Vest Pocket Helps (1913) win the contest for the smallest known Paul Elder “books.” At 2½ x 3½ inches and only ten or twelve pages of text, they’re each a very slim piece. But then, that’s why they’re called Vest Pocket Helps: so that they will easily fit into your vest pocket. Back in the era when daily attire (at least, a man’s daily attire) always included a vest pocket, it was a self-explanatory title.
Each book contains several short passages on Christian themes. The books credit no author, but the copyright page indicates that “these pages have been compiled from random readings.” The compiler was presumably not Paul Elder (who would surely have credited himself, as he did on earlier publications, such as Mosaic Essays), but more likely one of Elder’s favorite compilers of religion-themed books, such as Agness Greene Foster.
There were eight titles in the series, conveniently listed on the copyright page. The books were sold for 10¢ each, or 80¢ for the set of eight “gathered and tied with linen tape.”
The series was incorrectly titled Vest Pocket Tracts in the printed editions of the checklist.
Paul Elder’s Abbey Classics series comes complete with a little mystery: how many titles were there?
Like the Panel Books, Paul Elder contracted TheAbbey 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.
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 C. Flexible leather. Boxed. $1.00 net. Postage, 3 cents.
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.
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:
The Cotter’s Saturday Night And Other Poems, by Robert Burns
Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, by John Milton
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.1https://prabook.com/web/walter_taylor.field/1082456
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.
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.
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, 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.
In 1907, £1 was worth about $5, thus the “extremely low” price of 2s. 6d. (two shillings sixpence, or one-eighth of a pound, popularly called “half a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Imagine a children’s book designed to encourage a toddler to learn the thrill of accomplishment by, say, climbing up a flight of stairs. Today, that book would probably be full-color drawings. In 1902, Elder & Shepard published such a book, George Hansen’s Ascent of Man, consisting of a series of photographs of a real toddler, Hansen’s own son Roland.
The Ascent of Man was just one of a series of five booklets, all featuring the young Roland:
The Ascent of Man
George Hansen (1863-1908) was born in Hildesheim, Germany. His grandfather, J. G. K. Oberdieck, was a famous pomologist (the study of fruit) and was rewarded by the Prussian government with a reserved place in university for whichever of his grandchildren wanted to pursue horticulture. George was chosen, and he attended school in Potsdam. He moved to England in 1885 and worked for F. Sander & Company in their orchid house, drawing illustrations for their publication Reichenbachia. He came to San Francisco in 1887 and was named foreman of the University of California Foothill Experiment Station in Jackson, in the Amador County foothills. He spent seven years there, collecting in the surrounding Sierra Nevada. As a result, some thirty new species were named for him.
In 1889, George married Linda Frances Rinehart (1869-1948), a native of Amador County. But in 1896 Hansen suffered a debilitating spinal injury, forcing him to leave his position at Foothill Station and move to Berkeley. He spent the last dozen years of his life largely confined to his house and garden, and died there on 31 March 1908. The photographs for Baby Roland were taken by Hansen at the family home at 2705 Hearst Ave. in Berkeley. The house no longer exists. Roland’s life too was short: born in April 1900, he died 4 March 1920 at the age of nineteen.
There is no typesetting in any of the booklets; all the text and decorations are drawn by hand, almost certainly by Morgan Shepard. The cover and title pages also feature photographs of Roland. To best display the photographs, the paper is coated stock, instead of the laid paper usually favored by Elder. The endpapers are impregnated with thin strips of tree bark, a style used by Elder in several other titles.
Morgan Shepard, who spent most of his adult life writing and publishing books for children, probably coordinated the whole project, as perhaps he also did with Hansen’s book What is a Kindergarten?, published the previous year.