The Quarto Series, 1899 – 1904

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.

Thomas Mosher, the consummate bibliophile and bibliopole, lists in his 1902 catalogue the four titles published in this new series since its inception in 1899, along with three forthcoming books. Neither of the three preceding catalogues make any mention of the Quarto Series. However, three titles, Marius the Epicurean in two volumes and Songs before Sunrise, appear among the Miscellaneous books, and the fourth, Laus Veneris, is listed with the Reprints of Privately Printed Books. This is further indication of the fluidity and evolving nature of the concept of “series” upon which Mosher, and scholars after him, placed such emphasis. In the same 1902 catalogue Mosher announced that this new series would offer the works of the English Aesthetic School and its successors in their original versions. At the close of the series, the “school” consisted of Walter Pater, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Strouse ranks the ten Quarto volumes as the keystone of Mosher’s achievements, and they certainly are impressive representatives of the bookmaker’s art.1 Uniform in size (225 mm x 175 mm), bindings, and type (12-point Roman), the books differed only in their page design. The pages of the prose volumes were framed by hairline rules, with specially created headbands, tailpieces, and rubricated initials. The poems are presented without rules, “with quiet dignity which relies on presenting the verse as it should be presented—with as few broken lines and as ample margins as possible.” That Mosher was proud of the series can be gathered from his assertion that “the results are comparable to the choicest specimens of book-making issued by the Chiswick Press.”

All ten volumes were issued on Van Gelder paper, 450 copies bound in antique boards with white spine and in a slide case. In addition, 25 to 35 numbered copies were printed on Japan vellum with flexible vellum binding and silk page marker each in a slide case.

  1. POEMS & BALLADS, SECOND & THIRD SERIES, Algernon Charles Swinburne. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher MDCCCCIJ.
    327 pp., Quarto 3, Hatch 228. This is number 16 of 25 copies on Japan vellum.

    POEMS & BALLADS, FIRST SERIES, Algernon Charles Swinburne. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCIV.
    336 pp. Quarto 2, Hatch 294. One of 450 copies on Van Gelder paper. The frontispiece on Japan vellum is a portrait by D. G. Rossetti of his friend Swinburne.

    That the second and third series came before the first is a bit confusing, and is a result of Mosher’s passion for fitting books into “series.” The situation has been further complicated by Hatch, who gave an earlier series number to the later volume.

    Poems and Ballads was published in England in 1866, and the American edition bore the title Laus Veneris: Sonnets and Ballads. In 1878 Swinburne published Sonnets and Ballads, Second Series, and in 1889 Sonnets and Ballads, Third Series.

    In 1899 Mosher reprinted the text of the 1866 edition under the familiar American title, as part of the Reprints of Privately Printed Books—soon to become the first of the Quarto Series. This volume soon sold out.

    In 1902 Mosher decided to reprint the text of the second and third series in a single volume as part of the Quarto Series. To “satisfy the wishes of those who insist upon getting the complete collection [of Swinburne’s lyrical work] in Quarto format,” he offered a reprint of the Laus Veneris under its “rightful title,” a clever marketing ploy. In essence, the first series was published last in the Quarto because its “first” Mosher version appeared in the Miscellaneous Series.

    Mosher owned a copy of the 1868 third edition of Poems and Ballads (published by Hotten in London) on which he handwrote the major changes that needed to be made by the printer to make this a Mosher book. (See also entries 3, Songs of Adieu; 20, Roses Of Paestum; 46, The Voice in the Silence; and 48, Bibliography of the Rubáiyát).

  2. THE RENAISSANCE STUDIES IN ART AND POETRY, Walter Pater. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCIJ.
    248 pp., Quarto 9, Hatch 230. One of thirty-five copies on Japan vellum. The frontispiece is a portrait of Pater done in 1872 by Simeon Solomon.

    Pater’s influential essays on the Renaissance and some of its most famous painters and writers here receive a more suitable setting than that of the first edition, published in 1873 by Macmillan. Mosher’s use of rules, of capitals printed in red, and specially commissioned headbands and tailpieces is in harmony with the author’s elegant prose.

    While the design of the poetry Quartos is arguably austere, that of the prose volumes is both inviting and pleasing.

  1. Strouse, op. cit., p. 35.