GOLDEN DAWN: [JOHN] HERBERT SLATER: PROFILE AND PUBLICATIONS
Compiled: July and August 2023
IN THE GD
Herbert Slater was initiated into the GD at its Isis-Urania temple in London on 12 July 1895. That was a busy evening at the GD: Alice Isabel Simpson, Francis Freeman, William Forsell Kirby and George Cecil Jones had their initiations in the same ritual. Slater had chosen the motto Veritas a Deo Est. He did the occult study necessary to make progress in the Order in just over two years and was initiated into its inner, 2nd Order in August 1897. The GD’s records don’t mention him after that date so it’s not clear how long he was an active member. He did not take any part in the controversies that beset the GD during the years 1900 to 1903; and was not a member of either of the two main daughter orders.
Slater probably joined the GD on the recommendation of Frederick Leigh Gardner, having met him through a mutual interest in book-collecting. The Gerald Yorke Collection has letters from Slater to Gardner. Most are from 1897 and 1898 as Slater worked his way through the GD’s study programme but there’s one from 1919, after many years in which the two men hadn’t been in touch very often. Slater’s son George was moving to Paris and Slater was wondering if Gardner still knew anyone in Paris’s occult circles that George could contact.
The GD Companion compiled by R A Gilbert from the original GD records. Wellingborough Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press. 1986: pp154-155.
As a contact of Frederick Leigh Gardner: Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73 - letters mostly to but occasionally from Frederick Leigh Gardner. Letters from Slater to Gardner:
- 4 May 1897
- 24 November 1897
- 29 November 1897 in which Slater mentioned that he was ready to take his Portal exam and listed the works he had read in preparation
- 16 July 1919.
John Herbert Slater – who was called ‘herbert’ rather than ‘john’ – was born in Manchester in 1852, the only child of Edwin Slater and Margaret Richardson Garth. He grew up in Withington where his father, and his uncle Joshua Slater, ran a bookshop. He qualified as a solicitor and by 1881 was a partner in Kearsley Slater and Watts, solicitors, of 26 Brazenose Street in Manchester while also doing work for Field Roscoe and Company, solicitors, of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. In 1883 he qualified as a barrister. He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple and went into practice from 3 Plowden Buildings in the Temple.
As a solicitor and then as a barrister, Slater specialised in copyright, trade mark and patent law.
Books, and book-learning, being in the family, he began to publish, firstly legal texts and then works on collecting, particularly books and engravings. His Book Prices Current periodical, first published in 1887, continued to be an important reference work in the antique books market long after his death.
Herbert Slater and his wife Ruth married around 1888/89. They began their married life in the new suburb of Crouch End, north London, which is where they were when Slater joined the GD; before moving by 1901 to Croydon; and then on to Kingston-upon-Thames. Herbert and Ruth had a daughter, Margaret Erica, and a son, George. Herbert Slater died in 1921.
Freebmd; census records; probate records. I couldn’t find any record of Herbert’s marriage to Ruth Margaret. As a result I don’t know Ruth’s original surname and can’t research her background.
Commercial Directory of Liverpool 1880 p444 in its Manchester section: Kearsley, Slater and Watts at 26 Brazenose St.
Law Students’ Journal 1 June 1881 p83 listing the two firms Slater was working for.
Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter 25 February 1882 p269 Legal Appointments: Slater’s appointment as a Commissioner of Oaths in the Supreme Court.
London Gazette 19 May 1882 p2360 partnerships dissolved, including that of John Herbert Slater and Ernest Watts, solicitors of 26 Brazenose St Manchester, in business as Kearsley, Slater and Watts. As of 13 May 1882 Slater would leave the partnership.
A reference to the address of Roscoe Field and Co: via //trove.nla.gov.au to the Sydney Morning Herald 4 June 1872 advert placed by Roscoe Field and Co of 36 Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
While not being a specialist firm, Roscoe Field and Co did do some patent work:
The Commissioners of Patents’ Journal 1877 issued by the GB Patent Office; p2298.
Records of Patent Design, Trade Mark and Other Cases
- volumes 9 and 10, 1892 p73 with Roscoe Field and Co acting for the defendants against an inventor claiming patent rights
- 1896 p492 with Roscoe Field and Co acting for the plaintiffs in a dispute about a design for lace made by machine. Their design was being used and their prices undercut by a rival firm.
Law Students’ Journal 1 June 1883 p91 Slater of the Middle Temple in a list of students who had recently passed the bar exams.
Law List 1893 p209; 1915 p298; 1920 p256.
I didn’t find much evidence of Slater in court; and one of the few cases I did come across was not one that involved patent or copyright: Times Mon 28 March 1887 p3 and 4 April 1887 p3 Chancery Court cases: J H Slater playing 2nd fiddle to Mr Marten QC in the High Court “in re Brigham’s Trusts”, a family dispute about the inheritance of the estate of William Brigham of Lymm Cheshire who’d died in 1864.
A rare example of Slater at his everyday work, giving advice: see //archives.nypl.org/cps/23697, there’s a Ms letter from him in the New York Public Library’s Collection of Shelley and His Circle. It’s dated 5 July 1893 and is to the publisher Elliot Stock; explaining how the copyright rules can be different for different articles in the same issue of a periodical; depending on whether or not the publisher had paid the author for what they had written.
PUBLICATIONS: BOOKS as author
1884 The Law Relating to Copyright and Trade Marks
London: Stevens and Sons Ltd 119 Chancery Lane.
1884 A Guide to the Legal Profession...Together with a Course of Study for each of the Examinations
London: L Upcott Gill.
1894 God and Our Right. An Historical, Legal and Ethical Defence of Tithe and Landed Property
London: Anti-Liberation Society
1893 The Established Church in Wales. Being a Short Account of its Origin, its Development and its Maturity
London: Anti-Liberation Society.
Times 26 April 1893 p11 Publications To-day.
A short note on the Anti-Liberation Society of Essex Street London WC. At www.victorianlondon.org there’s a copy of the 1879 issue of Dickens’s Dictionary of London. The Anti-Liberation Society is in the Dictionary’s ‘political societies’ section, as its purpose was to defend the rights of Christian organisations to keep their property.
1915 Problems of the Borderland: An Explanatory Rendering of the Introductory Chapters of The Book of the Elements
London: William Rider and Sons. It was reviewed by regular reviewer Edith K Harper in Occult Review volume 22 number 4 October 1915 p243. Harper described it as “interesting and helpful” and “comprehensive”. The article urged readers to investigate what Slater called the ‘fourth dimension’ despite the necessity to be aware that they might run into danger. There was a quote from the article in volume 22 number 6 December 1915 p346 in an article by P S Wellby: Sorcery and Magic.
1919 The Compass of Occultism – The Four Cardinal Points – and a Fifth
Occult Review 1919 volume 29 number 6 June 1919 pp319-326.
1891 Engravings and their Value. A Guide for the Private Collector
London: L Upton Gill. 2nd edition 1897; revised and enlarged. 3rd edition 1900; revised again and with a new Appendix. 4th edition 1912; revised and enlarged. 5th edition 1921; enlarged and this time published London: Bazaar Exchange and Mart. A 6th edition 1929 and therefore after Slater’s death; revised and enlarged by F W Maxwell-Barbour and published London: Bazaar Exchange and Mart. The British Library catalogue also has later editions, up to 1978.
Collecting: Books etc
1891 Round and About the Book Stalls. A Guide for the Book Hunter
London: L Upcott Gill.
1892 The Library Manual: A Guide to the Formation of a Library and the Valuation of Rare and Standard Books
London: L Upcott Gill, 170 Strand. The Freemasons’ Library has two copies of this, each with a history relevant to the GD:
- call number GBR 1991 GD 2/6/8, which was originally given to a T M Williams Esq by Slater, probably in December 1892. It reached the library in 2008 when the Library bought the GD collection of R A Gilbert on which his GD Companion is based. T M Williams may have been GD member Thomas Williams.
- call number SRIA 1040, which is on loan from the library of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA). It has GD founder Dr William Wynn Westcott’s inscription inside it; as deputy coroner for Middlesex, a job he left in 1892 so he probably bought the book when it first came out. It also has the bookplate of the SRIA High Council in it – Westcott gave a lot of his books to the SRIA.
Just noting here that the FML catalogue entry dates the book as published in 1883; all other sources suggest 1892.
1892 Book Collecting. A Guide for Amateurs
London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co in their Young Collector series.
Times 21 July 1892 p9 Publications To-day includes Book Collecting. A Guide For Amateurs by J H Slater, price 1 shilling.
Times 28 July 1892 p8 Books of the Week was rather dismissive of it, suggesting that children had neither the taste nor the money for book collecting. The writer noted that Slater was very critical of people who bought books only to sell them on at a profit.
1898 Book Plates and their Value. English and American Plates
London: H Grant.
1898 The Romance of Book-Collecting
London: Elliot Stock.
1899 Illustrated Sporting Books
London: L Upcott Gill.
1905 How to Collect Books
London: George Bell and Sons.
1906 Handbuch für Büchersammler und Bücherliebhaber
Jena: G Tauscher. Probably a translation into German of one of the books listed above. There is a copy of this in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
PUBLICATIONS: BOOKS as editor/contributor
1894 Early Editions: A Bibliographical Survey of the Works of Some Popular Modern Authors
London: Kegan Paul and Co.
1908 The Book-Hunter
London: G Routledge and Sons.
This was not an original book by Slater. John Hill Burton was the author and the first edition had been published Edinburgh: Blackwood 1862. Subsequent reprints had included a contribution by Richard Grant White. Slater edited what was described as the 2nd edition of Burton’s book, keeping White’s additions. An American issue of Slater’s 2nd edition, also 1908 published New York and London: Dutton and Co.
1914 Robert Louis Stevenson: A Bibliography of His Complete Works
London: George Bell and Sons.
PUBLICATIONS: PERIODICALS as editor/compiler
1887 and continuing after Slater’s death to 1956
Book Prices Current: A Monthly Record of the Prices at which Books have been sold at Auction
London: no publisher is listed in the British Library catalogue. Slater as editor.
1901 Index to Book Prices Current...1887-96
London: no publisher listed. Covering volumes 1 to 10 with Slater as editor; co-author William Jaggard.
Was there an index to the issues between 1897 and 1906? I haven’t found one yet.
1920 Index to Book Prices Current...1907-16
London: Elliot Stock. Slater as editor; no co-author this time.
Slater knew some of the Times’ book reviewers so the books got good references in the paper:
Times 29 October 1898 p14 included the latest issue of Book Prices Current in its Books of the Week. Such was the extent of the second-hand book market that although this issue of Book Prices Current only covered December 1897 to July 1898 – not even a full year - it was 778 pages long.
Articles in Times of 29 September 1910 p4 and 3 September 1913 p4 both noted that Slater had been the editor of Book Prices Current since the first issue in 1887.
That Slater was acquainted with book-reviewers at the Times and other magazines: Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73 – letters mostly to but occasionally from Frederick Leigh Gardner: letter from Slater to Gardner dated 4 May 1897.
1902, 1903 Art Sales of the Year 1901 (1902)
London: no publisher given in the British Library catalogue. The British Library has catalogued this as a periodical, Slater perhaps seeing it as a companion to his ‘book prices’ magazine. However, no further issues were published.
1890s; and probably for much longer
The convention of writers’ anonymity, especially in the national press, means that direct evidence of Slater as a reviewer is almost impossible to find. However, in a letter to the GD’s Frederick Leigh Gardner, Slater mentioned that he wrote reviews for the Times, the Chronicle, the magazine Literature and The Athenaeum.
Source: Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73 - letters mostly to but occasionally from Frederick Leigh Gardner: letter from Slater to Gardner dated 4 May 1897. Gardner had written to Slater while trying to find a reviewer for the GD’s Samuel Liddell Mathers’ The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. Slater told Gardner that he would try to find someone suitable, if Gardner could send him a copy of the book; so he hadn’t read the book himself yet.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
13 August 2023
Email me at
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: