Paul Elder “Postage Stamps”

A selection of Paul Elder “postage stamps”

Pick up a book that was sold at Paul Elder’s bookshop, and open to the inside back cover. Quite often, in the lower-left corner, you will find—for want of a better term—a “postage stamp.” The size of an actual postage stamp and moistened in the same manner, they were affixed to many if not most of the books sold in the shop: not just Elder’s own publications, but all the other books too. They were probably affixed by the cashier at the till while wrapping up the book.

The earliest known stamp (A) dates from 1899, before Elder and Shepard began to use the tomoye. It looks rather like a heraldic design: “per pale argent and sable on a vertical arrow, a seahorse traversed.” At this point Elder was still calling himself “D. P. Elder.”

The earliest known tomoye stamp (B) is from 1901, by which time Elder had dropped his given first name “David.” The Santa Barbara (C) and San Francisco (D) stores each had its own stamp; perhaps New York did as well but that has not been seen. Stamp E, featuring a tomoye surrounded by delicate tracery, had the longest lifespan; it has been seen as early as 1911, and as late as 1946.

By the 1950s, much had changed. Paul Sr. died in 1948, and Paul Jr. moved the bookstore to the corner of Sutter & Stockton. The company now used self-adhesive stickers (F) with a decidedly modern look to match the decidedly modern store.

Animal Analogues

Animal Analogues cover
Cover of “Animal Analogues”

If you liked How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers, then you’ll love Animal Analogues. That’s what Paul Elder thought too, and so in 1908 he published Robert Williams Wood’s sequel to similar acclaim. As any author can tell you, sequels are notoriously difficult to write, but Wood pulled it off, with poetry and drawings to delight old and young alike.

The cover says “Denatured Series No. 24”, but the series began with How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers as #23, and Wood wrote no further books in this series.

Animal Analogues title
Title page of “Animal Analogues”

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Pages 10-11 of “Animal Analogues”

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Pages 14-15 of “Animal Analogues”

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Pages 20-21 of “Animal Analogues”

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Page 28 of “Animal Analogues”

How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers

How to Tell Birds cover
Cover of “How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers”

As with animated cartoons, the best children’s books are ones that satisfy both the children and the adults. Paul Elder published a number of innovative children’s books, but perhaps the most delightful is How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers by Robert Williams Wood, which appeared in 1907.

There is no traditional typesetting in the book; everything was drawn and lettered by Wood. Each page contains drawings of a bird (for example, the catbird) and a flower (the catnip), plus an amusing poem on how to distinguish them. It’s a perfect bedtime storybook.


How to Tell Birds title
Title page of “How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers”

Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955) was a professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University from 1901 until his death. He specialized in optics and has been described as the “father of both infrared and ultraviolet photography”. He invented a device now called “Wood’s lamp,” which radiates only ultraviolet light and is used in dermatology to diagnose certain skin conditions which fluoresce under ultraviolet wavelengths. He also co-wrote two science fiction books with Arthur Train, The Man Who Rocked the Earth and The Moon Maker.

Although the cover says “Denatured Series No. 23”, that name was concocted for this book and there are no earlier “denatured” titles. Wood continued the series in 1908 with Animal Analogues as Denatured Series No. 24, but he wrote no further books like it.

Update, April 2017: In 1917, Dodd, Mead and Company copyrighted a new edition entitled “How To Tell The Birds From The Flowers, and Other Wood-cuts.” Your editor has seen a 19th edition of this title from 1939, so it was clearly a very popular title for Dodd Mead. Paul Elder was still publishing his own books in 1917, and it’s unclear how he lost the publishing rights.

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Page 16-17 of “How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers”

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Page 20-21 of “How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers”

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Page 28 of “How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers”

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Alternate binding of “How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers”