The Mosher Catalogues

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.

“Some of Mr. Mosher’s catalogues: fine! they’ll show . . . the true spirit of what one book-lover calls bibliobliss.” —Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop

Three years after Mosher’s first book appeared, a thin publication called A List of Books in Limited Editions was issued. This 1894 list offered descriptions of the form and content of new and previously published Mosher books. From this unpretentious beginning, a unique style of catalogue evolved in the American publishing world with “pretensions of its own quite apart from being a list of desirable books for sale.” Each catalogue carried its own title page, a foreword expressing Mosher’s outlook on literature’s importance to life, and an annotated list with critical comments on the books published, all arranged by series.

At their height, the Mosher catalogues would run about eighty pages, and most would include Mosher’s two-to-four-page forewords. Interspersed among the entries were quotes from works of poetry or prose of which Mosher was particularly fond. Those quoted included poets and essayists such as Richard Le Gallienne, George Santayana, George Gissing, William Blake, and many other authors generally unknown to the American audience. A.E. Newton said of a Mosher catalogue “It is more [than a catalogue!—it is an anthology…. Never before or since, I believe, has a man made such a deliberate appeal to the reader and book-lover. With exquisite quotations in verse and prose, from every source under the wide and starry sky, he called attention to the literary merit of his wares, saying just enough about type and size and binding to enable one to order by letter.”1 Perhaps the most eloquent description of Mosher’s catalogues was by Le Gallienne:

In his catalogue, Mr. Mosher has collected more such names than I know where else to find together. Often I take it down and turn over its leaves as I would walk in a garden of old world flowers, or press to my nostrils some pomander of precious evocative spices. It is at once a lachrymatory, a honey- pot or a potpourri jar; for in it are collected, as inprecious vials, all the tears, all the honey, all the blossoms of literature. . . . It is the catalogue raisonne lifted into the region of poetry. —Foreword to the 1914 catalogue.

Mosher’s personalized catalogues struck a sympathetic chord with the American public. His musings on the deeper meanings of the works of literature he published and their autobiographical, spiritual revelations all found their way into the homes and hearts of this reading public. Many of Mosher’s customers corresponded with him, sending letters of praise and appreciation. Eventually, their encouragement lead Mosher to collect his catalogue forewords and literary quotes and compile them into a book, The Amphora (1914).

Part of the glory of the Mosher catalogues is their wrappers, variously colored and decorated. The first two experimental Lists were rather plain and unassuming, but beginning in 1896 we see a variety of designs, ranging from the intricate vines of that year’s catalogue to the reproduction in 1898 of the design created by Pissarro for his The Book of Ruth and The Book of Esther. The title page designs varied from the austere (1905) to the elaborate (1910). Mosher’s anchor and dolphin trademark appears in a variety of guises as an element of the decorative scheme on the cover of sixteen of the thirty catalogues issued by Mosher, and on the title page of others. The text in the body of the catalogue is mostly Roman type.

First entitled A List of Books in 1894, these modest catalogues were rechristened The Mosher Books in 1903. In that year the size also changed, from the original 185 mm x 95 mm to approximately 240 mm x 150 mm. This format was standard until 1916, when World War I disrupted the supply of imported paper. The 1916 catalogue was scaled down to 213 mm x 132 mm, and the following year’s to 207 mm x 110 mm. Mosher used this format for the next five years, as did Lamb after his death. The quality of paper dropped markedly as well, and Mosher regretted that “owing to the advance in the price of paper, l am no longer able to send out my unique Catalogue as in former years. Instead, I have preferred to put all possible value into the books I publish.”2

  1. A LIST OF BOOKS. Portland, Maine, Thomas B Mosher, MDCCCXCIV.
    185 mm x 95 mm, 16 pp., Catalogue 2, Hatch 8. Bound in light gray printed wraps (some were also bound in boards with paper label).

    The cover features on the front an asymmetric title in red and black and on the back, in red, stylized dolphins holding a book. Chiswick headbands are used sparingly in the body.

    The anchor and dolphin printer’s mark appears here for the first time. As it was for Aldus and Pickering before him, this logo became Mosher’s trademark, and it appeared in other catalogues and on the title page of various series: Old World, Little Masterpieces, and Vest Pocket, and in some Miscellaneous Series titles. The device also found its way onto Mosher’s stationery.

    230 mm x 120 mm, 64 pp, Catalogue 9, Hatch 232.

    The catalog is bound in gray-green wraps with the front cover printed in green and red. The body of the text is printed in red and black throughout. Chiswick headbands and initials decorate the pages. The Eragny capital on the title page is also found in other Mosher publications including Calvert’s Ten Spiritual Designs (see entry 22) and J. M. Barrie’s George Meredith–A Tribute.

    This is the first time that the anchor and dolphin device appears on the cover of a catalogue, having been confined until then to the title page or to the back cover. An elongated and stylized version first used in the 1915 catalogue appeared on the cover of all catalogues after 1918. (Mosher also used this mark in his privately printed In Memoriam of 1920.) This device appears to have been lifted from Charles Wagner’s The Simple Life, published in 1906 by McClure, Phillips and Company.

  3. THE MOSHER BOOKS. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCIV.
    240 mm x 150 mm, 72 pp., Catalogue 11, Hatch 300.

    The catalog is bound in blue wraps decorated with a green honeysuckle border designed by Ricketts for his The Poems of Sir John Suckling (see entries 26 and 30). The cover title, publisher’s information, and printer’s device are in green and red. Chiswick initials, headbands and tailpieces are used throughout.

    235 mm x 150 mm, 68 pp., Catalogue 13, Hatch 368. Bound in blue wrappers.

    The cover design, created by Ricketts for the Bodley Head edition of John Gray’s Silverpoints (1893), is printed in green and red. The title page bears a Pissarro capital, and the catalogue, ruled throughout in red, is decorated with Chiswick capitals and typographic fleurons.

  5. THE MOSHER BOOKS. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCIX.
    246 mm x 153 mm, 80 pp., Catalogue 16, Hatch 480.

    This copy was bound in gray boards and hand-illuminated by Bertha Avery (see entry 14 for another book illuminated by Avery). A photograph of Mosher, absent in the paper-bound copies, has been bound in. This copy is from Flora Lamb’s library. The gray paper wrappers bound in the back of the catalogue bear an Art Nouveau design of grey poppies by Earl Stetson Crawford. Crawford also designed the cover for the 1908 catalogue and the cover for Mimes (see entry 17), as well as some covers for the Old World Series.

    The woodcut on the title page of a child playing the pan pipes also appears on other Mosher publications: The Children’s Crusade, For Those Who Love Music and Other Vagaries, and Masterpieces… of the Misses Masters School. (see entry 50.)

  6. THE MOSHER BOOKS. Portland, Maine, Thomas B Mosher, MDCCCCXII.
    238 mm x 150 mm, 79 pp., Catalogue 19, Hatch 567. Bound in pink paper wrappers.

    The decorative scheme on the cover, ruled in red along the perimeter, includes a Renaissance-style oval frame highlighting the title. The anchor and dolphin logo appears on the back cover. The engraved title page is signed “EAC” (unknown) and depicts a wide range of items, including a scrolled map, a compass, open and closed books, and an inkwell with quill, all on a stone ledge with the upper portion of a ship’s billowing sails. One stone mounted into the wall reads “I steer by the Stars/ MDCCCCXII.” This is obviously the most autobiographic of the decorations used by Mosher.

  1. Newton, op. cit., pp. l22- 123.
  2. T. B. Mosher, preface to 1917 catalogue.