A Century for the Century Catalogue Excerpt

The authors note in their Foreword that “the idea of choosing one hundred books from all the superlative books of the twentieth century is daunting. Can one choose only one hundred books for their beauty from so many thousands?… The idea of one book a year, on average, seems almost presumptuous. Yet one must being somewhere, and celebrate the chosen, rather than lament the many left unsung… This survey includes only books printed from the roman alphabet in Europe and America… We have, however, considered the book as a whole–with all elements from typography and paper through presswork and binding taken into account.”–p. VII

The following excerpt is taken from the exhibit catalogue by Martin Hutner and Jerry Kelly: A Century for the Century–Finely Printed Books from 1900 to 1999 (NY: The Grolier Club, 1999), in which Hutner writes on p. XII:

“Thomas Bird Mosher (1852-1923) began his career as publisher and printer in Portland, Maine, in 1891, the same year as the founding of the Kelmscott Press. Mosher had had several careers before settling down to publishing at the age of thirty-nine. Unlike the works of the Kelmscott Press, Mosher’s books were mostly small, although also well-designed and well printed, and available to a larger public. Occasionally, he would produce deluxe volumes in limited editions such as the Calvert in 1913 (no. 8). In a career that lasted until 1923, Mosher produced over four hundred books of consistent quality.”

Note: The bibliography at the end of the exhibition catalogue indicates that the works chosen to reference the books in the Grolier exhibit were “selected for being the most complete or most recent reference for the item[s] included in the exhibition.” For the Mosher book the authors missed on both counts with their selection of the Hatch Check List… to reference Calvert’s Ten Spiritual Designs. Hatch was published in 1966 whereas the newest and most complete Mosher bibliography was co-published thirty-two years later in 1998 by Oak Knoll Press and The British Library.

At the exhibit itself, Mosher’s book — opened to pp. [2 & 3] showing an Eragny Press design — was located in the middle of the first showcase, a position of honor considering its surrounding company. Positioned below it was the Doves Press edition of The English Bible and the Bruce Rogers designed Geofroy Tory. To the left appeared the Doves Press Men & Women by Robert Browning, and to the right was the Eragny Press edition of Songs by Ben Jonson. The exhibit placard for Mosher’s book read:

  1. Thomas Bird Mosher; Portland, Maine, 1913
    Edward Calvert, Ten Spiritual Designs

    In many ways, Thomas Bird Mosher (1852-1923) stands alone in the history of American printing. In Joseph Blumenthal’s estimation, however, “He is the first American to have established and sustained a program, over thirty-two years [1891-1923], of splendid literary output in consistently felicitous typographic form.”

    Mosher’s books were very small in size, and printed in very limited editions. Edward Calvert’s Designs, from copper, wood and stone originals, is an example of Mosher’s work at its best. There is something very American about almost all of Mosher’s output, in its four-square simplicity and directness.

    It is true that, in the years before copyright, publishers like Mosher for the most part reproduced work without making authorial compensation — a practice which earned him the sobriquet of the Passionate Pirate. Yet Mosher also performed a literary as well as aesthetic service to book lovers in the first part of this century.