cousin that has been here in America for scores or even hundreds of years. Books I used to receive from Maggs or Deighton Bell were very distinctive in their smell. The sense of smell is a useful adjunct to the other senses and I find myself using it frequently.
And then there are those features that are made alive through the imagination. An association copy, a book handled by some well known literary figure, or a copy carrying an inscription to a friend, these all carry with them a mysterious sense to the beholder. There is a kind of meld that takes place crudely captured by musing to oneself: “Just think… this is the very copy that first ignited the author’s passion about thus and so” or “SHE read from these very pages” or something like that. In feeling, seeing, smelling and imagining one is brought into a “presence” and a communion that only such a personal experience can offer. You can see many a wonderful item behind glass at a library or on exhibition at a museum, but to personally own and be able to enwrap your hands and heart about some significant object…well, it’s an experience I think few get to have but the collector-connoisseur. True, too, is the fact that you have given something to the object which it wouldn’t have had but for your own energies and knowledge. The collector-connoisseur can come to understand the book quite differently than even the original owner knew it. Its significance is infused with meaning afforded by what one has learned about the book and how it fits into a larger picture which only time and hindsight can provide.
After a stroke of fate, Neave inherited a fortune and immediately bought the most wonderful antiquities collection obtainable — the Daunt Collection including the Daunt Diana! But visitors found that Neave was lackluster and apathetic in showing his new possessions. To everyone’s amazement, he put the whole collection up on the auction block, sold everything, and some time after began secretly buying back members of the collection. As Neave recounted:
But when I got it [the Daunt Collection], and began to live with it, I found out my mistake. It was a mariage de convenance — there’d been no wooing, no winning. Each of my little old bits — the rubbish I chucked out to make room for Daunt’s glories — had its own personal history, the drama of my relation to it, of the discovery, the struggle, the capture, the first divine moment of possession. There was a romantic secret between us. And then I had absorbed its beauties one by one, they had become a part of my imagination, they held me by a hundred threads of far-reaching association. And suddenly I had expected to create this kind of intense personal tie between myself and a roomful of new cold alien presences — things staring at me vacantly from the depths of unknown pasts!… Why, my other things, my own things, had wooed me as passionately as I wooed them: there was a certain little bronze, a little Venus Callipyge, who had drawn me, drawn me, drawn me, imploring me to rescue her from her unspeakable surroundings in a vulgar bric-a-brac shop at Biarritz, where she shrank out of sight among sham Sevres and Dutch silver, as one has seen certain women — rare, shy, exquisite — made almost invisible by the vulgar splendours surrounding them. Well! that little Venus, who was just a specious seventeenth century attempt at the ‘antique,’ but who had penetrated me with her pleading grace, touched me by the easily guessed story of her obscure, anonymous origin, was more to me imaginatively — yes! more than the cold bought beauty of the Daunt Diana…
As I look over my walls of shelves I observe a wide assemblage of books all relating somehow to Thomas Bird Mosher. I know, however, that each book carries a different story with it. Each one went its own way in the world and has now been chosen by me to stand beside its comrades. The closer I inspect my shelves the more narrowly focused I become and when I am finally looking at each book on its own I can recall just how it got there. My own “Daunt Diana” sets on a shelf among a number of other books printed on real vellum. When my eyes alight upon that copy of The Germ by D. G. Rossetti, et.al., I’m taken back in a flash to how it got there.
Back in the mid 1990’s I received a book catalogue from an outfit in the West, a firm which for want of anonymity I’ll call Guns, Saddles & Books (GSB). I have no idea how in the world they ever got my name so as to send me one of their catalogues, but somehow they did. The cover was printed on light weight colored paper and the catalogue’s entries were horizontally typed on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper using pica type. All the entries ran into each other so that each page looked like a horrid, unbreaking clump of type. Nevertheless, the lousy catalogue still intrigued me because there happened to be a number of books-on-books entries –I ALWAYS look at books-on-books– and I ordered a couple of their offerings. Likewise, I paid a small fee to continue receiving their catalogues.
Another one of the GSB’s catalogues arrived and there amongst all their entries stuffed onto a page were several works on bookbinding extolled for the fine leather bindings in which they themselves were rebound. The prices were reasonable and I thought the “descriptions” sounded very promising so I called the owner and was told that these were all very lovely hand bound books, some in different colored leathers, lots of tooling, and in fine condition. I ordered them all and gave my charge card to expedite the delivery. After several days I received their large package and eagerly opened the box uncovering the first, then the second, then the third “lovely” binding. They were horrible! Whoever bound them was unfamiliar with all but the most rudimentary steps on binding a book. The forwarding (the sewing of the page signatures and then application of the leather to the boards but not the gold tooling) was basic but not very good. The finishing (the design and all the gold and blind tooling) was terrible. Leathers and colors were used like patch quilts and were separating at the seams. There were abrasions and other such detractions and, well, to make a long story shorter, I called and said I was returning all the books that were so bound in the shipment. The owners weren’t happy, but I wasn’t about to succumb to their ignorance about what constituted a finely bound volume. There were no further questions and the owners did credit my charge card so all was well enough.
Amazingly I still received their “catalogues” after rejecting those books from the previous order (sometimes dealers take a return quite personally and discontinue mailing their catalogues). As usual I made a quick visual sweep of the contents when all of the sudden one book not only stood out… it screamed!!!! There among the miscellaneous entries “made almost invisible by the vulgar splendors surrounding” it, was an incredible find dwarfing anything else listed in the catalogue, in fact dwarfing all their offerings for last several catalogues combined. For years I suspected I’d never see this book in my lifetime. The book was Mosher’s production of The Germ (Portland, Maine, 1898), copy #4 of only four ever printed on real vellum, signed by the publisher. It’s the absolute “black orchid” of the whole Mosher corpus. There right in front of me was the offering whose description read “HC” which means “hard bound copy” to GSB readers, and “SC” which means in slipcase, and listed at $350. None of that mattered. It didn’t matter if it was bound in paper, or in leather parting at the seams like the ones I rejected. Heck, it didn’t even matter if it was disbound by the time I got it. None of those conditions mattered due to its enormous rarity and significance. The book was to be had and had at once!
I called the GSB people –always nice and courteous to talk with– and asked if the book was still available. They weren’t sure and I was put on hold. I knew it. I just knew it!!! Somebody else most certainly spotted the listing and called before I did, or the owners changed their mind about selling it, or somebody tipped them off as to its value, or…, or… Just then the owner got back on the line and told me it was still available. My hands were trembling as most assuredly was my voice. I told them that I was pleased to order it, but because I didn’t like such books “printed on vellum” to languish in a warehouse or to be subjected to temperature changes, I asked them to send it by overnight delivery. They informed me that that would cost me $10-$15 more, but I insisted that it was quite all right and that I would pay the extra expense (I didn’t want to say “gladly” but it was gladly, gleefully, deliriously so… ecstatically…). I asked no further questions about condition and the total was put on my charge card. The very next morning I received THE book.
Opening a package like this can be one of the highlights of a collector’s year, only for me it was the highlight of a lifetime. Quite truthfully, after the UPS delivery man departed I simply sat down with the box on my lap, just staring at it. I wondered what I was about to see. I know how disappointed I was when those other books on bookbinding came in those leather “bindings.” What was I to see here? But yes, it really didn’t matter because what mattered was that it was one of four copies on real vellum–the black orchid, and all that. The black orchid? Amazing to think that inside here was that very mysterious entity of almost mythical proportions. Here! Right here in my hands! I began to slowly disassemble the box carefully removing its tape. I opened the top flaps and took out the newspaper stuffing, There was a brown bag with tape. I removed the tape, reached in, and removed what looked to be a lime green box. But wait, that’s not a box; it’s a slipcase and here’s the other side which is the mouth of the case. Turning it around I beheld a stunning spine with decorated raised bands, black and white flowers in the spine’s panels, and glimmering gold. I carefully slipped the book out of it’s protective, fleece lined holder. Gold everywhere! Dazzling gold on the book covers! Gold on all edges of the boards and on all page edges! Brilliant gold among rich royal blue, black and white onlays! Luscious gold, exquisitely hand tooled gold! It had it all. I felt as though I was holding a gold brick from Fort Knox, especially because the heft of the book was enhanced by the weight of the pearly white vellum pages, but I’d gladly exchange any solid gold brick for this copy of The Germ. This was my “first divine moment of possession” and I was enjoying every second of it. I opened the front cover and the striking watered silk doublures and matching end sheets almost overpowered me, and there at the bottom of the front cover were the words “Mounteney, Binder.” Mounteney? Wasn’t he the Leonard Mounteney, formerly exhibition finisher at Riviére in London who had gone to the Donnelley Bindery in America? It had to be for very few binders in the world would have been able to so decorate a book as well as this. And the pages, oh how glorious the pearl-like pages which are so fresh and crisp. It was as perfect as a 100 year old book could possibly be. This was a treasure beyond what I had ever thought or hoped for, and ironically all this coming from a dealer who called lousy bound books “fine bindings” and describing this, an ultra fine binding, the real McCoy, as only a “HC”. The world and its book dealers will never cease to amaze me.
Of course I was bursting at the seams, and am still so if you haven’t been able to gather from my writing about this black orchid of the Mosher collection. I called my wife and excitedly began to tell her about what I was holding in my hands. She too couldn’t wait to see it and made a special trip at lunchtime to visit me and the book.
When I was writing the new Mosher bibliography I included a section on Mosher books specially bound by some of the world’s great binders. Of course this binding by Mounteney took center stage and some folks claim it’s one of the best of all those color illustrated in the bibliography. Plate 9’s write-up appears on p. 357 and for those interested in the details I give the following description:
R49. (Mounteney, Leonard) Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, et.al. The Germ: Thoughts Towards Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art. MDCCCL. (Reprints of Privately Printed Books) 1898. 8vo. (22.8 x 15 cm.). Copy No. 4 of 4 printed on vellum, with proofs of original cover and spine with Ricketts designs bound in. Bound in full orange mahogany morocco signed MOUNTENEY, BINDER. Ornately tooled in gilt with three-color onlays. Spine with gilt dots across raised bands; panels double-rule framed with black onlays between the rules, in the center of each panel is a gilt stem with black onlay leaf, two white rose onlays flank either side of the vertical stem, and a field of dots fills out the space of each panel. Gilt title and box on second panel, gilt publisher/date in box at the foot of the sixth panel; widely spaced gilt dots across head- and tail-caps. Front and back covers ornately gilt decorated in the same fashion with onlays: widely spaced double fillets frame the outer board, deep blue onlay with gilt flower and vine roll-tool, decorative gilt corners. An inner frame of a swirling roll-tool with two more gilt fillets inside that tool. Persian-like central lozenge with deep blue oval center and gilt leaf and stem device in the center; outer part of the lozenge with fourteen white onlays of roses and three black leaves at the top and the bottom. Whole inner panel filled with crisscrossing gilt dot fillets. All board edges with gilt dot fillet. Ornately tooled dentelles. Royal blue moiré silk doublures with matching moiré endpapers. Double-sewn silk head- and tail-bands; a.e.g. Housed in a fleece-lined slipcase. *See Plate 12 on page M (Bishop Collection; photography by Joan Broderick).
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Leonard Mounteney was from Nottingham, England, and served a seven year apprenticeship there with Messrs. G & J. Abbott. He also studied ornamental design at the Battersea Polytechnic, was hired by R. Riviere & Sons of London as an exhibition finisher, and attended several lectures on bookbinding by Cobden-Sanderson. The above book was most likely bound by Mounteney while in London, before he worked as a finisher at the Donnelley Bindery-Chicago under Alfred de Sauty. Mounteney was engaged by Douglas Cockerell for R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company in October 1923, but only started in September 1924. He left a year or so later to work for the Cuneo Fine Binding Studio of Milwaukee, WI (also of Chicago), of which he was the founder, director, director emeritus and consultant.
And so, years after first viewing this treasure, and now three years after spotlighting it in the Mosher bibliography, this volume along with all the others quietly rest on my shelves here in the Bishopric of Lancaster County awaiting my summons to appear before the court.
This book has also entered into discussions between myself and my now departed friend, Dick Fredeman. Dr. Fredeman was known the world over for his expertise in Victorian literature and the Pre-Raphaelites. He also maintained an extensive collection of books from the era which filled several rooms. When Dick found out that I owned a copy of The Germ –the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite publication– published by Mosher, he was stunned and lamented that in all his travels and book buying across the U.S., Canada, and England, he had only come across one other copy printed on vellum. That copy was offered years ago at the Strand Book Store in New York. At the time he felt it was too expensive to purchase but shortly after visiting New York he called to purchase it only to find out that it had sold. The book, any one of the four copies printed on vellum, eluded him ever since and he forever lamented the fact that he didn’t purchase it on the spot. He wanted to know how I was able to find a copy but I never recounted the story telling Dick that some day I’d write about it. Unfortunately now that I’ve finally written it all down, Dick is no longer here to share the story.
This vellum copy of The Germ in an equally outstanding binding is an example of how I have managed to affix myself so cohesively to a book in the collection, so much so that the bond between this book and I will remain throughout the rest of my life, and thereafter–who knows. It’s a constant source of quiet pride and smug satisfaction that out of the miseries of the wild ol’ West, this book was rescued. The “romantic secret between us” has now been told.
As we went from bit to bit, as he lifted one piece after another, and held it to the light of his low windows, I saw in his hands the same tremor of sensation that I had noticed when he first examined the same object at Daunt House. All his life was in his finger-tips, and it seemed to communicate life to the exquisite things he touched. But you’ll think me infected by his mysticism if I tell you they gained new beauty while he held them…
Elsewhere I mentioned that we are the custodians for the books we possess and collect, but if it only rests there then we are no better off than some librarians who look after a book but who have no idea of its significance, its connection to other books on the topic, or its personal meaning which an involved collector can recount one after the other. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a collector to be able to “communicate life to the exquisite [books]” that he has managed to assemble. Communicating life can entail reading their contents privately or aloud, recounting the book’s personal history with the collector, enabling others to see the connection(s) between certain books, or simply admiring them as the adored objects that they can be to the right, sensitive person.
…but beautiful things, my dear Finney, like beautiful spirits, live in houses not made with hands…
Rather than to write about this at length, I only commend the above statement to those who resonate with it. It deals with the matter of meaning imparted by the soul of man upon the object he beholds.
And what about the Daunt Diana? Did Neave ever get her back and make her his? That, dear folks, is up to you to find out.
© 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 March 2001 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.