238 Post (1898-1906)

The central art room.
The central art room.

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.

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.

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.

The 238 Post St bookstore was destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 18 April 1906. No known photograph of the exterior of the bookstore exists, but in February 2023 I discovered an 1879 photograph of the 200 block of Post St., and have indicated where the shop would later be located. See also the photographs of the same block after the earthquake and fire, and the same block today.

The Art Room (distinct from the Central Art Room)
A close-up of the Central Art Room
The passage to the Children’s Room
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.
The northwest corner of Post & Grant in 1879. The red box indicates where Elder & Shepard opened their bookstore in 1898.
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 northwest corner of Post & Grant in May 2019, with three of Elder’s bookstore locations visible.
The old Gump's store today. This is where the 238 Post St store was located, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.
The old Gump’s store, built on the site of the 238 Post St store. Photographed on 18 April 2013 (the 107th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake).