A Modern Love Of Literature

The following is taken from the exhibition booklet and from the exhibition’s placards in the display cases.

One Hundredth Anniversary of Mosher Books

A. M. Todd Rare Book Room
Kalamazoo College
[June 7-August 30, 1991]


To more widely extend the love of exquisite literary form,
it must be shown by example that choice typography
and inexpensiveness need not be far apart.

The truth of this statement by Thomas Mosher is given evidence by this remarkable collection of Mosher books, assembled and ultimately received by the College as a gift from the late Robert Athol Huston.

Robert Huston, labor attorney, poet, and bibliophile, began collecting Mosher publications while working in Chicago and attending law school at might. His friend, John Prugh, introduced him to The Mosher Books. Together they would haunt antiquarian book shops, each trying to add new volumes to his collection. Begun by purchasing one volume at a time with the coins he saved each week form his lunch money, Huston’s gift now comprises a nearly complete collection of The Mosher Books as well as several fine examples of Mosher’s privately printed works. Huston’s attraction to the publishing efforts of Thomas Bird Mosher was in part his appreciation for Mosher’s commitment to bringing fine literature, beautifully printed, within the reach of the common man as well as Huston’s own love of literature.

In addition to the Mosher books shown here, the Huston Collection includes a number of other important literary and historical works including first editions of Marshall’s The Life of George Washington, and works of D.G. Rossetti, John Ruskin, Robinson Jeffers and Lafcadio Hearn.

This exhibition is made possible through the generous memorial contributions of the friends and family of Robert Huston.

A Modern Love Of Literature

One hundred years ago bibliophile Thomas Bird Mosher (1852-1923) published his first book, Modern Love by George Meredith (see reviews). Motivated by his “modern love” of literature and fine books, Mosher made his mark on the publishing world by bringing to the American public the fine printing revival which had begun in Britain only a few years earlier.

At the turn of the century, many literary works were unavailable to the American reader. Often, commercially published books were poorly produced and went quickly out of print. Fine books were beginning to be produced by small private presses in England, but these were limited in number. As few as a half-dozen or no more than two to three hundred copies of a private press book would be issued, and thus were seldom available to the general public.

As an independent publisher, Mosher could offer the American book lover a chance to own well made books, and works of literature which were previously unobtainable. Since he was not operating a commercial press, Mosher was unconstrained by the demands of the marketplace, and because the United States was not participating in the International Copyright Convention, he was free to reprint British authors as he liked. Unlike a private press, The Mosher Books were issued in editions of up to 1,225, a number small enough to maintain handmade quality, but large enough to be accessible to the average book lover. Although almost all of his books were published as The Mosher Books, a few were printed privately for gifts or commission. With his press, Mosher brought fine literature and printing to a wider audience; more Americans were given the chance to purchase a quality book at an affordable price, while Mosher was successfully pursuing an occupation that he loved.

British and American interest in fine bookmaking grew out of and reflected a wider arts movement which was emerging in response to a decline in artistic values resulting from the mass production of the Industrial Revolution. An emphasis on human handicraft, quality materials, and beautiful design is evident in the richly patterned fabrics, furnishings, and artwork of the time as well as in the production of fine books. People wanted not only to read books, but to read beautiful books, embellished with ornaments and designs. Aesthetic appearance became highly valued.

The book arts revival was influenced by both the Aesthetic and the Arts & Crafts movements. The Aesthetic volume is characterized by a small, often thin format, simple bindings and ornaments, and a lighter roman or italic type face. The books have a plain yet delicate appearance, whereas the Arts & Crafts tradition, typified by William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, more of ten exhibited a bold Gothic typeface surrounded by intricate floral borders and ornaments.

Believing the literature that he loved should be presented in a beautiful format, Mosher was inspired by both styles when he carefully designed his fourteen series of books and his catalogues. The small, simple volumes contain original designs by commissioned artists, and each book was handset and handprinted on either handmade paper or creamy Japan vellum. While most of the covers are Japan vellum or antique blue board with minimal designs, others have wrappers with colorful artwork and patterns. In some cases Mosher directly imitated the designs of the Kelmscott Press and other private presses. Whatever design Mosher chose for his books, it was always with the goal of creating the best vessel possible for the literature he selected.

Looking back on the one hundredth anniversary of The Mosher Books, the determination of one man to bring quality books and literature to America is to be admired, and his works continue to instill a modern love of literature in new generations of book lovers.

This exhibition has been curated by
Leslie M Parsons ’91

(The following entries are from the placards in the exhibit cases)

The Garland of Rachel by Divers Kindly Hands (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1902).

At his private press, Henry Daniel printed thirty six copies of a collection of original poetry in honor of his daughter’s first birthday. Several of the copies were unique because the name of the poet to whom he presented the book was listed first in the table of contents. Mosher later printed a facsimile in an edition of 450 copies, complete with decorations, making the original poetry available to a wider audience.

Eleventh of twelve titles in Reprints of Privately Printed Books.

To Omar: Spoil of the North Wind, fugitive verse gathered by Edward Martin Moore (Chicago: Blue Sky Press, 1901)

At the Blue Sky Press of Chicago, designer Frank B. Rae, Jr. combined influences from the British Arts & Crafts Movement and American Art Nouveau to produce a rose adorned cover that is unique yet reminiscent of the artwork that graces some of the volumes of The Mosher Books and The Roycroft Shop. In the introduction, Moore acknowledges Mosher, not for his designs, however, but as an avid collector of publications by and about Omar Khayyam. ”

Number fifty of one hundred printed on Shandon paper for illumination.

The City of Tagaste by Fra Elbertus (East Aurora, New York: The Roycroft Shop, 1900).

Another press which favored floral designs was The Roycroft Shop of East Aurora, New York. Heavily influenced by William Morris and the British Arts & Crafts Movement, the Roycrofters employed hundreds of artisans in the production of furnishings as well as books. The floral pattern on the first page of this book resembles the wallpapers and fabrics designed by William Morris’ interior design firm.

Fancy’s Following by Anodos [Mary Elizabeth Coleridge] (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1900).

This title was first printed by the Daniel Press, but Mosher added a few finishing touches when he published this edition. While Daniel’s book was bound in a plain gray wrapper, Mosher commissioned artist Isadora B. Paine to design the floral cover which nicely complements this volume of poetry by the great niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Seventh of twelve titles in Reprints of Privately Printed

The Runes of Woman by Fiona Macleod (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1915).

One of the authors whom Mosher helped popularize in the United States was Fiona Macleod, the pseudonym that scholar William Sharp used when he penned Celtic romances. The secret identity of “Fiona” was kept so well that virtually no one, not even Mosher, knew her true identity until after Sharp’s death. This fiction went so far that Sharp once had to decline a marriage proposal on Fiona’s behalf.

Seventy third of ninety nine titles in the Miscellaneous series.

Poems Chosen Out of the Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by F. S. Ellis (Hammersmith: Kelmscott, 1896).

Comparing Mosher’s design of Empedocles to this Kelmscott original, one can see that the two are nearly identical. Mosher went so far as to obtain Kelmscott paper on which to print Empedocles.

A Free Man’s Worship by Bertrand Russell (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1923).

This essay on religion by Bertrand Russell, one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, is the last book published before Mosher’s death, although the press continued under Mosher’s secretary, Flora Lamb, for many years afterward. The introduction was written by Russell specifically for this edition.

Thirteenth of ninety nine titles in the Miscellaneous series.

Mimes by Marcel Schwob (Portland, Maine: Thomas Mosher, 1901).

Following the practice of other private presses, Mosher produced a very limited number of some titles on vellum. Works printed on vellum are highly regarded by printers and book lovers alike. The scarcity of the material, the skill required to print on vellum, and the beauty of the finished book combine to create a product of exceptional value. Of the more than four hundred Mosher books issued, Mimes is one of only forty five titles with copies printed on pure vellum. This copy is number three of six on vellum and is signed by Mosher.

Seventeenth of ninety nine titles in the Miscellaneous series.

Empedocles on Etna by Matthew Arnold (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1900).

In the Miscellaneous series, Mosher experimented with a variety of styles and designs. The renowned William Morris had died in 1896, and Mosher wanted Americans to have the chance to see examples of Morris’ Kelmscott Press. Mosher selected what he considered to be the “choicest” piece of work from the Kelmscott Press Coleridge’s Poems, on which to base his design of Empedocles on Etna.

Thirteenth of ninety nine titles in the Miscellaneous series.

Keats by John Keats (Hammersmith: Doves Press, 1914).

The simple design that Mosher preferred is reminiscent of the unadorned elegance of the books of Cobden Sanderson’s Doves Press. Although Mosher’s use of ornament is sparse, even less appears in Doves Press publications. The use of red ink provides a dash of color in both the text of Keats and the otherwise plain cover of Modern Love.

Homeward Songs by the Way by A. E. (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1895).

This first volume in the Miscellaneous series is also credited with another first. The headbands were done by a young Bruce Rogers, who later became one of the premier American book designers. Although it was not the first book to present Roger’s designs, this was the first colophon in which he received credit for his art.

First of ninety nine titles in the Miscellaneous series.

Modern Love by George Meredith (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1891).

In November 1891, Mosher issued this book, his first, as part of a series of British works which had been previously unavailable in the United States. Readers as well as the author appreciated the publication, and Meredith eventually became more popular in the Unite States than in his native England. Meredith sent Mosher a personal letter of thanks saying, “I shall receive with pleasure the copy of ‘Modern Love’ you propose to send. I have it much at heart that works of mine be read by Americans.”

First of three titles in the English Reprint Series.

Saint Guido by Richard Jefferies; Queen Mary’s Child-Garden by Dr. John Brown, date unknown.

The Brocade Series. The Isle of Dreams by Fiona Macleod, 1905. The Old World Series. (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher).

The Huston Collection includes several volumes of Mosher books which are still in their original wrappers, unopened. Because their mint condition has been maintained, such books are highly valued by collectors.

Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia by Pindar (Ventiis: Aldi, 1513).

Bruce Rogers, noted American book designer, once called Mosher the “Aldus of the X1X century”. There are several similarities between Mosher and the great Venetian printer. Aldus Manutius was the first to print small books which were less expensive to produce than traditional folio volumes. Four centuries later, Mosher began issuing small, reasonably priced books. Mosher also adapted for his own Aldus’ printer’s device, the anchor and dolphin, and printed The Bibelot Series in the italic type which Aldus developed.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, rendered into English verse by Edward FitzGerald (Portland, Maine: Thomas B Mosher, 1894).

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Rubaiyat, a form of verse used by tenth century Persian poet and astronomer, Omar Khayyam, was exceedingly popular. In England, the prestigious Omar Khayyam Club was formed with translator Edward FitzGerald as its honorary president. Both abroad and in the United States, publishers issued their own versions of the poetry. In all, Mosher published five versions of the Rubaiyat, including two different translations in this series alone.

Third of ten titles in The Bibelot Series.

Catalogues of The Mosher Books from 1902, 1904, and 1906.

Mosher considered the design of his catalogues to be as important as the appearance of his books. Green and orange ink on antique blue paper characterize the covers of most of the catalogues. Influenced by Aldus, Mosher copied almost exactly the printer’s device of the Aldine Press on the 1902 cover, then modified it on the Arts & Crafts inspired cover of 1904. The 1906 cover is from a binding design of John Gray’s Silverpoints by the Vale Press (1893), which is, in turn, based on designs from the Aldine Press.

Books and Gardens by Alexander Smith (Herrin, Illinois: Trovillion Private Press, 1946).

The work of Thomas Bird Mosher inspired another printing venture, that of the Trovillion Private Press, operated by Hal and Violet Trovillion, owners of the Herrin News. After seeing copies of The Bibelot the Trovillions began publishing their own little Christmas booklet in 1908. Like The Mosher Books, the volumes of the Trovillion Press are small and simply decorated. the Trovillion books include decorated end papers, a feature which few Mosher Books have.

This is a hand written letter from Thomas Bird Mosher to Mr. E. C. Stedman, thanking Stedman for influencing Mosher’s decision to publish The City of the Dreadful Night by James Thomson. Enclosed was Mosher’s card with the inscription “compliments of publisher”.

A Little Book of Nature Thoughts by Richard Jefferies, Hand Decorated by Clara Chipman Newton (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1907).

In advertising his books, Mosher did not want The Vest Pocket Series to “be confounded with so called ‘just as good’ vest pocket editions.” While all Mosher books were distinguished by their high quality, this particular volume is unique because it was hand decorated by Clara Chipman Newton, a decorator of exquisite pottery and one of the leaders of the women’s Arts & Crafts Movement in Cincinatti during the late 1800s. Each page features border designs and illuminated letters done in ink and pastel water colors.

Signed by Clara Chipman Newton.
Fifth of twenty five titles in The Vest Pocket Series.

Songs before Sunrise by Algernon Charles Swinburne (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1901).

The antique blue cover of this book is stamped with three designs by Swinburne’s friend and fellow author, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Mosher favored the writers and artists of the British Aesthetic and Arts & Crafts movements throughout his publications, and The Quarto Series features the prose and poetry of the leaders of these movements: Swinburne, Rossetti, and Walter Pater, in particular.

Third of nine titles in The Quarto Series.

The Works of Arthur Symons: A Bibliographical Note by T. B. M. (Portland, Maine: Privately Printed, 1912).

Besides publishing books under the name Mosher Books, Thomas Mosher also printed works privately for his personal use. Rather than being sold, these books were given to friends and acquaintances. Exactly how many books Mosher printed privately is unknown, but it is estimated that over sixty titles were published. This book, authored by Mosher, was issued in an edition of only five copies.

The Philosophy of Hope by David Starr Jordan (Portland, Maine: The Mosher Press, 1926).

Using the name The Mosher Press, Mosher privately printed some books on commission for those who wanted the quality of The Mosher Books for publications of their own choosing. The Huston Collection contains several books that were printed for Mr. Edward Woods of Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Most of The Mosher Press books were printed before Mosher’s death, but this particular title appeared three years later, while the business was under the direction of Flora Lamb.

Amphora: A Second Collection of Prose and Verse, chosen by the editor of The Bibelot (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1926).

Before Mosher died in 1923, he indulged once more in a favorite pastime: selecting and editing excerpts of prose and poetry. For twenty years Mosher edited The Bibelot, and in 1912 he issued a first Amphora. In his last years, Mosher compiled the second Amphora, then left it to be published after his death. It is fitting that this, his last work, is a collection of the literature that he loved.

Ninety eighth of ninety nine titles in the Miscellaneous Series.

A Song to David by Christopher Smart (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1900).

Seventh of twelve titles in Reprints from The Bibelot.

The Bibelot, a monthly magazine of literary excerpts edited and selected by Thomas Bird Mosher (Portland Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1895-1914).

Mosher is probably best remembered for his monthly magazine, The Bibelot, which at the peak of its popularity had over two thousand subscribers. The small blue volumes contained excerpts of prose and poetry from both well known and obscure authors. Each month Mosher set aside copies of the journal, and after The Bibelot ended, they were bound either in antique blue boards or blue half calf and sold in complete sets.

Gaston de la Tour by Walter Pater, with an introduction by William Marion Reedy (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1907).

Like many of Mosher’s series, the books of The Old World Series contain original designs. Among the artists whom Mosher commissioned to design the covers for this series was Frederic W. Goudy, who later worked for the Village Press and the Camelot Press. Mosher considered both the artwork and the literature he selected to be “acknowledged masterpieces”.

Forty third of fifty titles in The Old World Series.

Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon and Ricketts (London: Vale Press, 1904).

Charles Ricketts, founder of the Vale Press, created his own type faces as well as borders and decorated initials for his press. Mosher borrowed initials, such as the letter “I” shown here, as well as Ricketts’ frequent use of red ink in the text, in order to create a well executed imitation of Vale Press work.

Will o’ the Mill by Robert Louis Stevenson (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1899).

In his catalogue, Mosher advertised the petite volumes of The Brocade Series as “tiny literary jewels”. These short works of prose and verse, all printed on Japan vellum with orange or green initials on the covers, were offered individually or in boxed sets. The title seen here was sold singly and as a set of Five Tales and a Study by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was also included in a complete boxed set of the fifty volumes that Mosher published in the series.

Seventeenth of fifty titles in The Brocade Series.

The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1901).

Works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pre Raphaelite artist, author, and one of the leaders in the British arts movement, appear several tunes in the many series of The Mosher Books. In his selection of literature and design, Mosher favored the romances and intricate artwork of Rossetti and his contemporary, William Morris. Other artists of the time also impressed Mosher, and he based the design of this version of The Blessed Damozel on the work of Charles Ricketts of the Vale Press of Great Britain.

Fifteenth of ninety nine titles in the Miscellaneous series.

Sonnets to a Wife by Ernest McGaffey (St. Louis: William Marion Reedy, 1901).

When William Marion Reedy, publisher, journalist, and editor of the St. Louis Mirror, wrote the introduction for Mosher’s publication of Gaston de la Tour in 1907, he appears to have been already familiar with Mosher’s The Old World Series which began in 1895. This book, published by Reedy in 1901, is identical in size and format to the volumes of The Old World Series and has similar cover decorations.

A Branch of May by Lizette Woodworth Reese (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1909).

Mosher’s business afforded him the opportunity to publish works that he loved. These springtime images by Lizette Woodworth Reese, American poet, lyricist, and public school teacher, were longtime favorites of Mosher. The books of The Lyric Garland are housed in plain gray covers, but the verse inside is decorated with Chiswick Press ornaments and red initials.

Fifteenth of twenty six titles in The Lyric Garland.

Trivia by John Gay (London: Printed by the Chiswick Press for D. O’Connor, 1922).

The Chiswick Press of Great Britain was extremely influential during the printing revival of the late nineteenth century. Because of the quality of its work, William Morris had several of his writings printed by Chiswick prior to the establishment of his own Kelmscott Press. Mosher, too, admired Chiswick publications and adopted for his own books ornaments and formats used by Chiswick. The red lettering and clear typography of the title page of this Chiswick book were imitated by Mosher. This volume is printed on Van Gelder paper, the same quality handmade paper which Mosher chose for his books.

A Little Book for John O’Mahony’s Friends by Katharine Tynan (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1909).

Once again Mosher presents a series of masterpieces. In an effort to make these literary works affordable, as well as beautiful, Mosher offered one version on more expensive Japan vellum and a less costly one on handmade paper. Although the same pattern appears on both versions, the different paper causes them to appear as two unique yet equally exquisite books.

Twelfth of twelve titles in The Ideal Series of Little Masterpieces.

The Rose Jar (1928) and The Voice in the Silence (1924) by Thomas S. Jones, Jr. (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher).

Although Mosher usually published works by British authors, he developed the Lyra Americana series in order to showcase American authors whom he felt were not as well known as they should be. Mosher’s taste in literature was proven excellent once again as these books were in such demand that multiple editions were often issued.

First and fifth of six titles in Lyra Americana.

A Masque of Dead Florentines by Maurice Hewlett, 1911; Spring in Tuscany and Other Lyrics, 1912; Songs from an Italian Garden by A. Mary F. Robinson, 1913 (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher).

The Venetian Series comprises selections of Italian literature and poetry, handsomely presented in volumes covered with colorful hand decorated jackets featuring eighteenth century Italian designs. This coherence of literature and design allowed Mosher to offer another unique series in a boxed set.

Fourth, sixth and seventh of seven titles in The Venetian Series.

Threnody and Other Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1911).

In The Golden Text Series, Mosher wanted “to present single poems of exceptional beauty” such as this touching piece of poetry written by Emerson in 1842 after the sudden death of his five old son. The beautiful verse is matched by the pleasing design of the series. Mosher offered The Golden Text books with hand decorated wrappers or, like the volume exhibited here, with marbled boards.

Eighth of eight titles in The Golden Text Series.