Yosemite Legends

Cover of "Yosemite Legends". The same binding in green is known to exist, but is much less common.
Standard red cover of “Yosemite Legends”

One of the most collectible titles in the Paul Elder catalog, Yosemite Legends (1904) is also one of the best illustrated. From the cover and title page to the text pages and the original plates, it’s a very attractive book indeed. While Florence Lundborg designed the cover, title page, and text using Native American themes (although her designs probably do not draw from the art of the Miwuk, Paiute, Kutzadika’a, Mono, or Chukchansi nations who live in the Yosemite area), her thirteen illustrations that accompany the stories are right out of the tonalist school of Arthur Wesley Dow.

The trade edition has three known cover states, and perhaps a fourth. The most commonly seen cover is red cloth on boards with a white waterfall. Much scarcer are green cloth with a white waterfall, and green cloth with a green waterfall. There are anecdotal reports of red cloth with a red waterfall, but this has not been seen. At least two special bindings are also known: leather on boards edition with special cover artwork, and a fine leather binding by W. Root and Sons, London.

Alternate green cover of "Yosemite Legends"
Alternate green cover of “Yosemite Legends” with white waterfall

Florence Lundborg (1871-1949) was a native of San Francisco. She studied with Arthur Mathews at the School of Design in San Francisco, and won a gold medal in the life class at the Mark Hopkins Institute. She also spent several years at the Whistler Academy in Paris (1897-1900). Lundborg was a member of Les Jeunes (“the kids”), the eclectic, bohemian group of writers and artists involved with Gelett Burgess’s magazine The Lark, for which she illustrated several covers and posters. The Lark was published by William Doxey, the bookseller for whom Elder worked before striking out on his own. Lundborg is also known for her pen-and-ink illustrations for Doxey’s edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

On 18 October 1904, Paul Elder, who must have been quite proud of how the book turned out, hosted a soirée in celebration of the publication of Yosemite Legends,  including an exhibition of Lundborg’s original artwork for the book (see invitation below). Sadly, her plates were lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Alternate green cover of “Yosemite Legends” with green waterfall. Photo courtesy of Ulrich Hacker.

Author Bertha Henry Smith (1872-1922) was a Los Angeles-based magazine and literary writer. She was born in Olathe, Kansas, the sixth of eight children of grocery and produce dealer William Piper Smith and his wife Rachel Lavinia Kay Smith, both of whom were from Pennsylvania. Bertha never married and had no children. She died of breast cancer in 1922 at the age of 50.

Many thanks to Kol Shaver of Zephyr Used & Rare Books in Vancouver, Washington for information on Bertha Smith.

Alternate cover artwork with leather on boards
Special leather binding of “Yosemite Legends” by W. Root and Son, London
Title page of "Yosemite Legends"
Title page of “Yosemite Legends”
"Yosemite Legends," page 3
“Yosemite Legends,” page 3
Plate from "Yosemite Legends". The woman is calling for her lost lover Koosookah
Plate from “Yosemite Legends”. The woman is calling for her lost lover Koosookah
"Pohono, Spirit of the Evil Wind," from "Yosemite Legends"
“Pohono, Spirit of the Evil Wind,” from “Yosemite Legends”
Invitation to the opening of Florence Lundborg's original artwork for "Yosemite Legends," 18 Oct 1904
Invitation to the opening of Florence Lundborg’s original artwork for “Yosemite Legends,” 18 Oct 1904