The Abbey Classics

Cover of "The Building of the Ship"
Cover of “The Building of the Ship”

Paul Elder’s Abbey Classics series comes complete with a little mystery: how many titles were there?

Like the Panel Books, Paul Elder contracted The Abbey Classics from another printer, this one presumably in New York City. Publicity for the first two Abbey Classics volumes appeared in August 1907, and for the next two in November. In his “Thoughts For Your Friends” catalog in late 1907, Elder writes:

The Abbey Classics: The shorter of the great English and American poems, those which can be easily read at a sitting. With brief critical introductions. Edited by Walter Taylor Field.

Leatherbound version of "The Building of the Ship"
“Flexible leather” binding of “The Building of the Ship”

The Cotter’s Saturday Night. Burns. “The music of a shepherd’s pipe, carrying straight to the heart.”

Ode on the Nativity. Milton. “Joyous and yet earnest; bright and yet full of a stately dignity which is a prophecy of the grandeur of Paradise Lost.”

The Vision of Sir Launfal. Lowell. “Illustrating three of Lowell’s strongest characteristics: his kinship with nature, his wide humanity, and his moral force.”

The Building of the Ship. Longfellow. “Presenting the thought of joyous and successful labor. The most characteristic and perfect of Longfellow’s shorter poems.”

Other volumes in preparation for 1Q08 include Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Browning’s Narrative Poems (selected), Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, and Whittier’s Snow-Bound.

Set in a bold, legible face of old-style type and printed on Normandy vellum, with rubricated initials. Each with a photogravure frontispiece of the author. Bound in rich brown Fabriano handmade cover. 30 cents net. Postage, 2 cents.

Edition B. Fabriano boards, vellum back. Boxed. 60 cents net. Postage, 3 cents.

Edition C. Flexible leather. Boxed. $1.00 net. Postage, 3 cents.

Title page of "The Building of the Ship"
Title page of “The Building of the Ship”

Based on this, your fearless editor added the Coleridge, Barrett, Browning, and Whittier titles to the checklist. However, it appears I was too hasty. Further research reveals in The Dial, vol. 49, no. 586, p. 389, 16 Nov 1910:

The Abbey Company of Chicago announce that they have acquired from Messrs. Paul Elder & Co. all rights in The Abbey Classics. They will add to the series Whittier’s Snow-Bound, with a critical introduction by Mr. Walter Taylor Field.

Two months later The Bookman, vol. 32, no. 5, January 1911, reported that the Abbey Company had indeed released Snow-Bound in its Abbey Classics series.

Cover of "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity," with glassine dustjacket
Cover of “Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” with glassine dustjacket

There is also circumstantial evidence: in over twenty years of searching I have only seen examples of the first four titles. So I have chosen to remove the last four titles from the checklist, as the evidence strongly suggests that Elder never published them.

So then: there are four titles in the series:

  1. The Cotter’s Saturday Night And Other Poems, by Robert Burns
  2. Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, by John Milton
  3. The Vision of Sir Launfal, by James Russell Lowell
  4. The Building of the Ship, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The series was available in three bindings: “flexible Fabriano cover, Fabriano boards (vellum black), and flexible leather.” The books are quite slim, following Elder’s usual habit of producing a very giftable book, but not one whose reading would require excessive time.

The series’ editor, Walter Taylor Field (1861-1939), was born in Galesburg, Illinois, and moved with his family to Chicago as a young boy. He graduated from Amherst in 1883 and held editing positions at several Chicago publishing companies. He contributed to various magazines and literary journals, and lectured on art and literature. He was also known as the author of a series of popular “Field Readers” for young grade schoolers who were just learning to read. Field married Sarah Lounsberry Peck in 1892; they had two children.1

Cover of "The Vision of Sir Launfal"
Cover of “The Vision of Sir Launfal”
Title page and frontispiece of "The Vision of Sir Launfal"
Title page and frontispiece of “The Vision of Sir Launfal”
Page 1 of "The Vision of Sir Launfal"
Page 3 of “The Vision of Sir Launfal”
Two slipcases from "The Abbey Classics"
Two slipcases from “The Abbey Classics”
Advertisement for "The Abbey Classics" in Elder's 1907 catalog "Thoughts For Friends"
Advertisement for “The Abbey Classics” in Elder’s 1907 catalog “Thoughts For Friends”
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The Panel Books

Cover of "The Life of Beau Nash"
Cover of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”

The following item appeared in the 7 Sep 1907 edition of The Publishers’ Weekly (an American book-trade journal), page 551

Paul Elder & Company, in connection with Sisley’s, of London, are about to publish a handy volume series of standard works under the general title of The Panel Books. Twenty titles will be ready in September.

Sisley’s had issued The Panel Books in the United Kingdom the previous year. What prompted Elder to republish it in America? Perhaps he read a marketing blurb similar to this one in the British periodical The Athenæum of 7 April 1906:

THE PANEL-BOOKS are a series of sumptuous Classics de Luxe produced with care and artistic taste–books that will grace your bookshelf or table and that you can handle and read with real delight. As the name implies, they are of handy “panel” shape. Richly bound and printed in large, clear type on permanent antique paper, with ample margins, THE PANEL-BOOKS recall the charming editions of the Eighteenth Century; and every accessory to a good book which the book-lover appreciates is to be found in this new series: a coloured frontispiece, decorated title-page, ornamental end-papers, silk book-ark, full gilt edges, embossed and 22-carat gold stamped cover, and, what is an entirely new departure, giving an added distinction to the series, a specially designed Heraldic Book-plate affixed to the inside of each cover. On this the owner of the book can inscribe his or her name. The book-plate, cover, title-page, decorations, and end-papers have been designed for THE PANEL-BOOKS by Edgar Wilson.

From this short description it will be seen that THE PANEL-BOOKS have a character of their own. Elegant in format, tasteful to look upon, with paper and type that are restful to the eye, they are ideal companions for the spare hour at home or on travel—books that you can live with on terms of close intimacy—books that are beautiful in every sense of the word.

The titles chosen for THE PANEL-BOOKS are of infinite variety, to please differing tastes. Fiction, Memoirs, Poetry, History, Biography, Folk-Lore, Choice Extracts, The Drama, Humour, Travel, Devotion—all find a place in the new series.

As to the price of THE PANEL-BOOKS, for a series of such exceptional quality it is extremely low. Bound in art vellum, embossed and gold stamped, with gilt edges, it is 2s. 6d. net for each volume; in half-leather, 3s. net; full lambskin, 3s. 6d. net; and in real Persian leather, 5s. net.

Thirteen of the Panel Books, with typical spine sunning and damage
Thirteen of the twenty Panel Books, with typical spine sunning and damage

Elder had a lot on his mind in 1907: he and John Henry Nash were in New York City, gamely trying to recover from the disaster of the San Francisco earthquake the previous year. The subsequent fire had destroyed not only the bookstore but also the Tomoye Press, so they were obliged to rebuild the print shop. Buying a series was a quick and easy way to get books on the shelves in time for the Christmas shopping season. Evidence suggests that the Impression Classics series sold well as many of the 1902 titles were reprinted in 1904, so there was reason to believe that this series would also.

Advertisement for "The Panel Books" from Elder's 1907 catalog "Thoughts For Friends"
Advertisement for “The Panel Books” from Elder’s 1907 catalog “Thoughts For Your Friends”

The twenty titles in The Panel Books series are:

  1. The Memoirs of Count Grammont, by Anthony Hamilton
  2. Don Juan, by Lord Byron
  3. The Life of “Beau” Nash, by Oliver Goldsmith
  4. Silas Marner, by George Eliot
  5. Decisive Battles of the World, by Sir Edward Creasy
  6. The Devil on Two Sticks, by Alain René Lesage
  7. Sheridan’s Plays, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  8. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
  9. The Art of Love, by Ovid
  10. Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. Tales From the Decamerone, by Boccaccio
  12. Letters to Lady Hamilton, by Lord Horatio Nelson
  13. Sapho, by Alphonse Daudet
  14. The Confessions of Rousseau
  15. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  16. Idylls of the King, by Lord Tennyson
  17. Salambo, by Gustave Flaubert
  18. A Sentimental Journey, by Laurence Sterne
  19. The Black Tulip, by Alexandre Dumas [père]
  20. The Maxims of Napoleon
Title page and frontispiece of "The Life of 'Beau' Nash"
Title page and frontispiece of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”

The Panel Books were printed by various English and Scottish firms, including Walter Watts and Co., Ltd., Leicester; Cowan and Co., Ltd., Perth; Colston & Coy, Ltd., Edinburgh; and The Riverside Press, Edinburgh. One hundred years later, the quality of the leather has suffered, and the spines in particular usually have significant wear and/or damage. Even when the cover has survived in excellent condition, the edges are still prone to flaking. Some volumes were issued with plain slipcases and elaborate dustjackets (see image below), though these are uncommon. For the more discriminating book buyer, The Panel Books were also offered in higher-quality bindings, as mentioned in Sisley’s promotional blurb above. The bindings were done by one of two English bookbinding firms, W. Root and Son, and Riviere and Son.

Note also that Sisley’s issued other titles in the Panel Books series that are not on Elder’s list. The leather covers are usually identical, but Sisley’s also issued Panel Books in green leather (see photo below). Typically, Elder’s only distinguishing marks are the “Elder” at the base of the spine, and “Paul Elder and Company” on the title page. Below I have also included the title page from “A Tale of Two Cities,” which Sisley’s published but Elder did not.

Half-title page of "The Life of 'Beau' Nash"
Half-title page of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”

In 1907, £1 was worth about $5, thus the “extremely low” price of 2s. 6d. (two shillings sixpence, or one-eighth of a pound, denominated in a coin known as a “half crown”) was about 63¢, and the high-end Persian leather at 5s. equated to $1.25. Paul Elder’s pricing for The Panel Books was about twice as expensive: $1.25 for the basic book, and a range of Root/Riviere bindings: half calf $3, half-morocco $3.50, full flexible calf or morocco $4, full polished calf or morocco $4.50, full polished Levant $5.

Little is known about artist Edgar Wilson (1861-1918), other than he drew for several comic periodicals, such as The Butterfly, The Idler, and Pick Me Up.

Notices in 1907 claim that The Panel Books were also to be published in Canada by the Copp-Clark Company of Toronto, but these have not been seen.

Title page of "The Art of Love"
Title page of “The Art of Love”
Dust jacket of "The Art of Love"
Dust jacket of “The Art of Love”
Special "full Levant" binding of "Cranford"
Special “full polished Levant” binding of “Cranford”
Fancy endpapers of the "full Levant morocco" binding of "Cranford"
Fancy endpapers of the “full polished Levant” binding of “Cranford”
Green cover of a Sisley's (not Elder) issue of "The Life of 'Beau' Nash"
Green cover of a Sisley’s (not Elder) issue of “The Life of ‘Beau’ Nash”
Title and frontispiece of “A Tale of Two Cities,” which Sisley’s published but Elder did not

Impression Classics

Title page of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," Elder & Shepard, 1902
Title page of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Elder & Shepard, 1902

Book series that gather and reprint public domain fiction have a long history. Perhaps the earliest series was Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill, founded by British publisher John Bell in 1777. Later British series included Routledge’s Railway Library (1848–99) and the Everyman’s Library (1906-). A well-known American example is the Modern Library (1925-70). Book series were a familiar sight at any turn-of-the-century bookstore.

Paul Elder published several such series. The first and largest was the Impression Classics in 1902, just one of the many items in the Elder catalog to bear the “Impression” name. There were thirty-six titles in the series, as listed in Elder’s 1904 Catalog From a Western Publisher (catalog C20):

Impression Classics. A selected series of the shorter gems of literature. Beautifully printed on deckle-edged paper, with title page in two colors and etching frontispiece on Japan vellum. Bound in flexible grained lambskin with original design. Boxed. $1.25 net.

Title page of “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” Paul Elder & Company, 1904
  1. Selections from Marcus Aurelius, by Marcus Aurelius
  2. Selections from Fénelon, by François Fénelon
  3. Reflections and Moral Maxims, by François de La Rochefoucauld
  4. Letters to His Son, by Lord Chesterfield
  5. Friendship and Love, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  6. Heroism and Character, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  7. Sweetness and Light, by Matthew Arnold
  8. Virginibus Puerisque, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  9. Poor Richard’s Almanac, by Benjamin Franklin
  10. Wit and Wisdom of Sidney Smith, by Sydney Smith (misspelled “Sidney” on the cover and title page)
  11. Milton, by Thomas Babington Macaulay
  12. Sir Roger de Coverley, by Joseph Addison
  13. Old Christmas, by Washington Irving
  14. Rip Van Winkle and Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
  15. Rab and His Friends, and Marjorie Fleming, by Dr. John Brown (misspelled “Majorie” on the cover and title page)
  16. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  17. Sonnets From the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  18. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Edward Fitzgerald
  19. Enoch Arden, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  20. The Vision of Sir Launfal, by James Russell Lowell
  21. Selections from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
  22. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray
  23. The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  24. She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith
  25. Addresses and Anecdotes, by Napoleon Bonaparte
  26. Selections from the Prose of Honoré de Balzac, by Honoré de Balzac
  27. Poems of Sentiment, by Lord Byron
  28. Some Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn
  29. Will o’ the Mill, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  30. Men and Women, by Robert Browning
  31. The Destruction of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer
  32. Golden Wings, by William Morris
  33. Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  34. Selections from Epictetus, by Epictetus
  35. The Holy Grail, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  36. Selected Poems, by John Boyle O’Reilly
The five different cover designs and three different colors of the Impression Classics series

The Impression Classics series was published twice: in 1902 by Elder & Shepard, and again in 1904 by Paul Elder & Company. The title page (see photographs above) is the easiest way to distinguish them, but in some cases the cover design also is an indication. As was the case with other series published by Elder, he bought the sheets elsewhere. In the case of Impression Classics, the sheets are known to come from H. M. Caldwell’s Remarque Edition of Literary Masterpieces series, first published in 1900. For example, the frontispiece and text of title #18, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, is page-for-page identical to Caldwell’s Rubaiyat. Only the title page and cover designs are Elder’s. While the 1902 printings read “Printed by The Stanley-Taylor Company, San Francisco” and the 1904 printings read “The Tomoyé Press, San Francisco,” this refers only to the leaf containing the title and printer’s name, and that bearing the half-title. Caldwell’s name is not mentioned anywhere in the Elder imprints.

“Poems of Sentiment” in cover designs A and E

There are five known cover designs, which I have labelled A-E (see photograph). Covers A, B, and C were almost certainly designed by Morgan Shepard, and are the only covers which have been seen on the 1902 imprints. Cover D was designed by Spencer Wright (cited in Catalog From a Western Publisher), strongly suggesting that Cover E is Wright’s as well. It’s unknown whether there was any logic behind why a given title appears with a given cover design. Some titles are known to have appeared in multiple covers: for example, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard has been seen in Covers C and D, and Poems of Sentiment in Covers A and E.

There were also three different colors of leather: brown, green, and red. However, over the decades many green covers have faded to brown, sometimes leaving only a smudge of green on back cover or on the inside surfaces of the covers along the edge of the endpapers (note the fading in the Cover C example in the photograph above). The title pages are in two colors and include one of two tomoyé designs, depending on whether the title is the 1902 or 1904 printing. There is a half-title page containing the text “Impression Classics.” Many copies have endpapers containing strips of bark, something Elder used in a number of his other publications. The leather is good quality and has held up reasonably well, much better than the Panel Books, for example. The books were sold in unmarked boxes, protected by an unmarked glassine dust jacket, neither of which typically survive.

In December 2020, I was able to identify the frontispiece artist, previously known only by the signature “AD MARCEL,” as French artist Adrien Marcel. All of the frontispieces in the series are by Marcel, though of the seventeen titles I have seen, only nine are signed by him.

Unadorned box and glassine dust jacket of "She Stoops to Conquer" (green cover)
Unadorned box and glassine dust jacket of “She Stoops to Conquer” (Cover B, brown)

Some of the titles include a short introduction or “prefatory remarks,” usually anonymous. The signed introductions that have been seen so far are:

  • Chesterfield’s Letters To His Son, by “J. H. F.,” identity unknown
  • Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat (#18), by “M. K.” (Michael Kearney). Kearney was a Persian scholar who, in addition to the long (33 pages) introduction in the book, also translated many of Khayyam’s quatrains.
  • O’Reilly’s Selected Poems (#36), by William A. Hovey. Hovey (1841-1906) was a newspaper editor in Boston, and evidently a good friend of the poet.

I would like to thank Roger Paas for details on Michael Kearney and Caldwell’s “Remarque Edition” series.

Close-up of the frontispiece from "Golden Wings"
Close-up of the frontispiece from “Golden Wings,” signed by Adrien Marcel


Endpapers with embedded tree bark
Endpapers with embedded tree bark

The Western Classics

Cover of "The Sea Fogs", Western Classics #1
Cover of “The Sea Fogs”, Western Classics #1

Paul Elder & Company is not generally known for “fine press,” but the 1907 series The Western Classics certainly qualifies. In my opinion, these are the highest-quality books that Paul Elder ever published. The set consists of four novels printed on fine Italian paper, high-quality bindings and handsome slipcases, each in a limited edition of 1000. The format is the consistent, but each book has its own design and is set in a different typeface.

The Sea Fogs

Title page of "The Sea Fogs"
Title page of “The Sea Fogs”

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Sea Fogs is an excerpted chapter from his larger work, The Silverado Squatters, published in 1883 in Edinburgh, Scotland by Chatto and Windus. The “sea fogs” of the title refers to the morning fog bank visible from Stevenson’s cabin in the hills above Calistoga, in California’s Napa Valley:

The sun was still concealed below the opposite hilltops, though it was shining already, not twenty feet above my head, on our own mountain slope.  But the scene, beyond a few near features, was entirely changed.  Napa valley was gone; gone were all the lower slopes and woody foothills of the range; and in their place, not a thousand feet below me, rolled a great level ocean.  It was as though I had gone to bed the night before, safe in a nook of inland mountains, and had awakened in a bay upon the coast.  I had seen these inundations from below; at Calistoga I had risen and gone abroad in the early morning, coughing and sneezing, under fathoms on fathoms of gray sea vapour, like a cloudy sky—a dull sight for the artist, and a painful experience for the invalid.  But to sit aloft one’s self in the pure air and under the unclouded dome of heaven, and thus look down on the submergence of the valley, was strangely different and even delightful to the eyes.  Far away were hilltops like little islands.  Nearer, a smoky surf beat about the foot of precipices and poured into all the coves of these rough mountains.  The colour of that fog ocean was a thing never to be forgotten.  For an instant, among the Hebrides and just about sundown, I have seen something like it on the sea itself.  But the white was not so opaline; nor was there, what surprisingly increased the effect, that breathless, crystal stillness over all.  Even in its gentlest moods the salt sea travails, moaning among the weeds or lisping on the sand; but that vast fog ocean lay in a trance of silence, nor did the sweet air of the morning tremble with a sound.

Tennessee’s Partner

The popularity of Bret Harte (1836-1902) rests on his stories of the Gold Rush in California. Tennesee’s Partner first appeared in the October 1869 issue of the Overland Monthly, a magazine which Harte himself edited and published.

In 1955, RKO released the film Tennessee’s Partner, starring John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, and future California governor and US President Ronald Reagan. The movie took substantial liberties with Bret Harte’s story line.

The Case of Summerfield

William Henry Rhodes (1822–1876) is known today primarily for this one story, published in 1871 in the Sacramento Union newspaper under the pseudonym “Caxton.” The chief antagonist in the story is named “Black Bart,” an alias adopted later by the “gentleman” stagecoach bandit Charles Bolles. At the time it was published, however, The Case of Summerfield was known more for Black Bart’s ability to use potassium to set water on fire. Many consider it one of the first American science fiction stories.

A Son Of the Gods and A Horseman In the Sky

The scene of these two short stories by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?) is the American Civil War. This was a subject he knew all too well: Bierce joined the 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment when he was just nineteen years old, and fought in the 1861 Western Virginia campaign. Bierce later was a horrified participant at Shiloh in April 1862, an experience that would serve as the basis for many of his later short stories. Both stories first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner newspaper (29 July 1888 and 14 April 1889, respectively).

Page 1 of "The Sea Fogs," set in Caslon 471. Note the mitred rules characteristic of Nash's work.
Page 1 of “The Sea Fogs,” set in Caslon 471. Note the mitred rules characteristic of Nash’s work.
Sea Fogs colophon
Colophon of “The Sea Fogs”
Cover of "Tennessee's Partner", Western Classics #3
Cover of “Tennessee’s Partner”, Western Classics #3
Title page of "Tennessee's Partner"
Title page of “Tennessee’s Partner”
Page 1 of "Tennessee's Partner," set in Cheltenham Wide.
Page 1 of “Tennessee’s Partner,” set in Cheltenham Wide.
Cover of "The Case of Summerfield", Western Classics #3
Cover of “The Case of Summerfield”, Western Classics #3
Title page of "The Case of Summerfield"
Title page of “The Case of Summerfield”
Page 1 of "The Case of Summerfield," set in Bookman.
Page 1 of “The Case of Summerfield,” set in Bookman.
Cover of "A Son of the Gods", Western Classics #4
Cover of “A Son of the Gods”, Western Classics #4
Title page of "A Son Of the Gods and A Horseman In the Sky"
Title page of “A Son Of the Gods and A Horseman In the Sky”
Page 1 of "A Son of the Gods," set in Scotch Roman.
Page 1 of “A Son of the Gods,” set in Scotch Roman.

West Winds

West Winds cover
Cover of “West Winds”, brown paper on boards. The logo of the California Writers Club appears on the spine.

The California Writer’s Club was founded in 1909 by a breakaway faction of the Press Club of Alameda, which had itself formed from various informal gatherings of Bay Area literati, including Jack London, George Sterling and Herman Whitaker. Their first publication, a compilation of fifteen short stories entitled West Winds, appeared in 1914. Its subtitle was California’s Book of Fiction – Written by California Authors and Illustrated by California Artists. The book’s western theme dovetailed with publisher Paul Elder’s own mission statement: he had styled himself “A Western Publisher” since 1904.

Contributors to West Winds included London, Whitaker, Charles F. Lummis, Agnes Morley Cleaveland (whose 1941 memoir No Life For a Lady is still in print) and Harriet Holmes Haslett (author of the 1917 Elder publication Dolores of the Sierra). Featured artists included Maynard Dixon and Perham Nahl (one of the three original teachers at the California College of the Arts). Noted photographer Anne Brigman designed the title page decoration.

Cover of "West Winds", green cloth
Cover of “West Winds”, green cloth over boards

The California Writer’s Club still exists today and has eighteen chapters and 1300 members across the state. Three subsequent West Winds compilations appeared over the years, though none of those was published by Elder.

Two cover variants have been seen: 1) brown paper over boards, with the California Writers Club logo appearing on the spine of the book and dustjacket, and 2) green cloth over boards, without the logo on the book’s spine.

West Winds title
Title page of “West Winds”, with frontispiece by Perham Nahl and decoration by Anne Brigman
West Winds p115 London
First page of Jack London’s story “The Son of the Wolf”
West Winds p120 Dixon
Maynard Dixon’s illustration for Jack London’s story “The Son of the Wolf”