What is a tomoyé?

The Japanese word tomoe () refers to a comma-shaped symbol. There are hundreds of traditional Japanese tomoe designs. The most common variant is the three-tomoe design called mitsudomoe (三つ巴), which, according to Japanese tradition, creates the harmony of a perfect circle. Here are some examples of tomoe, taken from the book Japanese Design Motifs, by Fumie Adachi, Dover, 1972.

Examples of tomoe
Examples of tomoe
More examples
More examples

The tomoe has been a favorite symbol in Japanese heraldry for centuries. Today, the mitsudomoe has become popular with corporations and taiko drum troupes.

Elder first used the mitsudomoe design in 1900, which he anglicized as the word “tomoyé” (sometimes with the acute accent, sometimes without), and it became a logo of sorts for him. He used it in many books and magazines over the next two decades. When he hired John Henry Nash to run the new in-house printing shop in 1903, it was christened “The Tomoyé Press”.

Although it is unknown why Elder chose the tomoyé, he likely wanted to emphasize the connection between the Orient and his own book arts. Below are just a few of the many tomoyé marks Paul Elder used over his career.

Some of Elder's many tomoye marks
Some of Elder’s many tomoye marks
Categories FAQ

When will you publish the bibliography?

I started with publishing the Checklist for two reasons: it established a baseline of Elder’s output, and it was a chunk of work that could be completed in a reasonable time frame. The Bibliography, at least the one that I would feel proud to call my own, involves a much larger scope of work. The logistical problems are daunting for yours truly, who must still hold down a day job:

  • after many years of searching, there are still titles of which I have never seen a single copy
  • many of Elder’s books were published in multiple bindings,  marketing names, and cover artwork
  • Elder published a large amount of ephemera: calendars, greeting cards, postcards, mottoes, etc
  • a huge amount of material was surely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire

In summary: while I have no intention of dying without finishing the Bibliography, I think it will be a while before it appears in print.

Categories FAQ

Are there any titles missing from the checklist?

While giving a lecture on Paul Elder in 2004, I was asked this question. It’s every bibliographer’s nightmare, of course: failing to record a title.

I am confident that the current online checklist records 99% of Elder’s output; the uncertainty concerns that last one percent. All the earliest records of the bookstore were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Many of Elder’s books are quite rare: there are several titles in my collection where—despite all my years of looking—the copy I own is the only one I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t necessarily make them valuable, just rare. There are also plenty of titles I do not own, though not for lack of searching.

There have been only three new discoveries in the last decade, although each has resulted in multiple checklist entries. Those recent additions were:

  • in 2009, I found a catalog with ten new titles in the Impression Classics series (checklist 404-413)
  • in 2010, I found a catalog that listed five new titles in the Vest Pocket Helps series (checklist 414-418)
  • in 2012, I discovered two titles in a hitherto unknown series called the Langham Library of Humour (checklist 419-20)

If you are working from one of the printed checklists, the addenda & corrigenda can be found here.

Categories FAQ