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University of Texas at Austin

Thayer Hobson:

An Inventory of His Papers in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Hobson, Thayer, 1897-1967
Title: Thayer Hobson Papers
Dates: 1913-1967 (bulk 1958-1967)
Extent: 18 boxes, 1 oversize folder (7.5 linear feet)
Abstract: Correspondence, financial and legal documents, manuscripts, sound recordings, printed materials, clippings, photographs, and notes document the professional career and private life of book publisher Thayer Hobson
RLIN Record #: TXRC03-A19
Language: English
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts, 1968, 1970, 1972
Processed by: Maribeth Kobza Betton, Shanon Lawson, Mary Elizabeth McLain, Sarah Ziebell Mann, 1999; Richard Workman, 2003

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Francis Thayer Hobson, who stopped using his first name as an adult, was born in Denver, Colorado, on 4 September 1897. He had one brother, Henry Wise, who became a bishop in the Episcopal Church, and two sisters, Eleanor (later Mackenzie) and Katherine (unmarried). Hobson interrupted his studies at Yale University to join the French army during World War I. In 1917 he served as a machine gunner for the American Expeditionary Force until he was seriously wounded and returned home in 1918. After recuperating he returned to Yale, where he served as business manager for the Yale Daily News Board, working with fellow students Briton Haddon and Henry R. Luce. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1920 and worked briefly in a manufacturing company before taking positions as an English teacher at Westminster School and Yale College. From 1922 to 1924 he did postgraduate work at Yale. In 1925 he divorced his first wife, Janet Camp (who later published studies of the Rossetti family under the name Janet Camp Troxell), and married Priscilla Fansler, with whom he had one son, Timothy. He spent 1925-26 in Paris studying at the Sorbonne.
Hobson decided to enter the publishing business in 1926 after meeting his college friend Ed Knopf in Europe. He returned home and began working for the newly founded William Morrow and Company. In 1929, Hobson and Priscilla divorced; she would subsequently marry Alger Hiss. From 1930 to 1935 he was married to Laura Zametkin, and they jointly wrote two western novels published by Morrow under the pseudonym Peter Field; Laura Z. Hobson later became a well-known novelist on her own. Hobson himself continued to pursue his own creative writing aspirations for a while and published a small number of stories under various pseudonyms, but left off writing in the mid-1930s.
When William Morrow died in 1931, Hobson bought control of the company and became its president. He successfully led the company through the Depression and World War II into the more prosperous post-war period, publishing authors such as Enid Bagnold, James Gould Cozzens, H. L. Davis, Temple Fielding, Ernest K. Gann, James Hilton, Margaret Mead, Nicholas Monsarrat, Ruth Moore, Nevil Shute, and Morris L. West. The author with whom he is most closely associated, however, and Morrow's greatest success was mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner. In 1932, Gardner began his lifelong publishing association with Morrow by having two manuscripts rejected by the firm. In his rejection letter, Hobson suggested changes Gardner could make to combine the two stories into a single, better manuscript; the result was the first Perry Mason mystery, The Case of the Velvet Claws, published in 1933. Hobson and Gardner quickly developed a solid although sometimes contentious working relationship and a close friendship that continued for the rest of Hobson’s life. In 1938 Gardner began publishing a series of mysteries under the pseudonym "A. A. Fair," and for over a decade Hobson safeguarded Gardner’s secret identity. In the late 1930s, Hobson established Thayer Hobson and Company to manage the publication, promotion, and foreign rights of Gardner’s writings.
In 1958, Thayer Hobson resigned as president of Morrow, became chairman of the board, and went into semi-retirement in Tucson, Arizona. Hobson’s wife, Isabelle Lavis Garrabrants, whom he had married in 1935 and with whom he had a son, Peter, and a daughter, Thayer, died in 1960. The same year, Hobson married Elizabeth Tonkin ("Bettie") Davis, the widow of writer H. L. Davis, and they moved to Comfort, Texas, to breed Appaloosas and quarter horses at Deer Ledge Ranch. Despite his declining health in the 1960s, he continued to work closely with Morrow and Thayer Hobson and Company from Comfort. After a long struggle with respiratory illness that had originated in his war injuries, Thayer Hobson died on 19 October 1967.


"Hobson, (Francis) Thayer." Who Was Who in America. Vol. 4 of Who's Who in American History. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1968.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, financial and legal documents, manuscripts, sound recordings, printed materials, clippings, photographs, and notes (1913-1967, bulk 1958-1967) document the professional career and private life of book publisher Thayer Hobson. The papers are arranged in four series: I. General Publishing, 1932-1967 (5 boxes); II. Erle Stanley Gardner, 1957-1967 (6 boxes); III. Nonpublishing, 1913-1967 (6 boxes); and IV. Elizabeth Tonkin Hobson, 1960-1967 (1 box).
The collection consists largely of Hobson's correspondence after he stepped down as president of William Morrow and Company and left New York in 1958, together with some older personal and financial files. The papers show his professional and personal relations with the staffs of Morrow and other businesses associated with Morrow's publishing endeavors; with authors published by Morrow; with his extremely wide circle of friends and acquaintances in the East, Arizona, and Texas; with others involved in the raising and racing of horses; and with his fellow Yale alumni. The publishing-related materials concern almost all aspects of the business, including acquisitions, editing, advertising, marketing, financial management, foreign publications, and copyright. Also included in the collection are manuscripts of a number of short stories that Hobson wrote in the 1930s.
Aside from Morrow author Erle Stanley Gardner--who is by far the most voluminous correspondent in these papers--significant correspondents include many employees of William Morrow and Company, among them officers Lawrence Hughes, John T. Lawrence, and Donald Stevenson; editors Helen B. King, Francis L. Phillips, and John C. Willey; and secretaries Henriette Gelber and Lorraine Rockett. There is also extensive correspondence from Pocket Books president Freeman Lewis and several of Erle Stanley Gardner’s assistants, particularly Jean Bethell (who became Gardner's second wife), Peggy Downs, Ruth ("Honey") Moore, Hedy Roripaugh, and Helene Seay. Among the personal correspondence are large numbers of letters exchanged with his friends Father Joseph Cleary, F. Peavey Heffelfinger, Ruth Moore, P. I. Prentice, and Raymond M. Weaver. Hobson was not always consistent in his filing, and closely related correspondence may be found in his business papers, in the Gardner files, and among his personal papers. An index of correspondents is included in this finding aid.

Series Descriptions

Series I. General Publishing, 1932-1967, nd (5 boxes)
The General Publishing series contains correspondence, financial records, legal documents, printed material, and notes documenting Thayer Hobson’s work for William Morrow and Company. The series is divided into three subseries: A. Correspondence, 1937-1967; B. Financial, 1932-1967; and C. General, 1952-1967.
Material in the Correspondence subseries relates broadly to the publishing enterprise of William Morrow. Much of it is between Hobson and the two men who succeeded him as president, John T. ("Sam") Lawrence and Lawrence Hughes. Among other topics, the letters document the growing dissatisfaction of Morrow employees with Lawrence's performance in the office and Hobson's role in his eventual departure. Hobson's correspondence with Morrow's officers, editors, sales representatives, marketing staff, rights and permissions personnel, and secretaries shows his continued close concern for all aspects of the publishing business. His dealings with other figures in the publishing world are also documented here, as, for example, in his correspondence with Desmond Flower of the British publisher Cassell and Co. and Freeman ("Doc") Lewis of Pocket Books. There are also many examples of his warm relationships with Morrow's authors, such as Ernest K. Gann, Paul McGuire, Ruth Moore, and Herman Toepperwein.
A few files in this section are centered around subjects rather that correspondents. The file devoted to the Century Association documents Hobson's ultimately futile efforts to have Alfred A. Knopf accepted for membership in that organization. The New York Herald Tribune file contains copies of his letters to the book reviewing staff of that newspaper with detailed information about Morrow's forthcoming books. The folder of letters and papers from and about Gerith Von Ulm documents her attempts to have Morrow publish her controversial biography, Charlie Chaplin, King of Tragedy, in the late 1930s.
As much as possible, the files have been kept as Hobson created them. He retained copies of almost all his outgoing letters, and incoming and outgoing correspondence is interfiled. He was in the habit of stapling copies of his replies on top of his incoming correspondence, and consequently items that Hobson fastened together within his papers have been kept together and have been arranged by the correspondent or date of the first letter in the group.
In the Index of Correspondents for this collection, business letters from employees of William Morrow and Company are indexed by employee name; other business letters are indexed by firm. Because Hobson was functioning in his business capacity "in absentia" in Arizona and Texas, his correspondents frequently sent him copies of letters from other writers; these third-party letters have been indexed and, except when they were addressed to Erle Stanley Gardner or employees of William Morrow, include parenthetical notes naming their addressees.
The Financial subseries comprises correspondence, reports, receipts, and other financial documents regarding stock, sales, and income. Stock purchases are documented primarily through correspondence with various financial advisors. The majority of correspondence is among Hobson, his lawyer Orlando Metcalf, and Hans von Briesen, lawyer for the William Morrow estate, and concerns Hobson’s purchases of Morrow stock and payments on notes. Also included is correspondence between Hobson and various stockholders, along with a notice for a special meeting of stockholders in 1932 at which stock shares were reevaluated and reorganized after Hobson became president of Morrow.
This subseries also contains monthly and weekly sales records (1956-1962) documenting sales by Morrow and its subsidiaries. Among the financial statements (1956-1960) are income sheets, consolidated balance sheets, and examinations of accounts for Morrow and subsidiaries. Though they retain the chronological order that Hobson imposed, not every subsidiary company is represented each year.
The General subseries includes contact cards, datebooks, and printed material. The contact cards contain the names, addresses, and phone numbers of friends and contacts in the publishing business. Datebooks for 1952-1958, 1960, and 1962 include entries relating to appointments, expense and cash accounts, and shopping lists. Newspaper clippings and magazine articles make up the majority of the printed material, including obituaries for various publishing figures such as Henry R. Luce, Blanche Knopf, and Sir Victor Gollancz.
Series II. Erle Stanley Gardner, 1957-1967, nd (6 boxes)
The Erle Stanley Gardner series contains correspondence, sound recordings, financial records, legal documents, printed material, clippings, notes, and photographs relating to William Morrow’s publication of Gardner’s writings. The series is divided into three subseries: A. Correspondence, 1958-1967; B. Financial and Legal, 1957-1967; and C. Miscellaneous, 1959-1967.
The majority of the Correspondence subseries consists of Gardner's letters to Hobson, copies of Hobson's replies, and copies of Gardner's letters to other correspondents (mostly Morrow personnel) and their replies. Subjects include editorial comments on Gardner’s drafts and information on sales, royalties, marketing, promotion, and foreign rights and publication of the Perry Mason, A. A. Fair, and Doug Selby mystery novels and of Gardner’s travel books, and matters relating to Perry Mason broadcasts, particularly the television series. Besides Hobson, other principal correspondents include Hobson’s secretary Henriette ("Hennie") Gelber, Hobson’s lawyer Maurice Greenbaum, Gardner’s secretaries Jean Bethell and Ruth ("Honey") Moore, Morrow employees Lawrence Hughes, John T. Lawrence, and Helen King, Pocket Books' Freeman Lewis, and Willis Wing, Gardner’s agent for magazine publications. During the early 1960s Gardner grew concerned that his sales were slipping, perhaps because of the rising popularity of James Bond; much of the correspondence in this period is taken up with analyses of sales and marketing of his books in an effort to understand and reverse the trend. In addition, Gardner's and Hobson's letters are filled with details of their private lives and of Gardner's working methods. In one letter, for example, Gardner gives a lengthy explanation of his practice of buying a gun for each of his mysteries so that he would have an authentic serial number for use in his fictional courtroom.
Hobson also maintained three separate files of correspondence organized by subject: one concerning the publication of a Gardner comic magazine, and two having to do with Mexico. Materials connected with Gardner comics include drafts and American and German copies of the first issue, "The Case of the Counterfeit Eye" (1964), and an American copy of "The Case of the Sulky Girl" (1964), as well as correspondence among Hobson, Greenbaum, and representatives from Dell Publishing and Atlantic Publishing Corp., documenting legal and promotional aspects of the endeavor.
The first file on Mexico retains Hobson’s original label of "El Dorado," and contains correspondence concerning Gardner’s ill-fated investment in Minas la Dura, a mining company in Mexico in which Isabelle Hobson was also an investor. The second file, which Hobson labeled "Mexico," documents the efforts of Gardner and Hobson to curtail piracy of Gardner’s books in Mexico and Spain, primarily those editions distributed by Editorial Diana. Principal correspondents include Gardner, Hobson, Gardner’s agent for Spanish language publications Lawrence Smith, and the Mexican law firm Noriega y Escobedo.
Gardner also communicated with Hobson through approximately eighty Audograph dictation discs. These items have been separated from other correspondence and ordered according to the year of their postmark. The envelopes, on which Hobson made brief notes, have been left in the collection, but the discs have been removed to the Sound Recordings Collection.
The Financial and Legal subseries contains Gardner sales reports for Morrow trade editions and Pocket Books, royalty statements, and foreign sales reports. Also included is an inventory and appraisal of correspondence between Gardner and William Morrow and Company (1961) by Lew David Feldman. Among the legal papers are contracts between Gardner and Thayer Hobson and Company, William Morrow and Company, and Pocket Books, as well as contracts with several foreign publishers (1957-1967). Additionally, this subseries contains correspondence that Hobson filed with these financial and legal documents which directly pertains to them.
Among the miscellaneous items are brochures, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and photographs.
Series III. Nonpublishing, 1913-1967, nd (6 boxes)
Four subseries make up this portion of the papers: A. Correspondence, 1916-1967; B. Creative Writing, 1930-1946; C. Horses, 1963-1967; and D. Personal, 1913-1967.
The Correspondence subseries consists of letters largely unrelated to Hobson's publishing career. These are his letters to and from friends and acquaintances, including fellow Yale alumni and members of the Skull and Bones Society, members of the Catholic clergy whose advice and friendship he sought in his conversion to the Catholic faith, and many of the same correspondents represented in other series of the collection but filed here by Hobson because of their largely personal subject matter. Significant correspondents in this subseries are Father Joseph Cleary; fellow Yale graduates F. Peavey Heffelfinger, P. I. Prentice, Charles Moore, and Henry R. Luce; and Westminster schoolmate Raymond M. Weaver, who later became Herman Melville's first biographer. In several files in this series Hobson kept letters by topic rather than correspondent. These include letters relating to the donation of the H. L. Davis papers to the University of Texas; fund-raising activities for the Deer Island Club for Yale alumni; a speaking engagement (the Matrix Dinner) for the journalism society Theta Sigma Phi; complaints to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad from the 1940s and 1950s; his efforts to have a young friend from Comfort accepted to the University of Notre Dame; and his dealings with the Veterans Administration (originally called the Veterans Bureau) over benefits stemming from his injuries in World War I.
Manuscripts and a few printed copies of Hobson's short stories, articles, and reviews are located in the Creative Writing subseries. The manuscripts are undated, but according to Hobson were written in the early 1930s. Several were published in venues such as McCalls, Good Housekeeping, Mademoiselle, and the Chicago Tribune. Almost all were submitted or published under pseudonyms: Francis Thayer, John Cropper, Garant Manning, and O. B. Jennings. The correspondence accompanying these manuscripts documents his attempts to find publishers for the stories through literary agents such as Ann Watkins, Inc. and Leland Hayward, Inc. and his unsuccessful efforts to sell them to Hollywood.
The Horses subseries documents his ventures with his wife Elizabeth into the raising of Appaloosas and quarter horses and their involvement with horse racing after relocating to Deer Ledge Ranch near Comfort, Texas, in 1962. The files are named and arranged largely as Hobson maintained them: correspondence is interfiled with membership certificates, racing announcements, receipts, publications, copies of applications, legal documents, and programs. The correspondence has been placed in the front of each folder and sorted chronologically, and is followed by other types of materials. None of the correspondence in this subseries has been indexed.
The Personal subseries contains clippings; notes and papers from his prep school and university days; academic, financial, legal, and medical records; house plans; and photographs. Among the papers here are plans for Hobson's home in Tucson; a ledger with personal financial records dating from 1917; his wife's marriage certificate and will; detailed notebooks kept by his medical caretakers in his last weeks; formal portraits of Hobson and snapshots of him, his wife, and friends; an unidentified membership list dated 1917; and clippings concerning Hobson, mostly from San Antonio newspapers in the 1960s and including several obituaries.
Series IV. Elizabeth Tonkin Hobson, 1960-1967, nd (1 box)
This series consists largely of letters of condolence on the death of Thayer Hobson and a much smaller amount of personal correspondence, almost entirely from Hobson to his wife. Where the condolence consists only of a signed card, it has not been indexed; all other correspondence in this series (except that by Thayer Hobson) has been indexed by author.
The letters from Hobson begin shortly before the death of Elizabeth's husband H. L. Davis and continue through their courtship and marriage in 1960.
The letters of condolence frequently bear notes by Elizabeth and shorthand notations presumably by a secretary helping her write responses. The miscellaneous items in this series include floral cards and lists of persons who have sent condolences.

Related Material

Letters from Hobson can also be found in the collections of Erle Stanley Gardner, H. L. Davis, and Ruth Moore at the Ransom Center.

Separated Material

The Sound Recordings Collection at the Center houses the Audograph dictation discs that Erle Stanley Gardner sometimes sent Hobson in lieu of typed letters.

Index Terms


Bethell, Jean.
Cleary, Joseph.
Cozzens, James Gould, 1903-1978.
Dodd, Mary B.
Downs, Peggy.
Fielding, Temple, 1913- .
Gann, Ernest Kellogg, 1910-1991.
Gardner, Erle Stanley, 1889-1970.
Gelber, Henriette.
Heffelfinger, F. Peavey.
Hobson, Elizabeth Tonkin.
Hughes, Lawrence.
King, Helen B.
Lawrence, John T.
Lewis, Freeman, 1908-1976.
Luce, Henry Robinson, 1898-1967.
Mead, Margaret, 1901-1978.
Monsarrat, Nicholas, 1910-1979.
Moore, Charles C.
Moore, Ruth.
Moore, Ruth Walter.
Phillips, Frances L.
Prentice, P. I.
Roberts, Warren, 1916- .
Rockett, Lorraine.
Roripaugh, Hedwig A.
Seay, Helene.
Shute, Nevil, 1899-1960.
Stevenson, Donald M.
Toepperwein, Herman, 1907- .
Weaver, Raymond M. (Raymond Melbourne), 1888-1948.
West, Morris L., 1916- .
Willey, John C.
Wing, Willis Kingsley, 1899-1985.


Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst.
Pocket Books.
W. C. Heaton and Company.


Davis, H. L. (Harold Lenoir), 1896-1960.
William Morrow and Company.
Thayer Hobson and Company.


Appaloosa horse.
Detective and mystery stories.
Horse racing--United States.
Mason, Perry (Fictitious character)
Publishers and publishing.

Document Types

Appointment books.
Business records.
Financial records.
Medical records.
Sound recordings.

Container List