University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department


Frank W. Tober

Frank W. Tober

When Frank W. Tober died in June 1995, he left behind one of the most significant bequests the University of Delaware Library has ever received. In addition to the several thousand books, hundreds of manuscripts and papers, and other materials which form the Frank W. Tober Collection, he also provided for the continuing support and preservation of the collection by establishing two separate endowments. The Ellen Brady Tober Curatorial Fund, which honors Frank Tober's late wife Ellen, helps support an assistantship which provides an annual stipend to a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences to work in the Special Collections Department of the University of Delaware Library. The Frank W. Tober Collection fund provides support for the ongoing acquisition and preservation of materials in the subject areas in which he collected.

Frank W. Tober was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1919. As a youth, he was an avid reader who enjoyed history and literature, but he was particularly interested in the sciences. Following his graduation from high school in 1937, he enrolled at Michigan Technological University where he earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1941. He subsequently received a master's degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1941 and a doctorate in physical chemistry from Yale University in 1948. Frank went on to have a long, successful career as a chemist with the Du Pont Company; in fact, it was Du Pont which brought him to Delaware. Along the way he also had the opportunity to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority and during World War II was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project at its Oak Ridge facility near Knoxville, Tennessee. Frank's scientific training influenced his approach to book collecting and extended even to his reading habits. He was an extremely organized individual and maintained notebooks in which he recorded his detailed responses to books. He also retained correspondence with booksellers, copies of invoices and dealer catalogs, and kept thorough records of his acquisitions.

Although the focus of this exhibition is the forgery collection which Frank regarded as the cornerstone of his personal library, the range of his collecting interests was astonishing. For much of his life he was a major collector of stamps and, to a lesser extent, coins. But when his bibliophilic pursuits became predominant--to the point of "bibliomania," as he liked to say--Frank left his philatelic interests behind and devoted himself exclusively to book collecting. Frank had eclectic tastes in art and literature and was a lifelong student of history. One of the first subjects in which he began seriously to collect was the era of Napoleon and the French Revolution. He assembled a collection of several hundred eighteenth and nineteenth century books and pamphlets, and managed to acquire original manuscripts, historical documents, and ephemeral material. In 1992, this collection became the first of Frank's gifts to the University of Delaware Library.

Frank was also an amateur printer and had his own imprint, the Pucca Press, under which he issued small booklets and holiday greeting cards. As he did with most of his interests, Frank sought to learn as much as possible and began collecting books on the history and technology of printing. Soon he was seeking out material on a variety of specialized topics, including bookbinding, publishing history, typography, illustration, bibliography, and even the history of book collecting. Frank's scientific curiosity led him into such technical areas as the chemistry of ink and paper and these merged with his growing interest in forgery. Frank began to collect seriously on these subjects, especially in the history of papermaking and on the manufacture of paper. Frank's interest in the history of printing also stimulated him to collect examples of fine printing, from early printed books to the productions of contemporary fine presses. Frank was particularly fond of the Bird & Bull Press and would have been pleased that its founder, Henry Morris, designed the catalog for this exhibition.

Although Frank Tober continued to collect in all of these and other areas, he devoted the greatest amount of his time, energy, and resources to his literary forgery collection. As a physical chemist, Frank had a professional curiosity about the technical processes involved in the detection of forgeries and often said that this initiated his interest in the forgeries of Thomas J. Wise and H. Buxton Forman. He was drawn to the investigations of John Carter and Graham Pollard, who employed state-of-the-art chemical examinations of the papers used by Wise to expose him as a forger. In addition, though Frank did not regard Thomas J. Wise as a kindred spirit, he was intrigued by the fact that Wise had a long career in the chemical industry. Even as he was embarking upon his career as a forger, Thomas J. Wise was also a successful commodities broker in the essential oils used in perfumes and his firm, H. Rubeck, built essential oil recovery plants in Spain and Portugal. Frank became fascinated by the Wise-Forman forgeries and collected virtually everything he could relating to the actual forgeries or to the various individuals associated with them. At the time of his death in 1995, his collection included over half of the known Wise-Forman forgeries and piracies, as well as a massive amount of related primary and secondary material. In addition, he expanded his collecting purview to include other forgers such as George Psalmanazar, Thomas Chatterton, James Macpherson, John Payne Collier, and Frederic Prokosch. His literary forgery collecting also broadened to encompass related subjects such as counterfeiting, the forgery of artwork and furniture, hoaxes, and imaginary books and libraries.

As we made plans for the eventual transfer of Frank's collection to the University of Delaware Library, he was adamant that the books and manuscripts he had acquired should be properly housed, cataloged, and preserved so that his collection would be available for future generations of students and scholars. The University of Delaware Library has worked vigorously over the past several years to ensure that Frank's objectives for his collection were achieved. The exhibition Forging a Collection serves as an introduction to the Frank W. Tober Collection and brings to scholarly notice a major resource for study in a wide array of research topics.

Timothy Murray
Head, Special Collections
University of Delaware Library

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