Harvard librarian, book collector and founder and first curator of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Houghton Library. Hofer graduated from Harvard and spent a few years in business. He began collecting a wide variety of printed books in 1917. By 1933 he focused on illustrated and decorated books, thus entering into a serious study of book arts. He served as curator of the Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library. In 1934 he became the first assistant director of the Morgan Library in New York (to 1937). In 1938, the newly appointed librarian of Harvard University's library, William Jackson, asked Hofer to head the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, the first such department in the country. Hofer spent the next forty years building one of the finest graphic-arts-in-the-book collection in the nation. The collection had strong fifteenth- and eighteenth-century Italian holdings, but also included groups as divergent as Chinese block prints and illuminated manuscripts. He also assembled a livres de peintres collection which began with Goya and ended with contemporary artists. In the capacity, he aided Henry P. Rossiter in 1951 in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's, acquisition of Goya's "Disasters of War" proofs, previously owned by William Stirling Maxwell. In 1964 he began his Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts series of the collection with French 16th century books compiled with the help of his wife, Frances, Ruth Mortimer, and Jackson. A second series appeared in 1974. He was secretary of the Fogg Art Museum. In 1980 he retired emeritus. He was a trustee for the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.
Some [Delacroix] Drawings and Lithographs for Goethe's Faust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Library, Department of Printing & Graphic Arts, 1964; and Seznec, Jean, and Mongan, Elizabeth. Fragonard Drawings for Ariosto. New York: Pantheon Books, 1945; Baroque Book Illustration: a Short Survey from the Collection in the Department of Graphic Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951; Edward Lear. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962; Edward Lear as a Landscape Draughtsman. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967; Eighteenth-century Book Illustrations. Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, 1956; and Mortimer, Ruth, and Jackson, William. A Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts. Harvard College Library. Deptartment of Printing and Graphic Arts. San Francisco: Wittenborn Art Books, 1964.
[obituary:] "Philip Hofer, 86, a Book Collector at Harvard." New York Times November 12, 1984, p. B15; "Mr Philip Hofer." The Times (London) November 22, 1984, p. 14.