238 Post (1898-1906)

The central art room.
The central art room. (Collection of Jean Rodgers)

In May 1898, Paul Elder and Morgan Shepard opened their new bookstore at 238 Post St. (where Gump’s is today) and named it “The Book and Art Shop.” In looking for ways to distinguish their shop from the many other bookstores in San Francisco, they settled upon ambience. In a memoir Elder wrote: “Books were the dominant interest in the Post Street Shop, pictures and pieces of pottery and metal being displayed as adornment, and to give an uncommercial atmosphere.” However, Elder’s own 1904 catalog emphasizes the art objects and minimizes the books. He surrounded the books with pottery from Dedham, Redlands, Newcomb and Pewabic; copper from Jarvie and Toothaker; paintings by Keith, Cadennaso, Noyes and other plein air artists; photographs by Genthe and Dassonville; leatherwork; jewelry; Japanese prints — and all of it was for sale. This carefully crafted ambience remained Elder’s defining characteristic throughout his career.

Surely the most adult children's book room ever created.
Surely the most adult “children’s room” ever created. (Collection of Jean Rodgers)

Elder’s approach was successful, and his shop became the literary place-to-be in the first years of the 20th century, much as Doxey’s shop had been in the 1890s.

Elder’s influence was not confined to California. About 1905, a visitor from Missouri named Fred Rust was inspired by a visit to Elder’s shop. He returned to Kansas City and in the fall of 1906 he opened the ‘Book and Craft Shop,’ decorating it much as Elder did the Post St. store. Rust later founded Rust Craft, one of the largest greeting card companies in America. Elder and Shepard began to publish books as soon as they opened their new shop: just a few at first, but more as their experience and confidence grew. By 1903 they had published about 40 titles, many of which were designed and decorated by Shepard.

The general book room.
The general book room. (Collection of Jean Rodgers)

Elder and Shepard used three different printers during this period: Charles Murdock (who had printed The Lark for William Doxey), Stanley-Taylor Company, and the Twentieth Century Press. At these last two firms they worked with John Henry Nash, who in 1903 would become Elder’s printer and designer.

Only one known photograph exists of the exterior of Elder’s 1898 bookstore at 238 Post St. It’s a distant shot, taken from the top of the St. Francis Hotel on the morning of 18 April 1906, a few hours after the famous San Francisco earthquake. The resulting fires are already out of control, and the clouds of smoke darken the sky (see photos below). It’s ironic indeed that the only photograph of the building was taken just a few hours before it burned to the ground.

The old book room. Paul Elder was a well-known antiquarian book dealer.
The old book room. Paul Elder was a well-known antiquarian book dealer. (Collection of Jean Rodgers)
The Art Room, not to be confused with the Central Art Room (Collection of Jean Rodgers)
A close-up of the Central Art Room (Collection of Jean Rodgers)
The passage to the Children’s Room (Collection of Jean Rodgers)
The view from the St. Francis Hotel on the morning of the earthquake, 18 April 1906. A few hours later, everything in this photograph was destroyed by the fire. (Pillsbury Picture Company)
An enlargement of the panorama. This is the only known photograph of the exterior of Paul Elder’s 1898 bookstore at 238 Post [black brackets]. The facade appears undamaged by the earthquake, but a few hours later, the building was destroyed by the fire.
The northwest corner of Post & Grant shortly after the 1906 earthquake and fire. The Shreve & Co. building opened one month before the earthquake. Ruins of Elder’s bookstore at left.
The same northwest corner of Post & Grant, 113 years later in May 2019, with three of Elder’s bookstore locations visible. (Google StreetView)
The Gump's store today. This is where the 238 Post St store was located, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.
The Gump’s Building, built on the site of the 238 Post St store. Photograph by David Mostardi on 18 April 2013, the 107th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. Gump’s was no longer at this location when the photo was taken, but in 2019 reopened in the right-hand section here occupied by Cartier.