The Panel Books

by david on 6 December 2017

Cover of "The Life of Beau Nash"

Cover of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”

The following item appeared in the 7 Sep 1907 edition of The Publishers’ Weekly (an American book-trade journal), page 551

Paul Elder & Company, in connection with Sisley’s, of London, are about to publish a handy volume series of standard works under the general title of The Panel Books. Twenty titles will be ready in September.

Sisley’s had issued The Panel Books in the United Kingdom the previous year. What prompted Elder to republish it in America? Perhaps he read a marketing blurb similar to this one in the British periodical The Athenæum of 7 April 1906:

THE PANEL-BOOKS are a series of sumptuous Classics de Luxe produced with care and artistic taste–books that will grace your bookshelf or table and that you can handle and read with real delight. As the name implies, they are of handy “panel” shape. Richly bound and printed in large, clear type on permanent antique paper, with ample margins, THE PANEL-BOOKS recall the charming editions of the Eighteenth Century; and every accessory to a good book which the book-lover appreciates is to be found in this new series: a coloured frontispiece, decorated title-page, ornamental end-papers, silk book-ark, full gilt edges, embossed and 22-carat gold stamped cover, and, what is an entirely new departure, giving an added distinction to the series, a specially designed Heraldic Book-plate affixed to the inside of each cover. On this the owner of the book can inscribe his or her name. The book-plate, cover, title-page, decorations, and end-papers have been designed for THE PANEL-BOOKS by Edgar Wilson.

From this short description it will be seen that THE PANEL-BOOKS have a character of their own. Elegant in format, tasteful to look upon, with paper and type that are restful to the eye, they are ideal companions for the spare hour at home or on travel—books that you can live with on terms of close intimacy—books that are beautiful in every sense of the word.

The titles chosen for THE PANEL-BOOKS are of infinite variety, to please differing tastes. Fiction, Memoirs, Poetry, History, Biography, Folk-Lore, Choice Extracts, The Drama, Humour, Travel, Devotion—all find a place in the new series.

As to the price of THE PANEL-BOOKS, for a series of such exceptional quality it is extremely low. Bound in art vellum, embossed and gold stamped, with gilt edges, it is 2s. 6d. net for each volume; in half-leather, 3s. net; full lambskin, 3s. 6d. net; and in real Persian leather, 5s. net.

Thirteen of the Panel Books, with typical spine sunning and damage

Thirteen of the twenty Panel Books, with typical spine sunning and damage

Elder had a lot on his mind in 1907: he and John Henry Nash were in New York City, gamely trying to recover from the disaster of the San Francisco earthquake the previous year. The subsequent fire had destroyed not only the bookstore but also the Tomoye Press, so they were obliged to rebuild the print shop. Buying a series was a quick and easy way to get books on the shelves in time for the Christmas shopping season. Evidence suggests that the Impression Classics series sold well as many of the 1902 titles were reprinted in 1904, so there was reason to believe that this series would also.

Advertisement for "The Panel Books" from Elder's 1907 catalog "Thoughts For Friends"

Advertisement for “The Panel Books” from Elder’s 1907 catalog “Thoughts For Your Friends”

The twenty titles in The Panel Books series are:

  1. The Memoirs of Count Grammont, by Anthony Hamilton
  2. Don Juan, by Lord Byron
  3. The Life of “Beau” Nash, by Oliver Goldsmith
  4. Silas Marner, by George Eliot
  5. Decisive Battles of the World, by Sir Edward Creasy
  6. The Devil on Two Sticks, by Alain René Lesage
  7. Sheridan’s Plays, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  8. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
  9. The Art of Love, by Ovid
  10. Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. Tales From the Decamerone, by Boccaccio
  12. Letters to Lady Hamilton, by Lord Horatio Nelson
  13. Sapho, by Alphonse Daudet
  14. The Confessions of Rousseau
  15. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  16. Idylls of the King, by Lord Tennyson
  17. Salambo, by Gustave Flaubert
  18. A Sentimental Journey, by Laurence Sterne
  19. The Black Tulip, by Alexandre Dumas [père]
  20. The Maxims of Napoleon
Title page and frontispiece of "The Life of 'Beau' Nash"

Title page and frontispiece of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”

The Panel Books were printed by various English and Scottish firms, including Walter Watts and Co., Ltd., Leicester; Cowan and Co., Ltd., Perth; Colston & Coy, Ltd., Edinburgh; and The Riverside Press, Edinburgh. One hundred years later, the quality of the leather has suffered, and the spines in particular usually have significant wear and/or damage. Even when the cover has survived in excellent condition, the edges are still prone to flaking. Some volumes were issued with plain slipcases and elaborate dustjackets (see image below), though these are uncommon. For the more discriminating book buyer, The Panel Books were also offered in higher-quality bindings, as mentioned in Sisley’s promotional blurb above. The bindings were done by one of two English bookbinding firms, Root and Son, and Riviere and Son.

Half-title page of "The Life of 'Beau' Nash"

Half-title page of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”

In 1907, £1 was worth about $5, thus the “extremely low” price of 2s. 6d. (two shillings sixpence, or one-eighth of a pound, popularly called “half a crown”) was about 63¢, and the high-end Persian leather at 5s. equated to $1.25. Paul Elder’s pricing for The Panel Books was about twice as expensive: $1.25 for the basic book, and a range of Root/Riviere bindings: half calf $3, half-morocco $3.50, full flexible calf or morocco $4, full polished calf or morocco $4.50, full polished Levant $5.

Little is known about artist Edgar Wilson (1861-1918), other than he drew for several comic periodicals, such as The Butterfly, The Idler, and Pick Me Up.

Notices in 1907 claim that The Panel Books were also to be published in Canada by the Copp-Clark Company of Toronto, but these have not been seen.

Title page of "The Art of Love"

Title page of “The Art of Love”

Dust jacket of "The Art of Love"

Dust jacket of “The Art of Love”

Special "full Levant" binding of "Cranford"

Special “full polished Levant” binding of “Cranford”

Fancy endpapers of the "full Levant morocco" binding of "Cranford"

Fancy endpapers of the “full polished Levant” binding of “Cranford”

Green cover of a Sisley's (not Elder) issue of "The Life of 'Beau' Nash"

Green cover of a Sisley’s (not Elder) issue of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”

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Impression Classics

by david on 30 November 2017

The five known cover designs and three known colors for the Impression Classics series

The five known cover designs and three known colors for the Impression Classics series

Book series that gather and reprint public domain fiction have a long history. Perhaps the earliest series was Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill, founded by British publisher John Bell in 1777. Later British series included Routledge’s Railway Library (1848–99) and the Everyman’s Library (1906-). A well-known American example is the Modern Library (1925-70). Book series were a familiar sight at any turn-of-the-century bookstore.

Title page of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," Elder & Shepard, 1902

Title page of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Elder & Shepard, 1902

Paul Elder published several such series. The first and largest was the Impression Classics in 1902, just one of the many items in the Elder catalog to bear the “Impression” name. There were thirty-six titles in the series, as listed in Elder’s 1904 Catalog of a Western Publisher:

Impression Classics. A selected series of the shorter gems of literature. Beautifully printed on deckle-edged paper, with title page in two colors and etching frontispiece on Japan vellum. Bound in flexible grained lambskin with original design. Boxed. $1.25 net.

  1. Selections from Marcus Aurelius, by Marcus Aurelius
  2. Selections from Fénelon, by François Fénelon
  3. Reflections and Moral Maxims, by François de La Rochefoucauld
  4. Letters to His Son, by Lord Chesterfield
  5. Friendship and Love, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  6. Heroism and Character, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  7. Sweetness and Light, by Matthew Arnold
  8. Virginibus Puerisque, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  9. Poor Richard’s Almanac, by Benjamin Franklin
  10. Wit and Wisdom of Sidney Smith, by Sidney Smith (his name “Sydney” is misspelled in the book’s title)
  11. Milton, by Thomas Babington Macaulay
  12. Sir Roger de Coverley, by Joseph Addison
  13. Old Christmas, by Washington Irving
  14. Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
  15. Rab and His Friends, and Marjorie Fleming, by Dr. John Brown
  16. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  17. Sonnets From the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  18. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Edward Fitzgerald
  19. Enoch Arden, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  20. The Vision of Sir Launfal, by James Russell Lowell
  21. Selections from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
  22. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray
  23. The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  24. She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith
  25. Addresses and Anecdotes, by Napoleon Bonaparte
  26. Selections from the Prose of Honoré de Balzac, by Honoré de Balzac
  27. Poems of Sentiment, by Lord Byron
  28. Some Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn
  29. Will o’ the Mill, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  30. Men and Women, by Robert Browning
  31. The Destruction of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer
  32. Golden Wings, by William Morris
  33. Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  34. Selections from Epictetus, by Epictetus
  35. The Holy Grail, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  36. Selected Poems, by John Boyle O’Reilly
Title page and frontispiece of "Poems of Sentiment," Paul Elder & Company, 1904. The tomoye design is much simpler than the 1902 version.

Title page and frontispiece of “Poems of Sentiment,” Paul Elder & Company, 1904. The tomoye design is much simpler than the 1902 version.

The original 1902 printings were published by Elder & Shepard, and printed by the Stanley-Taylor Company. Many of the titles were reprinted several years later, with the new Paul Elder & Company name and printed at the in-house Tomoye Press, but other than the title page the two printings are indistinguishable. There are five known cover designs (presumably by Morgan Shepard) and three different colors of leather (brown, green, red). The title pages are in two colors, and include one of two tomoye designs. There is a half-title page containing only the text “Impression Classics.” Many copies have endpapers containing strips of bark, something Elder used in a number of his other publications. The leather is good quality and has held up reasonably well, much better than the Panel Books, for example. The books were sold in unmarked boxes, protected by an unmarked glassine dust jacket, neither of which typically survive. Each volume has a frontispiece by A. D. Marcel (of the fourteen titles I have seen, all frontispieces are clearly by the same artist, but only six are signed by Marcel), about whom I have been unable to find any information.

Unadorned box and glassine dust jacket of "She Stoops to Conquer" (green cover)

Unadorned box and glassine dust jacket of “She Stoops to Conquer” (brown cover)

Some of the titles include a short introduction, usually anonymous. The one signed introduction which has been seen is by William A. Hovey, in O’Reilly’s Selected Poems (#36). Hovey (1841-1906) was a newspaper editor in Boston, and evidently a good friend of the poet.

Close-up of the frontispiece from "Golden Wings"

Close-up of the frontispiece from “Golden Wings,” signed by A. D. Marcel

 

Endpapers with embedded tree bark

Endpapers with embedded tree bark

 

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Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson

21 November 2017

The introduction to Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson begins: “The Stanford English Club issues this little book in connection with, and in commemoration of, the presentation of Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour at Stanford University in March, 1905. “This is one of a series of presentations of old English plays in […]

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Poems

1 September 2017

Paul Elder published a lot of poetry in his career: of the 420 titles on the checklist, at least sixty-one (15%) are poetry. Alas, not much of it is good poetry. (In this Paul Elder was not alone: I have a friend who collects “bad poetry” from across the Arts & Crafts period.) Irene Hardy’s Poems (1902) is […]

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San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire

18 April 2017

One hundred and eleven years ago today, at 5:12 am local time, the great San Francisco earthquake struck. It lasted for 45 seconds, had an estimated magnitude of 7.8, and caused a great deal of damage, not only in San Francisco but up and down the California coast. In San Francisco, however, fire was greater evil. Several […]

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Ruth Gordon (1933-2016)

31 July 2016

Today I mark with sadness the passing of Ruth Gordon, from whom I learned most of what I know about Paul Elder. Ruth’s 1977 Ph.D. thesis, Paul Elder: Bookseller-Publisher (1897-1917): A Bay Area Reflection, from my alma mater of UC Berkeley, was never far from my side during my initial years of research. Indeed, I can […]

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Errors of Thought

13 April 2016

This book is surely the strangest that Paul Elder ever published. It is the antithesis of the attractive, well-printed, easily-read giftable volume that was the Elder specialty. Without a doubt a vanity publication, Errors of Thought in Science, Religion and Social Life (1911) is a long, rambling, incoherent screed on education, science, history, religion, and politics. It’s also […]

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The Universal Order

19 March 2016

Friederika Quitman was born in 1844 at Monmouth, her family’s mansion in Natchez, Mississippi. She was the youngest daughter of General John A. Quitman and Eliza Turner Quitman, both of whom died when she was a teenager. She and her siblings inherited the estate, but it was attacked in 1862 by Union forces and the furnishings were […]

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Sonnets of Spinsterhood

21 February 2016

In 1915, the poet Snow Langley was 36 years old and unmarried: a “spinster” in the thankfully now-obsolete parlance. Spinning wool was typically the job of unmarried women, and spinster was used in legal documents as early as the 1600s to denote an unmarried woman who was likely to stay that way. One might think, then, […]

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PPIE Ephemera

14 February 2016

In addition to his books, Paul Elder & Co. produced a large amount of ephemera: greeting cards, postcards, catalogs, bookmarks, etc. Here is a small sampling of ephemera featuring the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

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