The Covers of The Mosher Books
Jean-François Vilain and Philip R. Bishop
Mosher’s contributions to the printing and graphic arts have been obscured by his reputation as a literary pirate, and his books have been casually dismissed as too small and dainty, even monotonous. The growing interest in the printing revival that occurred in the 1890s, under the influence of William Morris, is bringing about a welcome reassessment of Mosher’s position among book makers. Collectors of fine books are discovering anew the charm of the Mosher books, and especially their covers.
Mosher’s models were Aldus and the printers of the French Renaissance as well as William Pickering’s books printed at the Chiswick Press. His exquisitely designed books are small in format, the wide margins give the page an airy feeling, and decorations are used sparingly and effectively, in the Aesthetic Style of the Bodley Head books in England.
Although Mosher adopted a restrained aesthetic style for his interior designs, he gave freer rein to his eclecticism in the covers which reflect many artistic movements of the time, Aestheticism, late Pre-Raphaelite, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Mosher had no qualms about using existing designs by British artists, with or without acknowledgment, but he also commissioned young American artists to create original covers.
Mosher was called a literary pirate because of minor liberties he took with the nascent copyright laws, but his “piracy” of graphic designs was much more blatant and far less recognized. He sometimes acknowledged his “borrowings” but more often forgot to give credit to the original source. The cover of Songs of Adieu (1893) is strongly reminiscent of work done by Selwyn Image for B.H. Blackwell in Oxford. Another Image decoration (signed this time) decorates the half-title page of Primavera (1900), and the cover design for this book is similar to work done by Image for the Hobby Horse, the mouthpiece of the Century Guild. Mosher also borrowed from Image and his partner, Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, again from the Hobby Horse, only this time for William Blake--XVII Designs to Thornton’s Virgil (1899).
Herbert Horne, one of the co-founders, in 1884, of the Hobby Horse, unknowingly provided the cover design for In Praise of Omar (1898), which Mosher borrowed from the cover of Diversi Colores published by Chiswick in 1891. The latter book also provided the scrollwork for another Mosher book, The Time of Roses (1908).
Charles de Souzy Ricketts was a favorite source of inspiration for Mosher. Mosher owned thirty-eight Vale books and called The Sphinx (1894), designed by Ricketts for the Bodley Head, “a marvelous book” (he was not an uncritical admirer however, and deplored “the trifling prettiness of the Vale Blessed Damozel” ). He used many borders and decorative initials created by Ricketts for his Vale Press. Although Mosher never gave credit to Ricketts for the initials borrowed, he did publicly acknowledge his use of Ricketts’s borders in three books: The Germ, Wine Women and Song and The Poetical Works of Oscar Wilde (all published in 1898). An insert for each book cites the source of the designs (Fifty Songs by Thomas Campion, 1896, for Wine Women and Song, and The Poems of Sir John Suckling, also 1896, for the other two). Nonetheless, Mosher neglected to credit Ricketts for the cover of the 1908 The Hound of Heaven, for the cover of the 1904 catalogue and for the cover of the 1906 catalogue, with the celebrated design created by Ricketts for Silverpoints published in 1893 by the Bodley Head.
Lucien Pissarro, another source of inspiration for Mosher, fared less well than his friend Ricketts. The initials and decorations that he designed for his Eragny Press appear unattributed, with the exception of those used in the Mosher Edward Calvert Ten Spiritual Designs (1913), in many Mosher books as do two of his cover designs: that for Histoire de Peau D’Ane (1902) , used by Mosher on the cover of The Last Christmas Tree (1914) and of Magic in Kensington Garden (1916); and that for The Book of Ruth and The Book of Esther (1896) which Mosher adopted for his Ecclesiastes (1907).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti is another unwitting Mosher cover artist. A design he created for his friend Swinburne’s Songs before Sunrise (published by Ellis in 1871) appears uncredited on a few Mosher covers. The whole design, three vignettes of swirling clouds surrounding a moon and stars within a circle, is found on Mosher’s edition of Songs before Sunrise (1901), and a partial version, only one of the three vignettes, is stamped in gold on the leather covered copies of the books in the Old World Series, and blind-stamped on the cover of “R.L.S.” An Essay (1896).
George Russell, whose Homeward Songs by the Way Mosher published in 1895 under the pseudonym “A.E.,” had designed a logo (a sword within two concentric circles) for the Cuala Press in Dublin which Mosher appropriated for the second edition of Homeward Songs issued in 1904. Flora Macdonald Lamb, Mosher’s longtime secretary who kept up the publishing program after his death, used this design on the cover of The Image, published in 1932.
Mosher was not fond of Beardsley (whose illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé he blamed for the public outcry that met its publication by the Bodley Head in 1897) but nevertheless twice used a cover design created by Beardsley for Dowson’s Poems published by Smithers in 1896: in 1915 on the cover of Runes of Woman and 1917 on the cover of By Bendemeer’s Stream.
If Mosher’s dealing with British graphic artists were not totally fair, he behaved better towards his compatriots, commissioning designs from young artists, four of which have been identified: Bruce Rogers, Frederic Goudy, Thomas M. Cleland, and Earl S. Crawford.
The young Rogers received his first commission from Mosher in 1895, to create ornaments for the cover and the interior of Homeward Songs by the Way by A.E. (George Russell). The caduceus that was to become Rogers’s trademark appeared for the first time on the back cover of this book. Mosher also commissioned Rogers to create the lettering for one of the volumes in the Old World Series, the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1900) [sic, actually in 1895].
In 1898 Frederic Goudy, then a struggling freelance designer, had written Mosher offering his services and was asked to create covers for the first four volumes in the Vest Pocket Series: the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Elizabeth B. Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, Swinburne’s Laus Veneris, and R.L. Stevenson’s Aes Triplex. Each of the four designs is different, but closely related to the other three, and consists of black rectilinear rules interlaced at each corner, enclosing intertwining vines printed in red on grey wrappers. Mosher used these designs for all volumes in the series, and for the cover of some of his catalogues. Goudy also designed covers for the Old World Series. Although none are signed, there is enough stylistic evidence, that one can safely ascribe to Goudy the cover for a few Old World Series books published between 1896 and 1901. (1)
Thomas Maitland Cleland was in his late teens when Mosher commissioned him to design covers for the Old World Series. The first Mosher cover to bear Cleland’s monogram, a “C”, is Sonnets from the Portuguese (1899). The young Cleland’s style was eclectic and his first covers seem inspired by the books of the Renaissance of which Mosher was so fond. Soon, however, his designs began to show a keen awareness of the Art Nouveau style that reigned in Europe, in contrast with the illustrations he created for his Cornhill Press books which reflect a strong Arts and Crafts influence, and many of the Old World Series covers bear his monogram. (2)
The work of a lesser-known artist has been mistaken for that of Cleland. Earl Stetson Crawford, a painter and illustrator, was born in 1877 in Philadelphia where he received his first artistic training, and later studied in Paris with Whistler and at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. The covers designed by Crawford for Mosher also reflect a strong Art Nouveau influence; his monogram, a “C” with a stylized crown of two lines surmounted by dots, appears on a few Old World covers: Felise--A Book of Lyrics (1899) and Silhouettes (1909), on the cover of Mosher’s 1908 catalogue, and on the title page of the 1909 catalogue. Crawford’s most important cover for Mosher, and arguably one of the most extraordinary covers created at the time, is that of Mimes with a Prologue and an Epilogue (1901). The asymmetrical design of stylized poppy plants, printed in gold, blossoming into realistic burgundy blossoms is one of the most successful examples of Art Nouveau cover designs in turn-of-the-century America. Remarkably, the cover is not signed but Mosher, in a rare moment of frankness, named Crawford as the artist in his 1901 catalogue. (3)
These then are some of the artists whom Mosher commissioned or whose work he appropriated and whom we have identified while preparing the catalogue for an exhibition at Temple University (from May 15 to August 15, 1992). Many more designs remain unattributed, among them four of the most charming of the Mosher covers, those of Fragilia Labilia, of Fancy’s Following, of Primavera, and of The Children’s Crusade, and we would welcome any light that could be shed on these unknown artists.
(1) Old World Series covers designed by Frederic Goudy: The New Life (1896), Monna Innominata (1899), The Story of Ida (1899), The Tale of Chloe (1899), A Child’s Garden of Verses (1899). Underwoods (1900), My Sister Henrietta (1900), Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1901), and From the Hills of Dream (1901). The first catalogue bearing the cover design created by Goudy for the Vest Pocket Series was that of 1900. After 1915 Mosher used almost exclusively one of Goudy’s Vest Pocket designs for his catalogue covers.
(2) Other Old World covers bearing the “C” monogram: The Divine Adventure and The City of Dreadful Night (both 1903); The Isle of Dreams (1905); A House of Pomegranates, Ariadne in Mantua, and A Shropshire Lad (1906); The Hour of Beauty, Gaston de Latour, and The Happy Prince (1907); Liber Amoris, The Pearl, and Dierdre and the Sons of Usna (1908).
(3)Mimes offers somewhat of a puzzle. The cover, though unsigned, is attributed to Crawford by Mosher but the title page bears a plain “C”, rather than the “C” with a crown that is Crawford’s. Did Mosher commission Crawford to design the cover and Cleland to design the title-page" or did Crawford use at times a plain C to sign his designs?
Please contact either of us:
Jean-François Vilain, F.A. Davis Publishing Co., 1915 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19103; Tel. (215) 568-2556
Philip R. Bishop, “Mosher Books,” P. O. Box 111, Millersville, PA 17551-0111; Tel. (717) 872-9209
The above article appeared in the June, 1992 issue of TBR -- Trade Bindings Research Newsletter, pp. __ -__, edited by Linda Herman and Cynthia Bruns of California State University at Fullerton Library.