The Vest Pocket Series, 1899 – 1913

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.

Twenty-five titles were published, some appearing in successive editions (the Rubáiyát and Sonnets from the Portuguese leading with eight and five editions respectively) for a total of fifty volumes.

Vest pocket books, cheap, cheaply made, and fitting easily in their eponymous pocket, were very popular at the turn of the century. Mosher’s goal with this series seems to have been to “show up” the competition and to prove that cheap and small could also be carefully made and beautiful.

All volumes were identical in size—142 mm x 72 mm. The type is an 8-point old-style Roman, and the headbands and tailpieces are Chiswick ornaments. The title page is ruled and divided into four panels. The size of the print run was not specified.

The potential for monotony in this series is, once again, relieved by the covers. Mosher offered each title in four versions: on Van Gelder paper with old-style blue wrappers; on Van Gelder paper with green limp cloth cover; on Van Gelder with green flexible leather cover, top edges gilt; and on Japan vellum with vellum wrappers. The prices varied accordingly: 25 cents, 40 cents, 75 cents, and $1.00.

The blue wrappers and vellum covers were decorated with a set of double rules in black enclosing a central panel consisting of three rectangles: two small ones with the title and author printed in red, and a central panel containing a decoration of twining vines; also printed in red. The flexible leather and the limp cloth bindings, usually green (fading to brown with age), featured an off-center vertical block printed in gold consisting of the title and the author’s name bracketing the same interlacing vines as their counterparts in blue wrappers. Mosher had commissioned Goudy to create cover designs for the first four volumes, and these were used throughout the life of the series. Goudy had also designed a few covers for the Old World Series; among thos e are Monna Innominata (1899), The Story of Ida (1899), and Underwoods (1900.)

The caduceus stamped in gold on the back of the flexible leather and limp cloth covers was designed by Bruce Rogers (see entry 9).

  1. RUBÁIYÁT OF OMAR KHAYYÁM, Edward FitzGerald, with Preface by Nathan Haskell Dole.Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCXCIX.
    49 pp., Vest Pocket I, Hatch 121.

    Nathan Haskell Dole, editor and publisher of the privately printed Breviary Treasures series, was an authority on Omar, and Mosher reprinted his preface in nine of his twenty-five editions of the Rubáiyát. This volume is unusual in that it is printed on gray-blue handmade paper (another copy on gray-blue paper is in the Houghton Library). The reason for this exception in unknown, but the result is pleasing.1

  2. AES TRIPLEX AND OTHER ESSAYS, Robert Louis Stevenson. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCIJ.
    77 pp., Vest Pocket 4, Hatch 227. This copy is printed on Japan vellum and bound in flexible vellum.
  3. AUCASSIN AND NICOLETTE, Translated by Andrew Lang. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCIII.
    74 pp., Vest Pocket 6, Hatch 258. This copy is printed on Van Gelder paper, with blue wrappers.
  4. A DEFENCE OF POETRY, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCX.
    100 pp., Vest Pocket 20, Hatch 509. This copy is bound in green flexible leather.
  5. WILL O’ THE MILL, R. L. Stevenson. Portland, Maine, Thomas B. Mosher, MDCCCCXI.
    72 pp., Vest Pocket 21, Hatch 535. This copy is bound in limp cloth.

    The majority of the works in this series were crowd pleasers on which Mosher could rely for steady sales. Six of the twenty-five titles were written by the immensely popular Robert Louis Stevenson. The Rubáiyát and the Sonnets from the Portuguese had become icons of the publishing world, as had Lang’s Aucassin and Nicolete. The assured success of these books gave Mosher the luxury of undertaking less well-known works.

  1. It is interesting to note that in the same year Will Bradley produced his extraordinary War Is Kind, an entirely different kind of book, but also printed on thick gray paper. Perhaps Mosher had seen the book and wanted to experiment.