Extraordinary. Matchless. Meticulously curated. These are the adjectives which come to the fore in beginning to describe Charles Thacher’s uncommonly generous gift to the American Museum of Fly Fishing of his superb collection of fly fishing literature. Mr. Thacher’s collection is as notable as it is because of two attributes he possesses: first, he is knowledgeable, more knowledgeable in fly fishing literature than a great many book collectors; second, Mr.Thacher is discerning, he knows what merited addition to his collection and what did not.

Novice book collectors soon learn to seek early editions, ideally first editions, and never to buy flawed copies unless sound copies are not available; Mr. Thacher knows that and much more. An example from the nearly 400 books in the list for the Thacher Collection that first leapt off the page was Samuel Gardiner’s A Booke of Angling, published in 1606. It is believed to be the only copy of this book, which conflates angling with religious devotion, that existed in a private collection. A second is the 2nd edition of Thomas Barker’s The Art of Angling published in 1653—the same year as the 1st edition of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (Walton freely acknowledged his debt to Barker). Barker’s book is highly sought after, and would be a prized possession in any collection. Another sterling example: the 5th edition of The Compleat Angler (1676), the first edition of this most widely known of angling volumes to include Part II, the portion composed by Charles Cotton that is chiefly about fly fishing, which Walton’s own work is not. These are only three of the thirty-two books in the Charles Thacher Collection published in the 17th century – eleven of them prior to Walton. In addition, there are 51 books that were published in the 18th century. Many of these books are extraordinarily rare.

A highlight of the collection are three books published between 1814 and 1839 that contain 9, 37, and 125, respectively, actual tied flies, preserved well enough that they could still be used today. They are among the oldest surviving examples of artificial flies. The flies were inserted in the books (matching the authors’ descriptions) by the owners, so each book is a unique copy residing only in the Collection. A 4th similar book is the very rare 1st edition (1842) of William Blacker’s Art of Angling, which, along with its 31 flies tied by the author, is housed in an unusual, perfectly preserved, lovely leather wallet binding, meant to be taken to the stream, where only a few survived undamaged.

Two classic early 19th century books of great interest to collectors are The Kentish Angler (1804) by an anonymous author, and The Fly Fishers Legacy (1819), by George Scotcher. These are included in only a few private collections. Examples of books that are of particular value to those studying the evolution of fly fishing include two 1st editions of Alfred Ronalds’s The Fly-Fisher’s Etymology (1836), an early voice for the role of science in fly selection, and the 1st edition (1843) of William Scrope’s Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing. Scrope was a pioneer in recounting the development of Atlantic Salmon from alevin, through parr and smolt and on to the fully adult Salmo salar and he sang the praises of soft hackles 132 years before Sylvester Nemes returned these flies to prominence in the U.S. There are many more.

Other notable British books include all of the late 19th century and early 20th century deluxe editions that include tied flies – Aldam (2), Halford (3), West, Ronalds, Edmonds & Lee and Taverner (2). The Charles Thacher Collection is virtually complete with respect to the important early American and Canadian fishing books, including the earliest, History of the Schuykill Club (1830); the first about angling, William Shriner’s Sporting Manual (1841); and the rarest (in the deluxe editions where produced), notably William Hickman’s Sketches on the Nepisaguit (1860), Dean Sage’s The Restigouche (1888), both printings of Edmund Davis’s Salmon Fishing on the Grand Cascapedia (1904), Lee Sturges’ Salmon Fishing on the Cain River (1919), Preston Jennings’s A Book of Trout Flies (1935), and Charles Phair’s Atlantic Salmon Fishing (1937).

The above is merely a teaser. Long a haven for serious fly fishing research, the library of the American Museum of Fly Fishing has been taken to a new level by Charles Thacher’s gift. All who “fish fine and far off,” all who treasure the American Museum of Fly Fishing, are together in our signal gratitude to Charles Thacher.

For a complete list of the books in the Charles Thacher Collection, click here. To read the press release, click here.