The Tom Hoffman Library at Leander

HTBS’s new contributor, Louis Petrin, has been in contact with a most interesting rowing book collector, Tom Hoffman. Here is Louis’s report:

The National Rowing Foundation at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and the River and Rowing Museum in Henley were blessed to receive generous gifts from Thomas E. Weil, a renowned rowing historian and collector, of his collection of rowing memorabilia, including books. Following is a story of another fabulous gift, this time to the Leander Trust in England by another collector called Tom!

Tom Hoffman began collecting books on rowing in 1961, whilst still at school, having caught sight of a number of 19th- and early 20th-century rowing books gathering dust in a Cambridge book shop; these he bought as a job-lot for £4/6. By 1984, he had accumulated about 600 books, and from that time began to apply a process of methodical search and refinement which has resulted, 50 odd years on, in what must be the finest collection in existence of books with a rowing interest of 1,750 volumes.

The process of refining the library developed from sourcing books through a network of booksellers, to replacing existing books with copies in better condition or acquiring second copies in later editions or different bindings. For example, R.C. Lehmann’s The Complete Oarsman was published in 1908; Tom collected all four editions of this book, reprinted in 1919, 1924 and 1931.

Since the 1990s, when Tom started to compile a Bibliography on Rowing, the collection has become structured while remaining comprehensive in character. It comprises volumes from thirty-four countries, among which, Pakistan, Burma, Japan. The bibliography is planned to be published by Leander on their website next year.

Amongst the rarest in Tom’s collection are the works of John Taylor, the Water Poet – “Collected into one volume by the Author. With Sundry new Additions, Corrected, Revised and Newly Imprinted” printed in 1630. John Taylor was a ferryman and poet well known to, but looked down on by the Elizabethan literati: works include “A Very Merry Wherry-Ferry-Voyage”, “The Sculler”, and “A Discovery by Sea, from London to Salisbury”.

John Taylor – The Water Poet – 1630

Leonard Euler was a mathematician living in St Petersburg and his A Complete Theory of the Construction and Properties of Vessels is dedicated to H.I.H Pavel Petrovich, son of Catherine the Great, future Emperor Paul 1st and eventual victim of assassination. The book contains a section on vessels with oars, one of the earliest records of a discussion of the technical elements of oar-driven propulsion, c. 1773.

The Annual Register of 1788 has an account of a boat race on the Thames between two eight oared cutters – Invincible and Chatham – from Westminster Bridge to Richmond Bridge, against wind and tide, for a purse of 50 guineas, during the course of which exertions were such that one of the “Invincibles” dropped dead and two became “seriously ill”. Chatham won the race…… sounds familiar. 

John Taylor (1630) and Leonard Euler (1790) and Annual Register (1788)

This is a small taste of the collection of 1,750 books which Tom Hoffman has most generously donated to the Leander Trust to be kept at Leander Club in what will be known as The Tom Hoffman Library which, after more generous donations by club members, has now been prepared to house the collection.

The new reference library at Leander

Under the terms of the agreement, it will be a reference library to which bona fide researchers will be given access by appointment to study books and documents on the premises. When the library is in situ the catalogue will be published on the Leander Club website, along with procedures for access and other regulations which will govern the way the library is to be administrated.

Tom is hopeful that rowing clubs around the world that have published their history or any author of a book on rowing may be generous enough to donate a copy of their book to Leander (with an inscription indicating the name of the donor, of course) to expand the collection/library into a unique and authoritative resource for the benefit of all. Hear, hear!

By the way, Tom had been a rower and was Captain of Boats at The Leys School in Cambridge, at the University of Exeter and for the City of Cambridge Rowing Club. He subsequently coached Exeter University and Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Collections by Weil and Hoffman, and hopefully others to come, are important as rowing cannot progress if it does not know where it came from.

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