In publishing, a colophon is a brief description of a book’s production or publication details. The Latin word colophon comes from the Greek κολοφων meaning “summit,” or “finishing.” The term originally applied to inscriptions appended to the end of ancient Near East texts written on clay tablets. The colophon would contain such facts as the scribe, the owner, the literary contents and occasionally the reason for writing. For example, the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible contains colophons at the end of every book, noting, among other things, how many verses the book contains.
Most, but not all, Paul Elder publications after 1902 contain a colophon. By about 1906, the usual formula was: title, author, printer, month and date of publication. Most colophons were written out in full sentences, stylistically matching the tone and content of the book. From a research standpoint, the colophons are useful in pinning down when Elder’s printers (Nash, Swart, Funke, and Orozco) joined, then later left, the Tomoye Press.
Elder’s style, which mimicked that of other fine press books of the time, was to put the copyright information on the title page verso, and the colophon on its own page following the last page of text. In modern American books, the colophon has been subsumed into the copyright details, typically placed on the title page verso. European books often place the copyright/colophon at the end of the book.
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.
Can a bookstore also be an art gallery? If the bookstore was Paul Elder & Company, the answer was a resounding “yes.”
Elder had learned about the book business while working for William Doxey at his bookstore in the Palace Hotel on Market Street. But while photos of Doxey’s shop show nothing but books, Elder’s stores included a healthy dose of objets d’art: paintings, prints, pottery, metalwork. This was the influence of Morgan Shepard, Elder’s partner from 1898 until 1903. Shepard was both an author and an artist, and he decorated the original 238 Post store (1898-1903).
Art objects were for sale from the beginning, but it wasn’t until 1909 that Elder had a lecture hall/exhibition space within the bookstore. Both the 239 Grant store (1909-1921) and the 239 Post store (1921-1948) had gallery rooms. The photo at right shows the Post St gallery adorned with Asian prints.
How many exhibitions did Elder host? Very many. Years ago I started making a list of all the artists’ shows at the Paul Elder Gallery, but I gave up when the count grew past fifty. It seems that the gallery was never empty for long.