Old World Series, 1895 -1909

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.

In this series, Mosher proposed to reprint the “acknowledged masters of literature,” which for the period meant Shakespeare, Swinburne, and the Brownings, along with lesser luminaries such as Richard Jefferies and Andrew Lang. He also announced that titles would be reissued if public demand required it. Obviously the demand was there, since there are 50 titles and 136 volumes, with The Kasîdah (translated by Sir Richard Burton) and the Rubáiyát accounting for 10 editions each.

Each volume measured 180 mm x 100 mm; 925 copies were printed on Van Gelder paper, 100 copies (sometimes 50) on Japan vellum, all with silk marker. The binding was flexible Japan vellum—a technique originated by Mosher, according to him—with turned edges; variant bindings include old-style blue boards and flexible olive-green leather with gilt design. Most of the volumes bound in Japan vellum had a distinctive original front cover decoration, many of these reflecting a strong Art Nouveau influence. Each volume was issued in sealed wrappers and slide case.

  1. RUBÁIYÁT OF OMAR KHAYYÁM rendered into English Verse by Edward FitzGerald. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, Mdcccc.
    146 pp., Old World 1, Hatch 161. Seventh Edition. One of 100 copies on Japan vellum.

A handwritten note by Bruce Rogers on a preliminary page indicates that he designed the title page and backstrip (spine). Mosher himself seems to have designed the majority of his books, and Rogers is one of the few artists known to have contributed to his books (Earl Stetson Crawford, Charles M. Jenckes, Frederic Goudy, and Thomas Maitland Cleland are the others). Bruce Rogers became one of the most successful and highly respected book designers in this country and England. The inscription in this volume allows us to add one more book to the Rogers incunabula, since the design is the same as that of the first edition. Incidentally, Jenckes, a relatively unknown graphic artist, contributed some decorations and headbands to the first edition.

See also entry 52 for an earlier edition, the fourth, in a tooled leather binding, and entry 58 for a copy of the tenth edition with a pochoir-decorated binding.

  1. FÉLISE: A BOOK OF LYRICS Chosen from Algernon Charles Swinburne. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, Mdccccix.
    129 pp., Old World 50, Hatch 464. Printed by Smith and Sale.

Originally published in 1899 as part of the Bibelot Series,1 this is the last title published in the Old World Series. The heart-shaped cover design, tulips woven into an Art Nouveau border of undulating leaves, is one of the few that can be attributed to a specific artist. The monogram of Earl Stetson Crawford (see entry 17) a “C” with a stylized crown of two lines surmounted by three dots, appears at the bottom right of the heart.

  1. THE ISLE OF DREAMS, Fiona Macleod [William Sharp]. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, Mdccccix.
    131 pp., Old World Series 36, Hatch 488. Printed by George D. Loring. This copy is bound in blue boards with white ribbed spine and with label in black—the binding style that Mosher called “old-style blue boards.”

Fiona Macleod, a now-forgotten member of the Celtic Renaissance, was the pseudonym of the well-known Scottish writer William Sharp. Macleod was a favorite of Mosher, who published fourteen of “her” works, and to whom “she” owes, in great part, “her” fame. Mosher corresponded with Macleod and requested and received a photograph; it was only after William Sharp’s death that he learned from the poet’s widow that both were the same person.

  1. SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, Mdccccix.
    68 pp., Old World 10, Hatch 484. Fifth Edition. This copy bound in green leather.

The enormous popularity of Browning’s passionate poems made them a favorite of private presses, for which they ensured steady sales. Mosher published eleven different editions of the Sonnets, six in the Old World Series and five in the Vest Pocket Series. 2

Two entwined vines, stamped in gold, decorate the leather spine. The front cover bears a gold-stamped design of swirling clouds surrounding a moon and star within a circle. This design, created by D.G. Rossetti for Swinburne’s 1871 Songs before Sunrise (published in London by Ellis), also appears on the cover of Mosher’s 1901 quarto edition of that book and, blind-stamped, on the cover of “R.L.S.” An Essay, in the Miscellaneous Series.


  1. Dr. Williamson, a book collector and friend of Swinburne’s mother, asked Lady Jane to show her son a copy of the Bibelot Series version of this book “so charmingly printed and bound.” The poet declared that he admired the book and found judicious Mosher’s selections from his poems. Dr. G. C. Williamson, Behind My Library Door, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1921, pp. 202-203.
  2. In an advertisement for Sonnets from the Portuguese placed in the May 15, 1900 issue of The Goose Quill, Mosher claimed “15,000 copies of this [Vest Pocket] edition sold to-date.” Since the book had been published in February of that year, the number of copies sold is astonishing, even if Mosher included in that count the 2775 copies of the three Old World editions of the Sonnets published in 1897, 1898, and 1899. If the claim is not grossly exaggerated, it emphasizes the importance of the “old chestnuts” as a way to subsidize more adventurous publishing ventures.