Saturday, 16 November 2013

Philip Bliss (1787-1857) and Rebekah Bliss (1749-1819)

Earlier this year a fine Flemish Book of Hours with an interesting  early 19th-century provenance was sold in London. A faint pencil inscription on a flyleaf:
Inscription, as it appears in normal light
at first appeared to read:
"Missal of considerable 
delicacy and beauty.
cost Mr. Bliss [£25 ??]"
This immediately suggested Philip Bliss, the well -known Oxford antiquarian, book-collector, and member of the Roxburghe Club. 

de Ricci noted Bliss's unusual method of marking his books:
de Ricci, English Book Collectors, p.144

Footnote 2 records the dispersal of his library: 

and refers to a reproduction on the next page showing Bliss's "P" added by hand before the printed leaf-signature "B": 
But a search of the Philip Bliss sale catalogues failed to find an entry that matched the manuscript.

Another closer look at its inscription led to the answer: it refers not to "Mr." Bliss, but "Mrs." Bliss:
Bliss inscription, somewhat enhanced
It was a quick matter to find references online to a book-collector called Rebekah Bliss (1749-1819), whose library was sold in London by Saunders & Hodgson, 26 April 1826: Bibliotheca Splendidissima: A Catalogue of a Select Portion of the Library of Mrs. Bliss, Deceased, Removed from her Residence at Kensington ... . In this catalogue, the manuscript was easy to identify as lot 461 due to the description of its binding and the unusual iconography of some of its miniatures.

By coincidence, on the same page that de Ricci mentions Philip Bliss, he mentions "Miss Richardson Currer (1785-1861), England's earliest female bibliophile" (my emphasis):


but we now know that Bliss had formed her library and died by the time that Currer was only about 30 years old, and therefore deserves the title.

Rebekah Bliss seems never to have used a bookplate or any other form of ownership mark, so without the faint pencil note of a later 19th-century owner, we would never have known that this interesting manuscript belonged to such an interesting collector.

I have just discovered that Dr Davies has very recently started a blog in which he examines Rebekah Bliss's library in detail: http://rebekahbliss.blogspot.co.uk

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