San Francisco

by david on 27 August 2014

Cover and spine of "San Francisco"

Cover and spine of “San Francisco”

After Paul Elder opened his bookshop in 1898, it is perhaps surprising that he waited fourteen years to publish a book about San Francisco. Maybe it just took him that long to find the right author. Helen Throop Purdy’s comprehensive guide to the City, San Francisco — As It Was, As It Is, And How To See It, was published in September 1912 and remains a useful reference to post-earthquake San Francisco.

The book is profusely illustrated: almost every page has a photograph. Also included are maps, an index, and the layout of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, still three years in the future.

Not surprisingly, Purdy takes time to describe her publisher’s shop in glowing terms: “The same atmosphere [that of Vickers, Atkinson & Torrey] pervades Paul Elder’s beautiful shop on Grant Avenue, between Post & Sutter streets. The artistically arranged window is sure to attract you. From the size of the front, you would never guess the number of beautiful things within.”

Title page of "San Francisco"

Title page of “San Francisco”

Helen Price Throop (2 May 1856–19 January 1945) was born in Palmyra, New York, a descendant of American colonists. She graduated from Elmira College in 1876, and married William Edgar Purdy in 1879. In 1901 they and their three children came to San Francisco, and after the 1906 earthquake they purchased a home 2737 Alcatraz St. in Berkeley, where Helen lived for the rest of her life. She was a member of the California Writers Club, the Stevenson Club and the Historical Society of America. She also belonged to the Mayflower Society, the Founders and Patriots, the Colonial Dames of America and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

After William Purdy’s death in 1927, she married Ransom Pratt; he died in 1932. Helen, William and Ransom are all buried in their family plots in the Palmyra Cemetery in New York.

Page 61 of "San Francisco". The history of Golden Gate Park.

Page 61 of “San Francisco”. The history of Golden Gate Park.

Page 133 of "San Francisco", where Purdy describes Paul Elder's shop

Page 133 of “San Francisco”, where Purdy describes Paul Elder’s shop

Page 195 of "San Francisco". How to see the City.

Page 195 of “San Francisco”, with a photo of the old De Young museum.


Robert Harlan (1929-2014)

by david on 24 August 2014

Today I pause to remember Robert Harlan, professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Information and the Bancroft Library. He died on April 8th at the age of 84. He was an expert on the 19th-century San Francisco printing industry and the Bay Area fine-printing movement of the mid-20th century. He published several books, including a long monograph on John Henry Nash, and two pamphlets on Paul Elder.

Harlan’s research had a profound influence on my own work on Paul Elder & Company. When I started learning about bibliography and decided to specialize on Elder, I was acutely aware of my lack of academic credentials. This embarrassment was the chief reason I didn’t seek out Harlan in person, to my lasting regret.

Harlan was also the Ph.D. advisor for Ruth Gordon, whose 1977 thesis on Paul Elder was the original inspiration for my work.

A full obituary of Robert Harlan can be found here and here.




4 April 2014

Love (1905) was the last of the Mosaic Essays series compiled by Paul Elder. The first booklet in the series, Friendship, was published in 1902 and sold very well. In 1903, Elder followed with Happiness, Nature and Success in 1903. In 1906 he reissued the five booklets in a single volume called Mosaic Essays. As with the other four titles […]

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30 March 2014

Success is a booklet of quotations in the Mosaic Essays series, compiled by Paul Elder. It was published in 1903 along with Happiness and Nature in response to the high sales of 1902′s Friendship. In 1905, Elder published the last booklet in the series, Love. In 1906 he issued the five booklets in a single volume called Mosaic Essays. As with the other booklets […]

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23 March 2014

Nature is a booklet of quotations in the Mosaic Essays series, compiled by Paul Elder. It was published in 1903 along with Happiness and Success in response to the success of 1902′s Friendship. In 1905, Elder published the last booklet in the series, Love. In 1906 he issued the five booklets in a single volume called Mosaic Essays. […]

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16 March 2014

In a corner of San Francisco’s Portsmouth Square stands a granite pedestal topped by a bronze sailing ship. It is the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial, designed by Bruce Porter and Willis Polk in 1897. During Stevenson’s brief time in San Francisco in 1880 and 1887, he often came to the Square to sit in the […]

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5 March 2014

Friendship is a 1902 collection of quotations compiled by Paul Elder and published by Elder and Shepard. It proved popular enough that Elder compiled four more booklets on similar inspirational topics: Nature, Happiness, and Success in 1903, and Love in 1905. In a 1904 catalog, Elder notes “the favor extended to these little brochures has been […]

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Sonnets From the Crimea

3 March 2014

As I write these words, the political situation in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea is explosive. Historically part of Russia but given to Ukraine in the 1950s, Russia is threatening military action to recover it. So this week I am featuring verses by the Polish poet and activist Adam Mickiewicz, entitled Sonnets From the Crimea. (in Polish, Sonety Krymski). Originally published […]

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The Princess of Manoa

14 February 2014

The Princess of Manoa (1906) was the second book of Hawaiian folklore tales collected and retold by Emily Foster Day for Paul Elder. Her first book of Hawaiiana, The Menehunes, published by Elder in 1905, must have been reasonably successful. The Manoa Valley is in Honolulu, a bit towards Diamondhead from the old town center and […]

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The Raven

5 February 2014

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore— While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door— Only this and nothing […]

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