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 eighteen titles I have seen, only ten 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

Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson

Cover of "Elizabethan Humours"
Cover of “Elizabethan Humours,” with cover artwork by Henry R. Johnson

The introduction to Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson begins:

“The Stanford English Club issues this little book in connection with, and in commemoration of, the presentation of Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour at Stanford University in March, 1905.

“This is one of a series of presentations of old English plays in the Elizabethan manner, the first of which was the revival of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning Pestle, in March, 1903. The enthusiastic reception accorded this effort encouraged the English Club to preserve the Elizabethan stage built for the play, so that it might be permanently available for such presentations, and to invite Mr. Ben Greet and his company of English players to come to Stanford in the fall semesters of both 1903 and 1904. the Greet company produced, beside the old Morality play of Everyman, two Shaksperean [sic] comedies, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing, and last of all, Hamlet–the second time in America that Shakspere’s greatest work has been produced in full and in the Elizabethan manner.”

Title page and frontispiece of "Elizabethan Humours"
Title page and frontispiece of “Elizabethan Humours”

The stage that the Stanford English Club built (see frontispiece at right) was modeled in part on the Swan Theatre as represented in a 1596 drawing reproduced in 1903’s Knight of the Burning Pestle. The stage extended directly to the “pit” where the “groundlings” (who had only paid for standing room) were gathered. The stage included a rear portion between two pillars, screened if necessary from downstage by a curtain called a “traverse,” and a upper balcony on the second floor.

After the introduction, the book contains several essays on Jonson and the Elizabethan era:

  • Elizabethan Humours, by Raymond Macdonald Alden (author of the Elder publication Consolatio)
  • Jonson’s Learned Sock, by Melville B. Anderson (1851-1933. Professor of English at Stanford University)
  • Upon Ben Jonson, a poem by Edmund Waller
  • Ben Jonson’s Prologue to Every Man in His Humour
  • Epilogue, written for the 1675 revival of Every Man in His Humour by Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset
  • Dickens and His Friends, from The Life of Charles Dickens, vol. 2, chap. 9, by John Forster, 1845 (Charles Dickens played the part of Captain Bobadil [see plate below] during an 1845 revival)
  • reproductions of portraits of Jonson, Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Dickens
  • A Satire on a “Paul’s Man”, from Virgidemiarum, Book III, Satire 7, by Joseph Hall, 1597
  • A Satire on Humours, from The Scourge of Villainy, Satire XI, by John Marston, 1598
  • Ode to Jonson, by Robert Herrick
Page 6 of "Elizabethan Humours"
Page 6 of “Elizabethan Humours”

Ben Jonson wrote Every Man in His Humour in 1598 as a “humours comedy,” in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession. The play was probably performed for the first time by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1598 at the Curtain Theatre. Based on the playlist published in the 1616 folio of Jonson’s works, the part of Kno’well, the aged father, was almost certainly performed by William Shakespeare himself, who evidently enjoyed playing older characters.

"Bobadil," plate opposite page 6
“Bobadil,” plate opposite page 6


Cover of "Poems"
Cover of “Poems”

Paul Elder published a lot of poetry in his career: of the 420 titles on the checklist, at least sixty-one (15%) are poetry. Alas, not much of it is good poetry. (In this Paul Elder was not alone: I have a friend who collects “bad poetry” from across the Arts & Crafts period.)

Irene Hardy’s Poems (1902) is likely a vanity publication, a limited edition of 300 printed by Charles A. Murdock. (As we shall see below, half of the edition was lost in a fire.) The binding and paper are of good quality, and the typography is typical of the period: crisp typeface but a small font, leaving excessive white space around the edges of the page.

The author’s name is consistently printed as “Irenè Hardy”: note the odd placement of the grave accent, which in French would normally be over the first E, “Irène.” Hardy’s poem “With the Field-Lark” was the featured supplement in the June 1902 edition of Impressions Quarterly, where her name is spelled instead with an acute accent: Irené. My theory is that Hardy eccentrically pronounced her name Irené (ee-re-NAY) and wanted her name spelled that way, but that Murdock mistakenly printed it as Irenè. (Hardy was not French; she was born in Ohio.)

Title page of "Poems"
Title page of “Poems”

Although Hardy’s verses may no longer be remembered, since her 1922 death Stanford University has held an Irene Hardy Poetry Contest (now called the “Clarence Urmy-Irene Hardy Prize for Poetry”).

The following obituary of Irene Hardy is from The Stanford Illustrated Review, Volume 23, Issue 9, June 1922, p467. “A little book of her verse” refers to Poems.

Irene Hardy, a student at Stanford from 1892 to 1895 and a member of the english department faculty from 1894 to 1901, died June 4 at her home, 453 Melville Avenue, Palo Alto, following an attack of pneumonia. She was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, eighty-one years ago [22 July 1841] and for the last fifteen years had been totally blind. In spite of her handicap, she continued to write, publishing verse in the “Sunset” and other periodicals. To the last she retained the admiration and devotion of her former pupils and associates, both of Stanford and the Oakland High School, where she taught for twelve years before coming to Stanford. She began teaching at 16 years of age and alter taught in Antioch, Iowa, Preparatory School. In 1861, the opening year of the Civil War, she entered Antioch College, of which Horace Mann was first president. Because of failing health, she came to California in 1871 and remained here until here death. Miss Hardy was widely known as a poet. A little book of her verse was published in 1902 in San Francisco. Half of the edition was later destroyed in a bookstore fire and the remaining volumes were taken up by students. Among the poems included in the volume are “Ole for Forefather’s Day,” “1887,” “Ariel and Caliban,” “A Wedding Day Gallop,” and “Palo Alto Hills.” Her work later appeared in “The Overland Monthly,” “Sunset” and other periodicals. She was a pioneer in the educational field in California and had a lasting influence on the teaching of composition and literature.

Pages 12-13 of "Poems"
Pages 12-13 of “Poems”


San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire

Cover of "San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire"
Cover of “San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire”

One hundred and eleven years ago today, at 5:12 am local time, the great San Francisco earthquake struck. It lasted for 45 seconds, had an estimated magnitude of 7.8, and caused a great deal of damage, not only in San Francisco but up and down the California coast. In San Francisco, however, fire was greater evil. Several small fires, burning uncontrollably due to ruptured water mains, gradually merged, and over the course of three days destroyed about 80% of the city. Almost everything east of Van Ness Avenue was lost. San Francisco had suffered many fires in its history, but this was the Great Calamity, the dividing line between Old San Francisco and New San Francisco.

The earthquake and fire was one of the first large-scale disasters covered thoroughly by photographers, and a large number of books were rushed to print soon afterwards. Paul Elder published only two: The Vanished Ruin Era, and Charles Keeler’s San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire (1906). Keeler writes in his usual florid style, including a moving dedication that dreams of a quick renaissance: “Hail, city of yesterday and tomorrow! I salute thee reborn, rejuvenated, casting the slough that unworthily envisaged thee, rising out of thy burned self to a more fair, more glorious realization of thy promise and thy destiny!” By 1909, the downtown area was mostly rebuilt, and Paul Elder had reopened a bookstore around the corner from his original location.

Title page of "San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire"
Title page of “San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire”

The book was published in brown wraps with an uncredited illustration of downtown San Francisco. The viewer is looking south on Kearny towards the intersection of Market Street. The Call Building (which survived, and is now called the Central Tower) is in white, at the corner of Market and Third.

The fold-out frontispiece showing the fire at its height
The fold-out frontispiece showing the fire at its height
Page 1
Page 1, “The Earthquake”
Plate X: The Old Palace Hotel succumbs to the fire
The Old Palace Hotel succumbs to the fire
Ruins of City Hall
Ruins of City Hall
Page 7
Page 7, “The First Day of the Fire”
Page 36
Page 36, “The Refugees”