In the preface of his book, American Book Clubs, published in 1897, Adolf Growoll, editor of Publishers' Weekly, distinguished book clubs from learned societies and other literary associations. He regarded "a book club to be an association of two or more persons whose exclusive purpose it is to publish either original matter or reprints of scarce or curious works (vi)." Four years later, on the fifth day of February, 1901, Henry Howard Harper and six other persons formed a corporation under the name of THE BIBLIOPHILE SOCIETY. The purpose of the Society was the study and promotion of fine bookmaking and illustrations, and the publication of specially designed and illustrated books for its members. And publish books, they did!
Henry Howard Harper (1871-1953) was the first and only Treasurer of The Bibliophile Society, from its inception in 1901 to its demise in the late 1930s. Members of The Bibliophile Society paid an initiation fee to join, but paid no annual membership dues. The Society limited its membership to 500 members, and published the books for members only. Most of the members were from over 150 towns and cities across the United States. The Bibliophile Society had no meeting place and held no monthly membership meetings. For these reasons, the club was known as The Bibliophile Society, and not The Boston Bibliophile Society or the Bibliophile Society of Boston. The officers of the Society met in the office of the Treasurer in Boston, and decided which books to publish for its members. Not counting the "Year Books," later called "Annual Reports," The Bibliophile Society published 40 separate works for its members from 1901 to 1929.
Here are some of the notable people who were listed as members of The Bibliophile Society in the 1904 Year Book: J. M. Andreini, William Harris Arnold, William K. Bixby, Luther A. Brewer, William H. Perkins Jr., Walter M. Hill, Richard M. Hoe, Henry Cabot Lodge, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Ambrose Swasey.
And here are some of the notable people and libraries who were listed as members of The Bibliophile Society in the 1930 Year Book: Bennet A. Cerf, Edward L. Doheny, J. K. Lilly, John G. Milburn, Carl H. Pzorzheimer, A. Edward Newton, Boston Public Library, British Museum (the Library), Cleveland Public Library, Denver Public Library, Detroit Public Library, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, New York Historical Society, Library of the University of Illinois, Library of the University of Michigan, and Princeton University Library,
Here's a list of the publications of The Bibliophile Society, as recorded in the 1930 twenty-eighth and last annual report of The Bibliophile Society:
I have seven of the twenty-eight year books The Bibliophile Society published from 1902 to 1930.
I have at least four of the works The Bibliophile Society published.
The stated publication year on the title page of The Letters of Charles Lamb is 1905. But the year 1906 is listed on the copyright page and on the list of publications. I used Lamb's letters to help catalogue Charles Lamb's Library on Library Thing in 2008 and 2009. Volume I, containing facsimiles of Lamb's letters, was not included in my purchase of this set.
The next book, Thomas Peacock: Letters to Edward Hookham and Percy B. Shelley, is part of my collection of Other People's Collected Letters. It was formerly owned by an H. Gilbert Black, whose bookplate is pasted on the ffep. He was not a registered member of The Bibliophile Society.
I do not collect Charles Dickens, but The Dickens-Kolle Letters is also part of my Collection of Other People's Letters.
This book is part of my Harry B. Smith Collection as well. The publisher printed a limited number of copies of this book to be used as presentation copies by Harry B. Smith. Those copies do not contain the seal of The Bibliophile Society. My copy was published for The Bibliophile Society.
The St. Louis bibliophile W. K. Bixby was a member of The Bibliophile Society, and permitted the Society to publish the Notebooks of Percy Bysshe Shelley. He provided other clubs with originals of works in his library to publish for their members as well.
This next book had me scratching my head when I bought it I don't know how many years ago. But I might have a handle on it now.
At first glance it appears that there are pages missing because the book begins on Page 7. But in looking at the binding, it does not appear that any pages were detached. Moreover, all other copies on the web and in university libraries begin on page 7. This book has the seal of The Bibliophile Society on the front cover, but it is not readily identified in the list of the works of The Bibliophile Society. Henry Howard Harper was the author of this book. Harper might have sent this book to the members of The Bibliophile Society in 1921 as an added bonus to the four volumes of RLS's Unpublished Poems and Prose, which was the Club's selection for that year. The preceding pages of this book might have been purposely deleted before publication because of possible copyright infringement.
The condition of the cover of this next book leaves something to be desired. But I am completely satisfied with the book's provenance!
In the Prefatory of this book, Harper says that he had been asked to write about book-loving, book-buying, and book clubs "for the exclusive use of members of a private book club." I took that to mean that he wrote it for the members of The Bibliophile Society; however, this book is not listed as one of the publications of The Bibliophile Society, and does not contain the Society's seal. Moreover, the articles did not appear in any of the Society's Year Books.
Harper presented the St. Louis bibliophile W. K. Bixby with a copy of this book. And in his presentation letter, Harper says that he wrote the book "for his own pleasure and for the pleasure of his friends."
Bixby gave this book to the Missouri Historical Society on February 18, 1920, which later deaccessioned it, possibly because of the condition of the cover.
In my January 2013 post, Memories of Things Experienced and Things Missed, I briefly mentioned W. K. Bixby as the first former owner of Will H. Low's copy of Across the Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson. And that cover looked like it had been dragged across the Plains, before I replaced it.
On Saturday Evening, December 19, 1908, Henry Howard Harper gave a talk before the Rowfant Club. The Functions of a Book Club was the title of his presentation. Rowfant Club member Ambrose Swasey, a member of The Bibliophile Society himself, and soon to be the next Vice President of the Rowfant Club, invited Harper to speak before the Rowfant Club. Swasey requested that Harper "say something which might stimulate the members of the club to greater activity in the line of publication."
In addition to Rowfant Club members, there were members present from the Caxton Club of Chicago, the Grolier Club of New York, and The Bibliophile Society as well.
I reread Harper's presentation and thought his tone to be condescending. He was giving advice on how a book club should function to a club that was twice the age of his own club––as if the Rowfant Club needed to learn something from The Bibliophile Society! Swasey, however, specifically requested that Harper inspire the Rowfant Club members to increase their publications, so maybe there was a problem there. I was curious to see if Rowfant Club members heeded Harper's advice and increased their publications, so I read a few of the Rowfant Club's year books that were published before and after Harper's presentation in 1908 (You can click on the hyper link to read them yourself).
Prior to Harper's talk, the Rowfant Club sometimes couldn't get enough subscriptions from its members to pay for the publication of a book. The Club was only able to get 157 subscriptions for its Puckles Club book in 1900, and was left with copies that had to be sold at auction. The Rowfant Club published no books in 1907 prior to Harper's 1908 talk, and no books were published in 1909. In the 1911 Year Book, the Publication Committee of the Rowfant Club wrote:
It might appear from the fact that no publication has been issued during the past year, that the Committee has been hibernating, and I am not altogether sure but such a state would be perfectly acceptable to many if not most of the members of the Club. In other words, it might be perfectly satisfactory if no publications were issued....
The President' Address in the 1911 Year Book is also worth reading. President Frank Hadley Ginn gave a mostly favorable history of all the various book clubs, and emphasized that the Rowfant Club was a book club and not a literary society. Here is what he said about The Bibliophile Society.
The Bibliophile Society of Boston has for several years held high rank as a book club, and through a large membership (something over 500) scattered over a vast expanse of territory, has been able to secure the financial support to issue books practically without limit as to expense. It is, however, primarily not a club but a society or syndicate of book underwriters. The Society holds no meetings of members, its entire affairs being managed by a council, and the council, in turn, being managed by Mr. Henry H. Harper, its Treasurer, who has a remarkable faculty and the time for working out the countless and minute details involved in making the perfect book. Mr. Harper is a non-resident member of our Rowfant Club, and many of you will undoubtedly recall the very interesting talk he gave us two or three years ago as to 'What a Book Club Should Be.' The Bibliophile Society's publications are indeed perfect examples of master work in book-making.
Ambrose Swasey became the President of the Rowfant Club for the 1912-1913 season and the Rowfant Club hit it big with its publication of The Tempest, receiving numerous accolades. None other than the Shakespeare authority, Sidney Lee, wrote the Introduction to this book.
As a side note about The Functions of a Book Club, my copy was formerly owned by the Cincinnati printer Allen Collier, who couldn't help but notice an error on page 15:
The next book, Bob Hardwick, was first published in 1911. It was "issued privately by the DeVinne Press, and printed only on advance subscriptions from members of The Bibliophile Society." It is not, however, listed as one of The Bibliophile Society's publications.
This book is purported to be the life story of one Bob Hardwick. But, in actuality, it is the autobiography of Henry Howard Harper. I verified this from a genealogy website. The frontispiece of the book might even be a portrait of his own daughter. The Dedication Page reads, " To the Sacred Memory of My Mother." Harper's mother died a few days after he was born. I actually enjoyed reading the book, although it mentions nothing of his later life in books.
My copy of Bob Hardwick was formerly owned by the Altoona, Pa. bibliophile William F. Gable.
By now Henry Howard Harper thought he could write just about anything. And the next book in my library that he wrote is the novel The Tides of Fate, which was published in 1918.
A former owner, possibly Isaac Joseph, a member of The Bibliophile Society from Cleveland, tried reading this novel, and got as far as page 31. I know this because at least one of the leaves from every gathering from page 31 to page 324 was unopened. I read up to page 31; however, I found the novel too interesting to stop there, so I cut open all the leaves and continued reading. At that time, I was halfway thru reading Leo Damrosch's book, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age. But I put The Club aside, and I'm still reading The Tides of Fate.
Harper's book, Byron's Malach Hamoves was also published in 1918. It was written for and included in the Seventeenth Year Book of The Bibliophile Society. In the book, Harper lambasts Leigh Hunt for his treatment of Lord Byron in Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries. A few copies of Byron's Malach Hamoves were privately printed as complimentary copies to be distributed by Harper. He presented this copy of the book to the New York publisher O. A. Morgner.
In 1924, the Torch Press privately printed Harper's book, Library Essays: About Books, Bibliophiles, Writers, and Kindred Spirits.
Six of Harper's essays were previously published in the Year Books of The Bibliophile Society. Another essay was previously published as the Prefatory Note to the Society's 1909 book selection, Thoreau's Walden. The other essay was previously published as the Introduction of the Society's 1918 book selection, Letters of Mary W. Shelley.
The recipient of this book, John G. Milburn, has an association with President McKinley. When Milburn still lived in Buffalo, he invited President McKinley to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, and McKinley stayed in his house. Milburn was standing next to McKinley greeting visitors to the Exposition's Temple of Music when the President was shot. McKinley returned to Milburn's residence to recuperate after surgery, but died from gangrene poisoning several days later, possibly in Milburn's library.
Harper's letter to Milburn was typed on paper containing the letterhead of The Bibliophile Society. The book, however, is not listed as one of the Society's publication.
The Twenty-Eighth Annual Report, published in 1930 was the last year book published for the members of The Bibliophile Society. And I believe the Great Depression had something to do with that. But it was not the last book published for the members of The Bibliophile Society. Henry Howard Harper had a hand in publishing these "after works" And he continued to have his own works published as well.
In 1932, the Torch Press printed one hundred and forty-nine copies of Harper's book, Letters From an Outsider to an Insider. These copies were sent to members of The Bibliophile Society who subscribed prior to the issue of the book. The seal of The Bibliophile Society is not present on the title page.
In fact, the only mention of The Bibliophile Society is the Printing Statement tipped into the book. The book itself was sent to Joseph Bancroft, who still used the family bookplate of his father, Samuel Bancroft, Jr.
I have yet to read Letters From an Outsider to an Insider. But in reading Harper's notes and from skimming the pages, the letters are to Harper from a playwright friend of his who is dying from an incurable disease. John G. Milburn was a mutual friend. The playwright was probably a member of The Bibliophile Society because he received books from Harper. The book looks like a good read!
This Thing Called Fame: Dramatic Episodes in the Private Life of a Literary Genius by Henry Howard Harper and his wife is housed in not one, but two slipcases. I recently ordered this book on a whim, thinking and hoping that it was a sequel to Bob Hardwick. The book, however, is not about Harper's life. Instead, it is a play about Charles Dickens and his friends and family.
Harper sent this copy to Henry Benning Spencer, a member of The Bibliophile Society from Washington D. C. According to Harper's letter, he found new material for the play after it was first published, and paid for the publication of a new edition out of his own pocket.
Again, the letter, dated October 1, 1936, was printed on the letterhead of The Bibliophile Society. But there is nothing else in the book that identifies it as an official publication of The Bibliophile Society.
I have one other book in my library by Henry Howard Harper: The Fruit of Experiment, privately printed for the author by the Torch Press in 1937. There are no marks of provenance for this book.
This book contains two short stories. I read the titled story, and it was quite good. It concerns a business man whose business has taken a turn during the time of The Great Depression. I have yet to read "The Pink Ribbon," but will read it before I get old and gray.
Henry Howard Harper had at least one more book published for the members of The Bibliophile Society. In 1939, the Torch Press privately printed a small edition of the book for the members of The Bibliophile Society. And the seal of the Society was printed on the title page.
Finally, Murray Blander, a student at Palmer Graduate Library School, Long Island University, had his thesis accepted in 1970. It was titled, History of the Bibliophile Society, Boston, Massachusetts, 1901-1939.
Here is the entry of Blander's work in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. University Microfilm Services at Ann Arbor published a microfilm facsimile of Blander's thesis.
WorldCat shows four copies:
Here's the listing from the State Library of Massachusetts:
The Huntington Library has a five-page periodical article about Blander's work.