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Philip R. Bishop: foremost Mosher scholar and collector

Philip R. Bishop, scholar-collector of Mosher Press.

Philip R. Bishop, scholar-collector of Mosher Press.

Though I’ve written often about accomplished book collectors, I’ve never had the privilege of actually knowing one personally until I began corresponding with Philip R. Bishop, the distinguished scholar-collector of Mosher Press books. I first heard from him last December when he wrote to generously acknowledge an essay of his I had mentioned, talking of an astounding rare book find, a vellum copy of a Mosher limited edition. I don’t collect Mosher Press books myself but I was familiar with this gifted designer-publisher and his finely printed books because Norman Strouse, a bibliophile hero of mine, had been an ardent Mosher Press collector, and it was gratifying to hear from Bishop who had known Strouse well. Strouse had been the greatest collector of Mosher books until Bishop came along and took that devotion to greater and newer heights: becoming the foremost collector and scholar of Mosher in the world.

Bishop has written the definitive bio-bibliography of Mosher ( Thomas Bird Mosher — Pirate Prince of Publishers: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Source Guide to The Mosher Books Reflecting England’s National Literature & Design; Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 1998) and continues to fervently research and produce numerous ground-breaking essays on Mosher Press and its extraordinary creator. In my reply to Bishop, I said: “One of the things that drew me so much to Strouse was that he seemed to be one of the few collectors willing to talk and write about his collecting experiences, and with such great enthusiasm, too. So many collectors seem to shy away from enunciating the details of a hunt or a transaction. I hope you will do another book, this time a more personal account of collecting and dealing in Mosher.” I also asked him if he wouldn’t mind telling me more about Strouse and him.

When he wrote back, I was excited to read: “I am working on several books, one of which will be my book collecting memoirs that currently number somewhere around 750 typed pages (including my 90 essays done for the Delaware Bibliophiles). More important is The Collected Letters of Thomas Bird Mosher , a work which I’m well into, but which will require a couple more years, I’m sure. 2016 will be a pivotal year for me to continue the work of compiling more TBM letters, which presently number around 525.”

Philip R. Bishop’s Mosher collection.

Philip R. Bishop’s Mosher collection.

Bishop also obligingly filled me in on his longstanding biblio-relationship with Strouse. “We began our “relationship” as me, the humble novice collector, and he, the man who most personified the term “Mosher collector”. I’d write to him about my discoveries and new acquisitions and he’d encourage me to continue. At some point our correspondence evolved to more of a collector-to-collector discussion, and I know he could sense my passion in collecting all things related to Thomas Bird Mosher and the Mosher Press. And now that Strouse is no more, it has been my great honour and privilege to carry on. I first assembled a collection that rivaled the great collection of Norman Strouse and then surpassed it (although I like to think of our collections as two gems used in making up a crown). One of my goals was to collect more of the Mosher books printed on real vellum than Norman had succeeded in doing. I have. Another was to rival the manuscript material in Norman’s collection. I have. The reality of the Bishop Collection is that it’s the largest and finest ever assembled.”

Bishop began collecting Mosher Press in the mid 1980s — he found them first in a neighbourhood bookshop he frequented, called The Book Haven. Once he had had a taste for these typographically handsome books, he looked further afield for more from the press.

‘And now that (Norman) Strouse is no more, it has been my great honour and privilege to carry on. I first assembled a collection that rivaled the great collection of Norman Strouse and then surpassed it...’ — Philip R. Bishop

Having assembled over the years a monumental collection from the press, he began focusing on other sub collections related to the press, of which the richest and most beautiful are Mosher books in exemplary fine bindings and the editions printed on real vellum. The Bishop Collection now totals 4,500 plus items that include 360 hand-bound books in richly tooled bindings, 33 on real vellum, and 34 hand-illuminated books. When he was recently inducted into Grolier Club, he exhibited three Mosher Press books handpicked from his collection. Accompanying his July exhibit this year was a collector’s statement that described him as: “Smitten. Driven. Narrowly focused. Unrelenting monomania.”

Anyone wanting to know more about Mosher and his carefully printed limited editions or read more of Bishop’s research and essays on collecting Mosher Press need only turn to the ultimate reference to all things Mosher: Bishop’s scholarly and entertaining website (thomasbirdmosher.net) on the press and its publisher. For me, discovering the bibliophilic writings of Bishop has been so satisfying because here at last is another impassioned collector writing about collecting in colourful and scholarly detail, and in the process, generously sharing his research and his collection with scholars and fellow collectors. His accomplishment in collecting Mosher in depth is singular and profound; his ardour, his scholarship, and his devotion are a model for all bibliophiles, and a challenging and joyful inspiration.

Pradeep Sebastian is a bibliophile, columnist and critic.


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