Illustrating the Good Life: The Pissarros’ Eragny Press, 1894-1914

Catalogue of an exhibition of books, prints & drawings related to the work of the Press. By Alice H.R.H. Beckwith. Preface by Alan Fern. 8” x 11”; x, 70 pp. Frontispiece and 38 color and duotone illustrations. An illustrated history and survey of the work of the Eragny Press by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith, followed by detailed descriptions of 104 items on display at the Grolier Club, Feb. 20-April 28, 2007. Designed by Jerry Kelly, set in Adobe Jenson and Epigrammata types, and printed in an edition of 400 copies. (ISBN: 0-910672-71-7). Illustrated wrappers: $40

Placard Descriptions in Case #10 of the Exhibition:
“The Eragny Press Influence in the United States”

Text by Alice H.R.H Beckwith and used here with her permission
NIC = Not In Catalogue

I cannot help feeling very much impressed by the number of people both in England and America who with such a splendid “esprit civic” spend their lives collecting art treasures and leave them to some institution for the joy of posterity. I am only too pleased to contribute my very small share in your generous undertaking . . .

—Lucien Pissarro
Autograph letter to Philip Darrel Sherman, August 26, 1926
Brown University Library

Bibliophiles, typographers, and publishers in the United States admired and collected Eragny Press books for the entire history of the press. The British publisher John Lane opened his New York office in 1896 and had available the Eragny Press’s first book, The Queen of the Fishes. Lane distributed Eragny Press books in the United States until 1905. By 1904, Eragny books were so well respected that the St. Louis World’s Fair accepted four of them for exhibition at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Alfred Fowler, a Grolier Club member and editor of the Kansas City-based Biblio magazine, served as an Eragny spokesman and distributor beginning in 1913. Educator and collector Philip Darrel Sherman lectured about printing and the Eragny Press in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and western New York State. Daniel Berkeley Updike, proprietor of Boston’s Merrymount Press, appreciatively discussed and illustrated Eragny Press books in Printing Types (1922), the most important American text on printing.

In preparation for the sale of his book collection in 1924, John Quinn, an attorney and a major collector of modern books and art, told his correspondent at New York’s Anderson Auction Galleries that everyone knew Eragny books. Many of Quinn’s books entered the New York Public Library collection after Quinn’s sale. The holdings of Eragny books in public collections will be further investigated in the Brown University and Sacramento Public Library versions of the Grolier Club exhibition. But it was the “Pirate Prince of Publishers,” Thomas Bird Mosher of Portland, Maine, who gave Lucien Pissarro’s designs their widest circulation in this country. According to his bibliographer, Philip R. Bishop, Mosher owned thirteen of the Pissarros’ books, and used them as design sources in his own publications.

Lucien Pissarro, Autograph Letter to Philip Darrel Sherman, August 26, 1926, with a photograph of Lucien Pissarro beside his Albion Press.

Philip Darrel Sherman taught at Oberlin College in Ohio, and gave lectures about the history of printing at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. He used his salary and lecture fees to buy books and manuscripts that he then discussed in his classes and talks. He was also a member of the Rowfant Club, a Cleveland society of book collectors. Such societies provided important opportunities for discussion about literature and fine printing in the United States. Sherman, always the teacher, donated his collection to Brown University in honor of Professor Harry Lyman Koopman, his teacher of bibliography at Brown and the man who inspired his interest in books and printing. The heart of this Eragny press exhibition is from Sherman’s collection. In support of Sherman’s teaching and his intention of giving his books away, Lucien Pissarro generously gave Sherman the Eragny volumes of Coleridge, Browning, and Rossetti.

Brown University Library, gift of Philip D. Sherman in honor of his teacher Harry L. Koopman

Lucien Pissarro. Bookplate of Joseph Manuel Andreini. Wood engraving, 1907.

Joseph Manuel Andreini was a senior member of the Wall Street banking firm of Lawrence Turnure and Co. and a member of the Grolier and Rowfant Clubs. He had a standing order with the Pissarros for every one of their books, and developed a warm friendship with the artists. Andreini’s bookplate is a miniature masterpiece of pastoral peace. The thoughtful shepherdess is seated beneath an oak tree with sheep and poplar trees in the distance. The design follows Andreini’s request. The bookplate seen here is affixed to Andreini’s copy of the Eragny Press’s François Villon, Autres poésies de Maistre François Villon et son école.

Gary Brenner Collection

Copy of a “Literary Note from John Lane,” New York, ca. 1905.

In this letter to American bibliophiles, John Lane informs collectors about publication of the Eragny Press Dream Come True collection of poems by Laurence Binyon. Lane praises the Pissarros’ book arts skills as well as Binyon’s poetry, and he incites purchase by proclaiming the limited number of copies available in the United States.

Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, on loan to the University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware


Example of John Lane’s New York Letter Head.

Even when John Lane was not promoting an Eragny book readers were aware of the Pissarros’ works, because Lane cited his role as their publisher on the stationary used in his New York Office.

Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, on loan to the University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware



The Book of Ruth and the Book of Esther. London: Hacon and Ricketts, 1896.

This second book from the Eragny Press is the first example of the Eragny floral-patterned printed binding papers. Like the book itself the design of this paper is an early work, lacking the complex geometry of the later papers. However, in this as in all their books, the Pissarros’ respect for nature as a source of inspiration and delight animates the six pairs of snowdrops and their surrounding leaves.

Brown University Library

Ecclesiastes or the Preacher. Portland, Maine: Thomas Bird Mosher, 1907.

Americans defend freedom of the press rigorously, and in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this ideal fostered some dramatic examples of reprinting. English publishers and printers called this practice piracy, but the publication of foreign works not registered at the American copyright office brought no penalty under United States law. The snowdrop binding on Mosher’s Ecclesiastes is an example of unacknowledged reuse of an Eragny Press design.

Philip R. Bishop Collection

Unfolded Japan vellum binding for Ecclesiastes or the Preacher. Portland: Thomas B. Mosher, 1907.

Mosher observed Pissarro’s use of Japanese vellum and here employs that material for a typographical tribute to the snowdrop pattern on their Book of Ruth and the Book of Esther.

Philip R. Bishop Collection

Mosher Sales Catalogue. Portland: Thomas B. Mosher, 1898.

Mosher’s adaptation of the Eragny snowdrop design for his 1898 book catalogue is remote from its original use on a Biblical text. Mosher’s commercial exploitation probably would have upset the Pissarros more than the use of their design on the Ecclesiastes; however, despite the commercial context, and the distorted bright red and green color scheme, Lucien Pissarro’s snowdrops still manage to improve the page, and raise viewers’ consciousness of beauty in nature.

Philip R. Bishop Collection

Pierre de Ronsard. Abregé de l’art poétique. London: Hacon and Ricketts, 1903.

Lucien Pissarro’s design for the first pages of Ronsard’s Abregé de l’art poétique [Summary of the Art of Poetry] is organized like a carefully tended garden. The floral borders framing each page are rectangular and symmetrically placed. The centered pressmark on the first page balances the facing text block. Each element relates to the others, and the design as a whole projects a sense of harmony that is sympathetic with Ronsard’s advice to poets: to labor, and polish their work as a gardener would prune his plants. This is the only Eragny text that might be described as a teaching volume, because it is not a poem in itself, but a guide to writing. Thomas Bird Mosher’s also took the Eragny Ronsard as teacher, using the book as a design source more often than any of the other twelve Eragny books in his collection.

Brown University Library

Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. Portland, Maine: Thomas Bird Mosher, 1919.

Writing in the American Mercury in May of 1924, Harry Lyman Koopman proclaimed that “discussion of modern fine printing in America may well begin with the work of Mosher.” And indeed, Mosher’s careful choice of paper, good quality ink, and an ornament borrowed from the Eragny Abregé de l’art poétique, epitomizes Anglo-French ideas about fine printing as interpreted by Lucien Pissarro. Besides giving Mosher ideas about book ornamentation, Eragny books provided him with examples of how effective good paper and ink were in producing visual impact.

Philip R. Bishop Collection


Ten Spiritual Designs, enlarged from Proofs of the Originals on Copper, Wood and Stone of Thomas Calvert. Portland, Maine: Thomas Bird Mosher, 1913.

Mosher included a slip of paper in his Calvert book crediting Lucien Pissarro with the designs for ornaments used in the text. In his forward and on page three of the text, Mosher combined a floral band from the Pissarros’ Abregé de l’art poétique, with a red initial A from the Eragny Descent of Ishtar. Philip R. Bishop traced both of these books to Mosher’s collection. Following Eragny Press precedent, Mosher also carefully chose the paper for his books, and in this special edition he used Japanese vellum. It is not known why Mosher chose to acknowledge his use of Pissarro’s designs in this book, but it is one of his most visually impressive volumes. In 2000 it was chosen by Martin Hutner and Jerry Kelly as one of the hundred best books of the last hundred years in their A Century for the Century exhibition at the Grolier Club. Furthermore, in form and content it is very much in keeping with the pastoral, harmonious natural world found in Eragny Press illustrations and ornaments.

Philip R. Bishop Collection


Christmas Card: “Recessional,” by Rudyard Kipling. Printed for Edward Woods, Portland: Thomas B. Mosher, 1918 – 19.

Red and green printers’ flowers from Pissarro’s designs for Francis Bacon’s Of Gardens enliven Mosher’s texts in both The Last Christmas Tree and the Christmas card. The introduction of green in the text is one more example of Pissarro’s influence on Mosher, and Mosher even retains Pissarro’s monogram at the bottom of the page on the Christmas card. As a self-taught designer, Mosher turned to the only school available to him: well-printed books. Eragny books were circulated in the United States soon after Mosher began his career, and he took advantage of their presence to learn from them.

Philip R. Bishop Collection


Francis Bacon. Of Gardens, An Essay. London: Hacon and Ricketts, 1902.

The Eragny Press printing of Francis Bacon’s Of Gardens, An Essay employed a combination of colored wood engraving and upper and lower-case letters unlike anything else printed in the English-speaking world in 1902. The grandeur of Bacon’s opening statement, “God Almighty first planted a garden,” is echoed in the swaying stems and trumpeting flowers. Pissarro plays with the text, using almost all capital letters interspersed with occasional words in lower case. Such diversity in the text block avoids boredom and makes the whole easier to read. In the Eragny Press Of Gardens, the Pissarros and Francis Bacon perform Tikkun olam.- by using the art of design to repair and perfect the world around them. Form and content are merged here, pointing out a pathway through a garden to the Good Life of respect for one’s self, for others and for the natural environment.

Brown University Library