Books Privately Printed

Note: The following catalogue list, with minor alterations, is taken from Vilain and Bishop’s Thomas Bird Mosher and the Art of the Book (Philadelphia: F. A Davis, 1992), pp. 11-54, with the kind permission of the publisher. Cross references to the illustrations which appear in the book have been eliminated.

Entries 48 – 51

Publishing is a business dealing in partially deferred gratification; the joy of publishing a book is followed very slowly by financial reward. It took Mosher months, sometimes years, to recoup his investment in these joyful, dainty books and to make a profit. So in 1898 he started accepting commissions, the bread and butter of many private presses and publishers. The advantages are evident, since the print run is sold out at a profit at the time the book is published. Oddly enough, Mosher did not advertise this aspect of his business until 1915 when, in his catalogue for that year, he announced the availability of The Mosher Press imprint for authors who “desired the choicest attainable … with all that goes with the making of a fine edition.”

Between 1898 and 1923 Mosher published forty-eight commissions for private distribution, ranging from pure vanity editions, such as Heart’s Ease, A Little Book of Glad Tidings Chosen for Her Children by Their Mother, to reprints of titles he had already issued. Two of these commissions were co-published with Emilie B. Grigsby.1 Whatever the literary value of the work, Mosher lavished on it the same care and attention to detail he gave to his other publications.

In two cases, Mosher printed privately for the author Thomas S. Jones, Jr., a book of poems that he later reprinted in the same format in one of his series. The Rose Jar (1913) and The Voice in the Silence (1915) appeared respectively in 1915 and 1917 as part of the Lyra Americana Series.

Mosher also printed eleven books for distribution to his friends. Five of these featured either the Rubáiyát or the works of its translator, Edward FitzGerald.

  1. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD FITZGERALD’S RU-BÁIYÁT OF OMAR KHAYYÁM, 1859-1903. Portland, Maine, Privately Printed, Mdcccciii.
    184 mm x 138 mm; not in Hatch. Van Gelder paper bound in gray boards.

    This is a printer’s dummy with Mosher’s instructions. The half-title, limitation page, and title page are handwritten by Mosher. Pages from earlier bibliographies of the Rubáiyát containing corrections, annotations, and directions to the printer for type size and ornaments are glued on the dummy’s pages. These are followed by one handwritten page listing the latest additions to the FitzGerald corpus. Although a handwritten note says that “there were but 25 copies printed,” this was apparently not the case. Four years later, Mosher did compile and privately print twenty-five Japan vellum copies of A Bibliographical List of the Editions of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, 1859-1907. It is likely that this dummy represents Mosher’s first attempt at this task, abandoned for a while and completed four years letter. (See also entries 3, 20, 38, and 46 for other printer’s dummies.)

  2. LYRICS AND SONNETS, Arthur Upson. Portland, Maine, Privately Printed, MDCCCCIX.
    155 mm x 115 mm, 29 pages. Hatch 714. Twenty-five copies privately printed on Japan vellum and bound in flexible Japan vellum, by Thomas Bird Mosher. This is copy number twenty-four.

    This delicate book is a fitting tribute to the young Midwestern poet enamored of beauty who drowned at the age of thirty one. The eccentric arrangement of the text with the red Chiswick capital gives the cover both lightness and serenity. The only other decorations in the book are a red anchor and dolphin on the title page and a rule of stylized flowers (identical to those of the Lyric Garland Series). Mosher included twenty-one of these twenty-six poems in the 1911 Lyric Garland edition of Upson’s Sonnets and Songs.

  3. MASTERPIECES Selected from the work written by the girls of the Misses Masters’ School. Dobbs Ferry on Hudson, The Misses Masters’ School, MDCCCCXII.
    195 mm x 140 mm, 126 pp., Hatch 717. This is one of 300 copies printed on Van Gelder and bound in vellum-covered boards. The frontispiece is a photograph of Esterwoods, the Misses Masters’ School.

    The title and vignette on the cover are printed in purple. The title page is ruled into three compartments, centered on the page. The text pages have top and outside rules and are decorated with Renaissance headbands.

    Sweet as the contents might be, the book’s main attraction is its cover. The charming vignette of a child playing the pan pipes against a background of stylized oak leaves was a favorite of Mosher, who used it often. It appears, for example, on the title page of his 1909 catalogue (see entry 64), on the back cover of Axel Munthe’s For Those Who Love Music (Miscellaneous, 1918) and on the cover of Marcel Schwob’s The Children’s Crusade (Miscellaneous, 1923). The illustration is unattributed, but in a letter to Mosher discussing the publication of the translation of his Mimes, Schwob suggested a cover design by Jean Weber. Since Crawford had been commissioned to do the cover for Mimes, the illustration on the cover of the present book may be the one originally rejected by Mosher.2

  4. THE PRESENT CRISIS, James Russell Lowell. Portland, Maine, The Mosher Press, MDCCCCXVII.
    165 mm x 125 mm, 18 pp., Hatch 746. This is one of 1275 copies printed on French handmade paper and bound in red Toyogami wrappers, for Edward A. Woods, Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

    Mosher’s major outside commissions came from Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Woods, for whom he published eleven books, most of which are reprints of titles Mosher had issued earlier.

    This edition of Lowell’s eloquent denunciation of slavery, originally published in 1844, is unusual in that it precedes another edition published nine months later by Mosher. The format of that publication, Vol. 86 of the Miscellaneous Series, is identical to that of the Woods edition, but without the Christmas greetings from the Woods printed on the first free end leaf of this copy. The wording on the colophon in the regular Mosher book is, of course, different from that in the Woods volume.

    The most striking features of this book are its title page, with an imposing initial “T” in red, from which grow interlacing vines strewn with stylized pods, and the decoration on the colophon page. The title page is an exact reproduction, including the placement of the type, of that for Housman’s designs for the 1896 Were-Wolf published by John Lane at the Bodley Head, and distributed in the United States by Way and Williams. The colophon reproduces another Housman design, taken from the 1899 The Silence of Love, also published in London by Lane. Mosher had already used this motif in Thompson’s Poems of 1911 (entry 18). The text also features two Chiswick headbands and decorated initials.

  1. Grigsby, the wealthy ward of traction magnate Charles T. Yerkes, was called “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Her friend Mitchell Kennerley, who started his publishing career with John Lane at the Bodley Head, was Mosher’s friend and boon companion during the latter’s visits to New York City. (Matthew Bruccoli, Mitchell Kennerley, New York, Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, 1986, p.13.).
  2. Letter dated May 1901, Houghton Library collection (bMS AM 1096 1404).