I can’t remember exactly when I acquired my first copy of The Romance of Book-collecting by J. H. Slater. It had to be in the 1990s because that’s the only time that I stamped some of my books with my embossed seal.
I probably bought it from Bob Fleck because I bought most of my Books About Books from Oak Knoll back then. For over twenty years this was the only copy of The Romance of Book-collecting that I had in my library. But all that changed early this month! I came across a presentation copy of The Romance of Book-collecting while searching online for a relevant book to give to my friend Kurt Zimmerman. Kurt was going to be the guest speaker at the meeting of the Florida Bibliophile Society on the 21st of November, and we give our speakers a book in appreciation for their presentation before the Society. I found a choice association copy for Kurt, and I kept the presentation copy of The Romance of Book-collecting for myself!
The cover was a little soiled but I wanted the book for its presentation inscription.
If Slater’s handwriting is hard to decipher, this is what he wrote:
16 Sep. 1902
Written for an American bookseller (Francis P. Harper of 17 East 16th Street, New York) and publisher in London & perhaps also in New York as well. The critics said I have invented most of the experiences given in the book but that assertion is not within bow-shot of the truth.
J. H. Slater
I knew who Francis P. Harper was. I have two of his bookseller catalogues. He was Lathrop Harper’s older brother. I searched for a connection between J. H. Slater and Francis P. Harper and I found one. Francis P. Harper published the First American Edition of The Romance of Book-collecting in 1898, the same year as the London edition. From Slater’s inscription, though, it appears that he was not aware that Harper was the American publisher of his book.
I then tried to find a book reviewer that questioned the veracity of the experiences that Slater detailed in his book. But the only negative review I could find concerned Slater’s repeated misspelling of Poe’s Tamerlane. He misspelled it as Tamerlaine not once but four times. As far as The Athæneum reviewer was concerned, that was a mortal sin. As for the veracity of Slater’s finds, I myself have been blessed with some lucky finds, and have read about the lucky finds of others, so I don’t doubt the veracity of what Slater wrote in his book (See Addenda).
One thing that surprised me when I first saw the presentation copy was that it was bound in light brown cloth. My older copy was bound in light green cloth. It is possible that by 1902 Eliot Stock, Slater’s London publisher, had run out of the green cloth, and resorted to using the brown cloth.
The presentation copy wasn’t the only copy of The Romance of Book-collecting that I acquired this month. I also acquired a copy of the New York edition that Francis P. Harper published in 1898. I acquired it from Sean Donnelly, proprietor of Doralynn Books in Madeira Beach. We visited his bookstore after the FBS meeting on the 21st.
The only difference between the New York edition and the London edition is that the title page was changed to reflect the change in the publisher and place of publication.
I expected to find that the new title page was pasted in the book but that was not the case. The new title page and the frontispiece were printed on the same sheet and sewn into the book as part of the book’s first signature. I could discern no difference in the first signatures of either book. The last page of both books state that both books were printed in London by Eliot Stock. Therefore, it is likely that the title page was replaced at the very time the books destined for New York were being printed in London in 1898. That would account for the change in the color of the cloth binding of my presentation copy as well.
I found this unflattering review of Slater’s book which appeared in the Dec. 28, 1898 issue of The Guardian.