An Alphabet of History

Cover of "An Alphabet of History"
Cover of “An Alphabet of History”

In 1905, Paul Elder published Wilbur Nesbit’s An Alphabet of History, a large-format volume of verse for adults. In contrast to some other humorous verse featured here, Nesbit’s poetry has survived the last century in fine shape to be appreciated by the modern reader.

Wilbur D. Nesbit was born in Xenia, Ohio in 1871. He spent most of his career in journalism, working his way up from small-town newspaper reporter to editor at the Chicago Tribune and then the Chicago Evening Post. Along the way he began composing poetry. Nesbit was also in demand as a toastmaster, and was a long-time member of the “Forty Club,” a Chicago version of San Francisco’s Bohemian Club. Nesbit wrote a history of the Forty Club in 1912.

Title page of "An Alphabet of History"
Title page of “An Alphabet of History”

According to The National Magazine of May 1917, what Wilbur Nesbit was best known for at the time was a patriotic poem “Your Flag and My Flag,” often recited at political conventions and Congressional sessions, and which has “a ring of national sentiment that rivals the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ itself.”

The delightful drawings are by the artist Ellsworth Young (1866-1952), who in addition to book and magazine illustrations, was a noted landscape painter and poster artist. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later worked for the WPA.

Wilbur NesbitReferences: The National Magazine, Boston, May 1917, p304-5.

Frontispiece of "An Alphabet of History"
Frontispiece of “An Alphabet of History”
"An Alphabet of History," letter K
“An Alphabet of History,” letter K
"An Alphabet of History," letter S
“An Alphabet of History,” letter S
"An Alphabet of History," letter Z
“An Alphabet of History,” letter Z

Poem Delivered at the Dedication of the Pan-American Exposition

Cover of "Poem Delivered..."
Cover of “Poem Delivered…”

The Pan-American Exposition was originally scheduled for 1897 on Cayuga Island, New York, a few miles upstream from Niagara Falls. But the Spanish-American War intervened, and fair was eventually held in May-November 1901 in Buffalo, then the eighth-largest city in the United States.

Today, the Exposition is chiefly remembered as the site of President William McKinley’s assassination on 6 September 1901. But before that momentous event, one of the biggest novelties was electricity: the fair was lit by Nicola Tesla’s new three-phase alternating current, powered by Niagara Falls, twenty-five miles away.

Robert Cameron Rogers (1852-1912)
Robert Cameron Rogers (1862-1912)

Robert Cameron Rogers (7 Jan 1862-20 Apr 1912) was born in Buffalo, and graduated from Yale in 1883. His father, Sherman Skinner Rogers, was one of the most prominent lawyers in Buffalo, and Robert spent a year in his father’s firm before deciding that law was not for him. Instead, he turned to writing, and published books, poems and magazine articles. His 1898  poem “The Rosary” was set to music several times, most notably by Ethelbert Nevin, and sold very well as sheet music.

Rogers moved to Santa Barbara in 1898. In 1901 he purchased The Morning Press newspaper, which he molded into one of the most influential and best-edited papers in California.

Aerial view of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo NY
Aerial view of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo NY

At first glance, it is perhaps surprising the small San Francisco firm of Elder & Shepard should publish this volume, especially since New York City, the undisputed center of American publishing, was so close to the Exposition. This was probably due to Morgan Shepard’s Santa Barbara connections, perhaps his sister-in-law Katherine Putnam, author of Wayfarers in Italy.

The cover and title page feature a tomoye design, though the tomoye has no connection with the poem or the Exposition. The tomoye had only recently been chosen as a sort of “logo” by Elder & Shepard, and they were clearly trying hard to establish their brand.

Rogers died in Santa Barbara in 1912 from complications of an appendicitis operation.

Title page of "Poem Delivered..."
Title page of “Poem Delivered…”
Page 1 of "Poem Delivered..."
Page 1 of “Poem Delivered…”

The Standard Upheld

Standard Upheld title
Title page of “The Standard Upheld”

During their five-year collaboration between 1898 and 1903, Morgan Shepard was the artist, decorator and poet, while Paul Elder was the businessman and bookseller. Elder & Shepard published six of Shepard’s works during that time, mostly children’s stories. The prettiest of them is his slim volume of poetry The Standard Upheld, published in 1902. The title page decorations, as well as the initial capitals throughout the book, are almost certainly Shepard’s.

The opening poem, “Shall I Cast Down the Standard Of My Life?” is no doubt autobiographical. Shepard was a fighter (sometimes literally) all his life, and the metaphor of “me against the world, holding my standard high” is an apt image.

In contrast to Shepard, Paul Elder never published any original works. Though his byline appeared on seventeen of his publications, “compiler” would be a better word than “author”: they were all collections of quotations. Presumably Elder also wrote most of the copy for his in-house magazine Impressions as well.

Standard Upheld cover
Special binding for “The Standard Upheld”. Elder & Shepard’s normal bindings never looked like this.

This copy of The Standard Upheld was specially bound by bookbinders James A. Rutherford and Henry W. Thumler, whose shop was at 538 California, about three blocks from Elder & Shepard’s bookstore (and later at 117 Grant, just down the street).

Standard Upheld p01
Page 1 of “The Standard Upheld”, and poem from which the book’s title is taken
Standard Upheld p10
Pages 10-11 of “The Standard Upheld”

Fairy Tales Up-To-Now

Fairy Tales Up To Now cover
Typical cover of “Fairy Tales Up-To-Now”.

Extra, extra, read all about it! Wallace Irwin rewrites old fairy tales!

In contrast to Irwin’s Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum, whose humor is obscure to modern readers, his 1904 Fairy Tales Up-To-Now is fairly accessible. Irwin took standard fairy tales which everyone still knows today (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc) and rewrote them in poetry, accompanied by hard-boiled newspaper headlines.

What I love best about Fairy Tales Up-To-Now is the unusual binding. The cover boards have been letterpress printed with actual newspaper articles—but without ink—resulting in a unique tactile feel. Paper labels were then pasted on top. The typography inside also mimics a newspaper look & feel.

Fairy Tales Up To Now title
Title page of “Fairy Tales Up-To-Now”

Update, 2 Feb 2014: Today Priscilla Anne Lowry of Lowry-James Rare Books showed me two copies with different stamped text on the boards. I checked both my own copy and an online image, and all four copies are different. It remains to be seen how many different cover states exist.

Update, 18 Apr 2020: Molly Schwartzburg comments below about how each cover is probably “flong” (a negative mold) leftover from printing newspapers, making each cover unique.

Fairy Tales Up To Now p10
pages 10-11 of “Fairy Tales Up-To-Now”


Fairy Tales Up To Now p06
pages 6-7 of “Fairy Tales Up-To-Now”

A Book of Hospitalities and a Record of Guests

Book of Hospitalities cover
Cover of “A Book of Hospitalities”

Guest books aren’t seen much today except at weddings and funerals. It seems they were more popular in the early 1900s, as Paul Elder published four guest books between 1904 and 1910.

Arthur Guiterman’s Book of Hospitalities And a Record of Guests (1910) was intended to be placed in the parlor, living room, or perhaps the guest bedroom. The first section (“A Book of Hospitalities”) contains a selection of sayings and epigrams for the house, and the second half (“A Record of Guests”) contains blank areas for the guests to write in. Guiterman was also involved in two other Elder publications: the 1908 guest book entitled (appropriately enough) Guest Book, and the 1907 humor book Betel Nuts, Or What They Say In Hindustan.

Book of Hospitalities title
Title page of “A Book of Hospitalities”

Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) was born in Vienna to American parents and graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1891. He was the author of a dozen books, primarily poetry. He was also editor of Women’s Home Companion and Literary Digest. In 1910, he co-founded the Poetry Society of America (which still exists and celebrated its centennial in 2010), and served as president in 1925.

I am particularly fond of Guiterman’s poem entitled “On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness”

The tusks which clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.
The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust.
The grizzly bear, whose potent hug,
Was feared by all, is now a rug.
Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf,
And I don’t feel so well myself.

If you happen to own a copy of my 2004 Checklist of the Publications of Paul Elder, 2nd edition, you will see that the page borders are taken from Book of Hospitalities.

Book of Hospitalities frontispiece
Frontispiece of “A Book of Hospitalities”
Book of Hospitalities foreword
Foreword of “A Book of Hospitalities”


Book of Hospitalities main text
Text of “A Book of Hospitalities”


Arthur Guiterman
Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)