We have a charming little mystery in the Conservation Lab right now. A particularly aesthetically pleasing volume from our General Collection, A Little Book of Nature Thoughts by Richard Jefferies (Mosher Press, 1903) caught my eye as it sat on the shelf awaiting repair. Its type, its fine laid paper, its worn but once-beautiful sheepskin full leather binding, and its spare but elegant gold-stamped cover decoration all gave this slender, pocket-sized book an air of something special.
A Little Book of Nature Thoughts (1903)
A little bit of digging revealed some characteristic particularities of Mosher Press editions, which expressed Mosher’s love of the book as artifact, as an object of beauty, and not merely as a utilitarian vessel for its content. All books were hand-set, usually with Caslon type, with a few, modest decorative flourishes. Most were printed on Van Gelder hand-made paper, and indeed, our little volume bears the Van Gelder watermark on a few of its pages. Forty-seven Mosher titles between 1898-1913 were also printed on vellum. Finally, most of these publisher’s bindings were bound in white, blue, green, or gray paper-covered boards and housed in slipcases. This last detail about the binding surprised me, until I came across evidence of the allure that Mosher Press editions held for contemporary fine binders.
According to the program of An Exhibition of Books from the Press of Thomas Bird Mosher from the Collection of Norman H. Strouse (1967), “No press has tempted the best efforts of so many of the world’s great binders as has the Mosher Press, but even when rebound in full leather, whether by the famous Grolier Club Bindery, Zaehnsdorf, or Sangorski & Sutcliffe, there is always something about the dimensions and title of a Mosher book that admits its identity to the Mosher collector on sight.”
Mosher himself was aware of his books’ appeal for the fine binder. He commented in his 1898 catalog A List of Books in Limited Editions, that “In America, Mr. Otto Zahn, the Misses Nordholf and Bulkley; in London, Miss Prideaux and the Guild of Women Binders have re-clothed in exquisite bindings not a few of the special copies” of his editions.
Our copy of A Little Book of Nature Thoughts, unfortunately, bears no bindery ticket, and no discernible private mark of its binder. Something about the blank endpapers and simple, somewhat generic, floral board decoration suggests the work of a larger bindery rather than an individual fine binder in private practice. I had hoped that the gold-stamped symbol on the back board (pictured above) would provide a clue to the binding’s origin, but my cursory searches have turned up no lead. If this lit torch, surrounded by intertwined serpents (or vines?), represents a bindery with which you are familiar, then please let us know. We welcome any and all theories and speculations!