The English Reprint Series, 1891-1894

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.

As previously mentioned, the 1880s were a period of upheaval for Mosher. While running his revived stationery business, he gingerly tried his hand at publishing his real love, literature. The first book to bear the Mosher imprint appeared in October 1991 (three months after the publication of Morris’s first Kelmscott Press book), dressed in the distinctive aesthetic that characterizes the Mosher books.

Three titles were issued under the English Reprint rubric, each in two formats. Ten large-paper copies, numbered and signed, were printed on Japan vellum, and forty large-paper copies, numbered, all measuring 225 mm x 205 mm. 400 small-paper copies, also numbered, were printed on Van Gelder paper; these measured 210 mm x 103 mm. All copies were bound in Japan vellum and printed by Brown Thurston Company, of Portland.

  1. MODERN LOVE, George Meredith. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCXCI. (see reviews)
    63 leaves, English Reprint 1, Hatch 1, Two copies exhibited: the large-paper copy is 29 of 40; the small-paper is I of 400.

What prompted Mosher to select Modern Love as his first book? There are two reasons. First, the gloomy, tragic poem, which tells of a wife’s loss of love for her husband, her abandoning him, and finally her death by suicide, echoes Mosher’s own emotional turmoil. Second, as noted by Frederick Pottle, &it was because the last line of that poem sequence expresses the idea which all his life has gripped him so mightily—the soul of the Mosher Books: ‘To throw that faint, thin line upon the shore. 1 Metaphorically the line refers to the luminous light from the world of the ideal, of the absolute, of beauty, which Mosher himself would cast time and again with each issuance from his press.

The first American edition of the poem—and Mosher’s first piracy—is also the first of many occasions in which Mosher introduced the American public to the work of little-known writers.

The foreword was written by E. Cavazza, the wife of a local newspaperman, who also wrote the foreword to the second volume in the series. The asymmetrical cover design, black and red title page, and ample margins are, as Thompson justly pointed out, indebted to Aesthetic style of the Bodley Head. 2

  1. THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT, James Thomson. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCXCII.
    123 pp., English Reprint 2, Hatch 2. This is copy 237 of the small-paper run.

For his second book Mosher secured the American rights from the British publishers, Dobell and Reeves. The City of Dreadful Night was again a rather dreary poem on the hopelessness and futility of life. In his prospectus for the book, Mosher wrote that it “may be characterized as a somber, darkly-wrought composition tuned to a minor key…. It is a mystical allegory, the outgrowth of broodings on hopelessness and spiritual desolation.” In a letter to Messrs. Crowell, the New York publishers, he added, “It is, as you say, one of the great poems of the century, and I confess it comes home to my heart in a way that no other does.” 3

  1. Frederick A. Pottle, “Aldi Discipulus Americanus” in Amphora, Second Collection, Thomas Bird Mosher, Portland, Maine, 1926, p 125.
  2. Thompson, op. cit., 1977, p. 190.
  3. Letter to unknown recipient at Messrs. Crowell dated November 13, 1894, four pages, private collection.