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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