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.
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.
The twenty titles in The Panel Books series are:
- The Memoirs of Count Grammont, by Anthony Hamilton
- Don Juan, by Lord Byron
- The Life of “Beau” Nash, by Oliver Goldsmith
- Silas Marner, by George Eliot
- Decisive Battles of the World, by Sir Edward Creasy
- The Devil on Two Sticks, by Alain René Lesage
- Sheridan’s Plays, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
- Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
- The Art of Love, by Ovid
- Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
- Tales From the Decamerone, by Boccaccio
- Letters to Lady Hamilton, by Lord Horatio Nelson
- Sapho, by Alphonse Daudet
- The Confessions of Rousseau
- Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
- Idylls of the King, by Lord Tennyson
- Salambo, by Gustave Flaubert
- A Sentimental Journey, by Laurence Sterne
- The Black Tulip, by Alexandre Dumas [père]
- The Maxims of Napoleon
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Selections from Marcus Aurelius, by Marcus Aurelius
- Selections from Fénelon, by François Fénelon
- Reflections and Moral Maxims, by François de La Rochefoucauld
- Letters to His Son, by Lord Chesterfield
- Friendship and Love, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Heroism and Character, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Sweetness and Light, by Matthew Arnold
- Virginibus Puerisque, by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Poor Richard’s Almanac, by Benjamin Franklin
- Wit and Wisdom of Sidney Smith, by Sidney Smith (his name “Sydney” is misspelled in the book’s title)
- Milton, by Thomas Babington Macaulay
- Sir Roger de Coverley, by Joseph Addison
- Old Christmas, by Washington Irving
- Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
- Rab and His Friends, and Marjorie Fleming, by Dr. John Brown
- A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
- Sonnets From the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Edward Fitzgerald
- Enoch Arden, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- The Vision of Sir Launfal, by James Russell Lowell
- Selections from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
- Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray
- The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
- She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith
- Addresses and Anecdotes, by Napoleon Bonaparte
- Selections from the Prose of Honoré de Balzac, by Honoré de Balzac
- Poems of Sentiment, by Lord Byron
- Some Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn
- Will o’ the Mill, by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Men and Women, by Robert Browning
- The Destruction of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer
- Golden Wings, by William Morris
- Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- Selections from Epictetus, by Epictetus
- The Holy Grail, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Selected Poems, by John Boyle O’Reilly
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 fifteen titles I have seen, all frontispieces are clearly by the same artist, but only six seven are signed by Marcel), about whom I have been unable to find any information.
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.
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 the Elizabethan manner, the first of which was the revival of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning Pestle, in March, 1903. The enthusiastic reception accorded this effort encouraged the English Club to preserve the Elizabethan stage built for the play, so that it might be permanently available for such presentations, and to invite Mr. Ben Greet and his company of English players to come to Stanford in the fall semesters of both 1903 and 1904. the Greet company produced, beside the old Morality play of Everyman, two Shaksperean [sic] comedies, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing, and last of all, Hamlet–the second time in America that Shakspere’s greatest work has been produced in full and in the Elizabethan manner.”
The stage that the Stanford English Club built (see frontispiece at right) was modeled in part on the Swan Theatre as represented in a 1596 drawing reproduced in 1903’s Knight of the Burning Pestle. The stage extended directly to the “pit” where the “groundlings” (who had only paid for standing room) were gathered. The stage included a rear portion between two pillars, screened if necessary from downstage by a curtain called a “traverse,” and a upper balcony on the second floor.
After the introduction, the book contains several essays on Jonson and the Elizabethan era:
- Elizabethan Humours, by Raymond Macdonald Alden (author of the Elder publication Consolatio)
- Jonson’s Learned Sock, by Melville B. Anderson (1851-1933. Professor of English at Stanford University)
- Upon Ben Jonson, a poem by Edmund Waller
- Ben Jonson’s Prologue to Every Man in His Humour
- Epilogue, written for the 1675 revival of Every Man in His Humour by Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset
- Dickens and His Friends, from The Life of Charles Dickens, vol. 2, chap. 9, by John Forster, 1845 (Charles Dickens played the part of Captain Bobadil [see plate below] during an 1845 revival)
- reproductions of portraits of Jonson, Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Dickens
- A Satire on a “Paul’s Man”, from Virgidemiarum, Book III, Satire 7, by Joseph Hall, 1597
- A Satire on Humours, from The Scourge of Villainy, Satire XI, by John Marston, 1598
- Ode to Jonson, by Robert Herrick
Ben Jonson wrote Every Man in His Humour in 1598 as a “humours comedy,” in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession. The play was probably performed for the first time by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1598 at the Curtain Theatre. Based on the playlist published in the 1616 folio of Jonson’s works, the part of Kno’well, the aged father, was almost certainly performed by William Shakespeare himself, who evidently enjoyed playing older characters.
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 likely a vanity publication, a limited edition of 300 printed by Charles A. Murdock. (As we shall see below, half of the edition was lost in a fire.) The binding and paper are of good quality, and the typography is typical of the period: crisp typeface but a small font, leaving excessive white space around the edges of the page. The author’s name is consistently printed as “Irenè Hardy”: note the odd use of the grave accent, which in French would normally be “Irène.” I have always assumed this was a typographical error by Murdock, but it’s possible Hardy insisted on the unusual spelling. (Hardy was not French; she was born in Ohio.)
Although Hardy’s verses may no longer be remembered, since her 1922 death Stanford University has held an Irene Hardy Poetry Contest (now called the “Clarence Urmy-Irene Hardy Prize for Poetry”).
The following obituary of Irene Hardy is from The Stanford Illustrated Review, Volume 23, Issue 9, June 1922, p467. “A little book of her verse” refers to Poems.
Irene Hardy, a student at Stanford from 1892 to 1895 and a member of the english department faculty from 1894 to 1901, died June 4 at her home, 453 Melville Avenue, Palo Alto, following an attack of pneumonia. She was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, eighty-one years ago [22 July 1841] and for the last fifteen years had been totally blind. In spite of her handicap, she continued to write, publishing verse in the “Sunset” and other periodicals. To the last she retained the admiration and devotion of her former pupils and associates, both of Stanford and the Oakland High School, where she taught for twelve years before coming to Stanford. She began teaching at 16 years of age and alter taught in Antioch, Iowa, Preparatory School. In 1861, the opening year of the Civil War, she entered Antioch College, of which Horace Mann was first president. Because of failing health, she came to California in 1871 and remained here until here death. Miss Hardy was widely known as a poet. A little book of her verse was published in 1902 in San Francisco. Half of the edition was later destroyed in a bookstore fire and the remaining volumes were taken up by students. Among the poems included in the volume are “Ole for Forefather’s Day,” “1887,” “Ariel and Caliban,” “A Wedding Day Gallop,” and “Palo Alto Hills.” Her work later appeared in “The Overland Monthly,” “Sunset” and other periodicals. She was a pioneer in the educational field in California and had a lasting influence on the teaching of composition and literature.