He was also a diligent stamp collector, said Vander Meulen, who knew and worked with Bowers in the late 1980s for the Bibliographical Society of UVA. When stamp collectors acquired newly released stamps, they would often put them on an envelope, and then go to the post office to have it postmarked. This envelope shows six stamps, graced with Benjamin Franklin’s face and worth a half-cent each. Fractionally valued stamps were uncommon even then, Vander Meulen said.
In 1958, the first-class postage rate for a letter was three cents, so the stamps were worth enough at the time. The “postage due” label on the envelope could be for the current rate.
Bowers developed the scholarly discipline of bibliography, which analyzes books as physical objects. In 1947, he helped to found the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, and a year later, he established its journal, Studies in Bibliography, for which Vander Meulen is currently the editor.
In addition, Bowers became well-known for his other hobbies: writing classical music reviews and judging Irish wolfhounds at dog shows.
Vander Meulen said sometimes Bowers would ask contributors to the journal to return the original envelope he had sent so he could get the stamps back. But this empty, little envelope remains a mystery. Did it get sent by accident? Was it mixed in with other mail? Did Bowers go to the post office to get it postmarked, and drop it?
Where has it been over the past 61 years, and how did it see the light of day?