Thomas Dowse, an American book collector, born in Charlestown, Mass., Dec. 28, 1772, died in Cambridgeport, Nov. 4, 1856. He has sometimes been called "the literary leather dresser." His father, Eleazer Dowse, was a leather dresser, and was driven with his family from Charlestown on June 17, 1775, his house being one of those burned. He settled at Sherborn, Middlesex co., where Thomas spent his boyhood and youth. He had no other education than that of the town school. On attaining his majority he entered the service of a leather dresser at Roxbury, Mass., and remained in this employ ten years. He once informed a friend that at the age of 28 his highest income was $25 a month ; that he had never paid $5 for conveyance from one place to another, never owned a pair of boots, and then possessed several hundred volumes of good books well bound. In 1803 he set up in business at Cambridgeport as a leather dresser, and pursued the occupation successfully till he was far advanced in life. From the earliest period he devoted a large part of his income to the purchase of books. By diligent search, great knowledge of bibliography, shrewdness, and strict economy in his purchases, he amassed a very remarkable library.
It consisted of about 5,000 miscellaneous volumes, generally in good, often in elegant bindings, and of the best editions. It was mostly English, though containing translations of the principal authors in the ancient languages and the cultivated languages of modern Europe. It is estimated to have cost $40,000. He bequeathed it to the Massachusetts historical society, who deposited it in a special room of their building in Boston. He also left $10,000 as a permanent fund for the conservation and care of the library. A collection of admirable engravings and water-colors, which he drew in a lottery about 1820, was given to the Boston Athenaeum.