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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Extra Binding and The Mosher Books—An Overview from the Bishop Collection

Back in 1891 a single press run of George Meredith’s Modern Love appeared from a totally unknown American press and publisher in Portland, Maine—Thomas Bird Mosher. To be sure, there were huge publishing houses in America turning out hundreds of books, but nobody in America was designing and printing the kind of aesthetically-styled books that began issuing from the Mosher Press in Portland, Maine. By 1900 94 titles would make their appearance and by the end of Mosher’s publishing program in 1923 there would be 384 editions, 338 reprints of those editions, and 61 “privately printed” books for a total of 783 books grouped into fourteen different series, all limited editions, and all personally designed and issued by the small Portland press that managed with only one assistant, a few helpers, and the use of three local printers. Curious? For further details see Thomas Bird Mosher—Pirate Prince of Publishers: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Source Guide to The Mosher Books Reflecting England’s National Literature & Design (Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 1998) or click on This was a very fertile period in American book publishing and the small press movement which was stimulated by William Morris and various other private presses in vogue at the time in England. But in the States, Mosher became the granddaddy of small presses here including Copeland & Day, Way & Williams, Stone & Kimball, the Elston Press, the Alderbrink Press, and the Roycrofters just to mention a small handful of the many presses operating during the early 1900s.

Fancy's Following (1900) with cover design by Isadore B. Paine
Primavera (1900) with cover design by Isadore B. Paine

Title opening from Arnold's Empedocles on Etna using Kelmscott border
Theodore Roosevelt—A Tribute (1919)

One of the criticisms of Mosher’s productions was that the covers in which they were bound were too dainty and fragile. Different papers like Japan vellum, colored Italian Fabriano, Japanese shadow papers and bright red Toyogami papers covered his productions. Beautiful, yes, and admittedly precious to the touch. Rugged and durable over the long term? No. But it was these papers which helped to separate the Mosher Books from other books of the era (and keep costs down), and even today finding excellent examples is a real pleasure for collectors. I’ve always said that a fine copy of a Mosher book, or any private press book for that matter, is a sheer joy, but there’s nothing worse than a grubby copy. They were meant to please the senses, not to repel. Mosher himself was aware of his books’ fragility and their beauty, including their need to be in tissue coverings and in protective slipcases, but he also often suggested that they be placed in temporary covers so that collectors could have them rebound in bindings of their choosing. Indeed, the text blocks of the Mosher books, as issued, are easily accessible by a binder. In his 1898 List of Books, Mosher indicated that

… American and foreign binders have chosen many of these books whereon to lavish their skill. 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 Mr. Mosher’s editions.(1)

This is an area that has always intrigued me and so one of the sub-collection areas I’ve chosen (there are numerous sub-collections) (2) to emphasize in the Mosher collection is that of bindings placed on the Mosher books showing the level of importance owners and binders placed on Mosher’s publications. Along the way I’ll also reveal some of the steps one has to take to acquire some of this material—so in a sense the following also has a sort of instructional quality.

From the outset, I suppose we should answer one question before proceeding. Why collect bindings? Since the Mosher books and many other private or quasi-private press books were, for the most part, not originally issued in fine bindings, (3) why should the collector consider this area? Of course there’s the flippant answer that hey, one should collect whatever pleases you. True, like the ancient Greeks said, in matters of style or taste there really is no argument. But aside from arbitrary opinion and fancy, there are a number of reasons why fine bindings should be taken seriously as an area to collect in addition to examples of the particular press’s publications. Some of these arguments could also be used for collecting any books, but I’m confining it here to the private, quasi-private, and small press productions.

Bindings are a connection to a collecting past, part of the story of that private press and its reception by the public. After a title is issued, individual copies go all over the place. Some are distributed by the author and the publisher. Some are given from one important or interesting person to another which forms the whole realm of association copies. Some are just bought and taken into a private person’s or public institution’s collection. Part of this field of dissemination involves copies going into the hands of binders or into a private party’s hands and then on to his or her chosen binder. For the most part, it’s the better heeled individuals who could afford to have their books specially bound, but even in this area of biblio-accoutrement we find a whole range of bindings running from the home-made (often paper, suede or hand-illuminated covers) or amateur plain quarter, three-quarter, full leather bindings all the way to the sumptuous leather and the most skillfully decorated professional bindings of artistic merit. The latter instances also have a wide range of the more simple to the highly ornate and extremely well done with some full leather bindings costing the collector a small ransom to retrieve from his binder, or which a binder prepared for an exhibition placing his or her handiwork in competition with the work of fellow binders.

The amateur class reflects the individual’s wish to integrate part of himself or herself with the book. It’s a book the person treasured and wanted to put into a more permanent dress which involved their handiwork added to the volume. Additionally, there are amateur binders who were newly learning the bookbinding craft by producing trial bindings or more accomplished bindings to impress their teachers or fellow students. Of course beyond those in training, there were binders already familiar with the fundamentals who received copies of a book that they felt the contents of which merited their special artful and creative talents, either because of the importance of the text or because of the beauty of the printing—or both!

All the above instances are part of the historic connections one can derive from the binders and the owners of those bindings. Although always a relatively small area of craftsmanship (unlike furniture for example), to collect bindings is a way to more fully illustrate a particular binder’s accomplishments, or to show the placement of a particular book or set of books in an important collection. Some of the finest books in handsome “extra” bindings flowed into the more important collections. Here in America we have immensely important collectors from the golden age of book collecting (later 19th / early 20th century) like Robert Hoe III, Henry William Poor, Cortlandt Field Bishop, John Quinn, Jerome Kern, A. Edward Newton, William F. Gable, and William Loring Andrews just to name a few. On a strata below them we also have a whole host of collections of wealthy patrons which included many a fine binding. A good example would be Emilié B. Grigsby who inherited part of the Charles T. Yerkes fortune. Securing bindings from collections such as these provides examples of the kind of work often commissioned for these truly outstanding libraries, and is a solid nod to those who came before, and incidentally to those who also derived a sense of worth in the books so embellished. These bindings then are important due to their association with a particular monumental collection, they provide evidence of a chain of ownership from one collector to another, and they illustrate the historic phenomenon of fine bindings placed on treasured books.

Of course there are also the singular bindings that were given as gifts or as tokens of affection or admiration. These also fit under the category of association and may have found homes with the author or a fellow author or otherwise important person. Trails of ownership, what is called provenance, can have importance beyond just ownership. The book may have been an influence on someone’s thought and writing, and having that very book in a most pleasing binding was part of the story. It may have been an expression of the book’s importance to the owner, or an expression of the sense of pride in having the volume.

Last, but certainly not least, bindings involve the important element of aesthetic enjoyment. Having a small press book in hand, one usually feels the sense of lightness. The book’s size and often relatively few pages, unlike some of the massive tomes of yore, present the viewer-reader with a lovely printed, aesthetically pleasing text. When a fine binding is applied, that lightness to the touch somewhat disappears. The increase in materials from the boards and the feel of the leather used and possibly onlays or inlays of leather, the extra end sheets, and the gold and/or color (or blind-tooling), all add a sense of substantiality. There’s an added heft to the book, a feeling of weight in the palm of the hand, a feeling of solidity. Private, quasi-private and small press and fine printing productions are particularly well suited for containment in fine bindings, and to experience the marriage of such fine printing on choice paper all contained in the additional fine binding is particularly satisfying. It unites the artistic crafts of the paper maker, the type and graphic designer, and the printer and binder all in one package. One holds within his or her hands a truly marvelous objet d’art with meaningful text, all quite possibly enhanced by distinguished provenance.

In addition to the individual binding or small groupings of bindings, a large collection of a press’s books in bindings begins to show all sorts of connections. My own collection of over 350 Mosher books in bindings reveals the work of master binders and their students. We have Cobden-Sanderson’s pupils and their students including Elizabeth Utley and Florence Foote, binding work of the famous Swiss binder Hugo Peller and his student Silvia Rennie, and the work of Daniel G. Knowlton of Rhode Island who was so important in training many American binders still practicing today. Likewise there’s the work of Ellen Gates Starr’s talented apprentice, Peter Verburg of Hull House in Chicago. There are striking bindings from the English binderies of Zaehnsdorf, Sangorski & Sutcliffe, Bradstreets, the Guild of Women-Binders, Bickers & Son, the Morrell Bindery, the bindery work for Hatchards, the Chivers Bindery, and Otto Schultz of Edinburgh. Quite a line-up.

Here in America there are examples from the Harcourt Bindery and the work of Truslove and Hanson of Boston and the Oakwood Bindery of Pittsfield, MA; Toof & Co. and the Zahn Bindery from Memphis, TN; the Club Bindery, the Adams Bindery, the Knickerbocker Press Bindery, the Stikeman & Co. Bindery and the Launder Bindery all of New York; the R. R. Donnelley Bindery, the Lakeside Press Bindery, and the Monastery Hill Bindery of Chicago. There is also a far reaching assortment of individual binders like Lucien Broca who did the finishing work for Sarah Prideaux, the superb exhibition finisher Leonard Mounteney, G. Averill Cole, Mary Stuart Kernochan, F. T. Hubbard, Lorenz Schwartz, George A. Zabriskie, Fletcher Battershall, Eva Clarke, Fannie Coleman, Bogadus of the Huntington Library, and many, many others, some of which are identified and others of which only their initials are known. Of course there are European binders including the great René Chambolle and the Taffin Bindery both of France, and Jozsef Galamb of Budapest along with the Swiss binder mentioned before, Hugo Peller.

As for important provenance, many of the great American collections are represented including Henry William Poor, Cortlandt Field Bishop, and Jerome Kern, and bindings containing inscribed copies like that of George Meredith’s Japan vellum copy of his Modern Love (1891) inscribed to Lady Jean Palmer; and the Emilié B. Grigsby / Ormond G. Smith copy of Fiona Macleod’s (a.k.a. William Sharp) The Silence of Amor (1902) containing what is most likely the first letter from William Sharp introducing Sharp’s feminine alter ego, Fiona Macleod, to Mosher. There’s even a copy of Oscar Wilde’s Poetical Works (1906) from the library of Princess Clara Elizabeth (Prentice-Huntington) von Hatzfeldt, and others owned by artists, poets, and socialites. The collection also includes a full set of The Bibelot, Mosher’s 240 part monthly periodical, bound in three-quarter morocco which bears the monogram of Flora M. Lamb, the Mosher Press publisher’s long-time assistant. Although I have yet to verify this, there is a red three-quarter binding on another set of The Bibelot which may be Thomas Bird Mosher’s own copy. The search to verify this goes on, which is part of the fun.

Thomas B. Mosher’s publications were obviously a favorite with many collectors and binders as evidenced by the large number represented in the Bishop collection and further identified in my bibliography, Thomas Bird Mosher—Pirate Prince of Publishers. For the remainder of this essay I will simply concentrate on a few of these bindings and indicate some of the things I’ve done to acquire them which might be instructive to anyone seeking to build a bindings component to their own private press collection. (4)

Interlocking 'LS' initials at back of Rossetti volume

In December 2007 I acquired a large Rossetti volume bound unlike any other in the collection. The New York auction house had it incorrectly described as (a) a binding by Otto Zahn from the Zahn Bindery in Memphis TN, (b) listed it only as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poems of 1902, (c) indicated it was printed on vellum, (d) presented its designs as an “abstract Nouveau motif of sprays and dots” and “leaf design” and so on. After having my proxy examine the book carefully looking for some particular markings, I found out that it was actually two Mosher books bound as one: Rossetti’s Poems (1902) and his Ballads & Sonnets (1903), both copies #18 of 25 signed by the publisher and printed on Japan vellum (not vellum), and I knew the designs to be more homogeneous than what the cataloguer belabored to describe. The whole volume is a take off on a wheat design using a spike or what some may call the head of a wheat stalk. That’s right, mimicking spikes of wheat. This design motif is even most pleasingly expressed in the goffered gilt edges, and the divide of the two volumes is where the arched design meets to form a mirror image of itself. This is totally delightful. Most importantly, although they were correct in reporting that it was from the Zahn Bindery, they missed the most telling mark in the inside of the back cover: an intertwined “L” and an “S” which are the initials of Lorenz Schwartz.

Otto Zahn (5) emigrated to America and established the Toof Bindery. When that folded, he later established his own business under the name of the Zahn Bindery, also in Memphis, which is where this binding was made, but it wasn’t bound and tooled by Zahn. As I indicated that overlapping S over an L stands for Lorenz Schwartz, a Danish binder who began working for Otto Zahn in 1904-1907 or thereabouts and then joined the Roycroft Bindery from 1907-1915 and from 1928-1947. I’m not sure where he was from 1916-1927, but he was very skilled. In fact some say his work rivaled one of the American giants of binding at the time, Louis Kinder who headed the Roycroft Bindery. I think he also favorably compares to Otto Zahn himself.

As recently as January 2008 I sent two bindings to my conservator, the exquisite Rossetti volume, mentioned above, in need of some modest repairs, and a special Toof binding on a Japan vellum copy of The Bibelot which was pictured in The American Bookbinder. Although I’ve consistently tried throughout my book collecting career to acquire volumes in the finest condition, sometimes one simply has to get what’s presented, especially if it’s of particular merit. The following is a March 24, 2008 note I sent to my binder who had just completed what turned out to be a highly skillful restoration of the spectacular Schwartz binding and the smaller Toof binding:

The Bibelot designed by Zahn
Although I’m a bookseller, I really am a Romantic when it comes to books, close friends, gardens, and the sense of place. I’m also very much of a precision guy with what I consider to be a connoisseur’s taste’s—including knowledgeable, exacting, and a fairly good aesthetic sense. So it’s with those eyes that I’ll be greeting your fine work. I judge your highly talented skills to be in sync or parallel with a connoisseur’s exactitude which is why I selected you to begin with. This shipment [return of the repaired books] is coming at a most fortuitous time. I’ve turned down a binding for the collection which, in my estimation, is one of the most deplorable examples of the binder’s art and just because of that I actually entertained buying it as an example of what NOT to do when binding a book. It was first offered to me back in January [2007], and although in great condition, was one of the most eccentric bindings I’ve ever seen. What a conglomeration of tooling, stamping out of register, tooling far too deep, the front doublure didn’t match the back leather doublure, roll tools sloppily used, etc., but to others it seems like a wonderful binding. It’s not, but so many others look but can’t see. To top it off, the binder spelled Rossetti’s name Rosetti on the front cover and the spine. That, to me, is sacrilege. Anyway, the book was sent to me in January and I returned it to the dealer who had a Mosher collection for sale. Then he “dumped” it in an auction and some folks contacted me about it, but of course I was already aware of what was going on and intended to attend the auction where, as you might surmise, I passed it by. An upper-level dealer recently listed it as a “magnificently bound in full dark blue, crushed morocco tooled and lettered in gilt; elaborately gilt decorated, ribbed spine in six compartments…” but didn’t list the binder so I wasn’t sure it was the same book so asked for some JPEGs. I got them and it was obvious that it was the same book, and even the bookseller’s description gave the author’s name as Rosetti reflecting the very mistake the binder originally made. He had the book priced at $525. I wrote back that I respectfully passed without mentioning my critical stance on the binding (not a good thing to do with a fellow dealer). The next time I looked the binding was re-priced at $725. Why not $950? After all, one absurd price might as well follow another. But it’s not the price that bothers me so much as it is the inability to discriminate between poor, fair, or very good, excellent work. Before this, there was another book from the same collection that was rejected by me, and upon entreaty by the seller who wanted to know why I rejected it and who was given a list of eleven reasons why, was resold to yet another dealer who then priced it in the stratospheric level, but again more importantly by mis-describing the condition which was totally baffling because he should know better than many others what “pure vellum” should be like to call it “very fine.” So… all this is to say that there have been several rejects which I was hoping to add to the Mosher collection, but which I had to pass upon. Before your talented work I had to pass by what were at one time beautiful bindings, but now my hope is that I’ll be able to depend on you for restoration of not only my personal books, but also for an occasional book I might acquire for resale. I don’t know why I found it necessary to vent a little—maybe because I’m trying to avoid doing my taxes which I dread as much as a visit to a dentist—but I just hoped it might convey my estimation of your work and your attitude toward perfection and conservation which I admire. I’m very much looking forward to receiving these two books which will be deservedly given an honored place in the Mosher Collection here at the Bishopric of Lancaster County.

Oh, and the binding restorations, what of them? My binder didn’t disappoint. They’re spectacular! What’s even more gratifying is that the bindings are now conserved for the future. That Toof binding by Zahn on The Bibelot was all but a lost cause. Now it’s a pleasure to see and hold, although it never will be the same as when it was first bound.

I should add too that both of these bindings might have never come my way. I placed a bid on the Rossetti which I had a proxy execute, but the binding went much higher and was finally “bought in” by the auction house. When I talked with my representative he told me we lost it but I instructed him to leave my card with the auction house specifically reiterating my offer; however, I essentially kissed it good-bye. Several days later I was still thinking about the book, lamenting the loss when I got a phone call from a colleague. He was talking about an expensive book which was sent from England and which reportedly arrived but was lost. Gulp! It got me thinking about loss and I just ran this by my colleague since he’s very adept at auctions: “You know that Schwartz at auction… I left a standing offer but suppose the book was finally sold to someone else after the auction. Perhaps I should at least telephone them to get the final outcome?” Well, that’s exactly what I did and lo and behold I found out that there was a miscommunication. They were unsure who made that offer after the auction (read: lost your card). After a little checking with the consignor they said the offer was good and that the book was mine if I wanted it. How can one explain it, especially since I wasn’t even the under bidder? As for the other book, it was part of a collection which wasn’t supposed to come my direction but the seller had second thoughts, offered me my pick of the litter, and told me the binding was one of those Sangorski bindings but was in rough shape. I asked him to send it along with my other purchases and I’d look it over. True, the boards were detached and there was a good bit of wear, but I liked the design, discovered it was a Toof binding by Zahn, and even found it pictured in the bookbinding literature of the day.

Since I’ve mentioned Otto Zahn and the Toof Bindery, I might as well proceed to say a few things about Zahn and a few of his bindings. Otto Zahn apprenticed under T. A. Franke in Arnstadt, Germany (ca. 1872-1873) and also spent a year developing his skills in fine binding at the Zaehnsdorf bindery in London. Zahn came to America in 1883 and within one year he permanently settled in Memphis, Tennessee. He went to work with S. C. Toof & Co. in 1884, eventually becoming foreman and then, in 1918, president of the company until his death in 1928. The Toof firm and Otto Zahn were highly respected by Mosher who indicated “…I believe he [Otto Zahn] is without an equal on this side the waters.” (6)

Zahn’s outstanding work was of exhibition quality, in fact he won numerous prizes for his designs and bindings. To coincide with the St. Louis Exposition of 1904, he wrote an illustrated manual On Art Binding—A Monograph which included pictures of several Toof bindings. One in particular has always been a favorite of mine due to its complicated art nouveau design and the fact that the book’s text was printed on real vellum. Like the Schwartz book described earlier, this volume houses two volumes bound into one and was acquired over eighteen years ago for the Mosher Collection. The volume is Walter Pater’s Marius the Epicurean—His Sensations and Ideas Vol. I & II (Mosher Press, 1900). Years after its purchase—the first truly expensive book I ever bought for the collection—the original solander book case was replaced by a specially engineered case designed and constructed by the binder S. A. Neff, Jr. The full morocco clamshell case not only allows for the viewing of the book without handling, but also includes a hidden compartment which houses a copy of Zahn’s monograph wherein the book itself is pictured.

A far less complicated but nevertheless attractive Zahn binding is that of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Father Damien—An Open Letter to the Reverend Doctor Hyde of Honolulu (Mosher, 1897). This binding is signed “S. C. Toof & Co. / ZAHN” inside the front cover. Whereas the Marius the Epicurean only took one phone call to the dealer in order to establish purchase price, payments and terms, the Father Damien was tough to secure. I was first approached about this book through another bookseller at a Baltimore book show in September 2004. In 2006 we finally agreed on a deal, with payment going to the owner in Memphis, TN with a courtesy 10% going to the bookseller who originally contacted me. The bookseller turned down the payment because she was embarrassed that it all took so long and because of her total exasperation over the seller’s unwillingness to move in negotiations.

The design appears to be very early Zahn / Toof. I’m familiar with his style and that front cover “trunk” of the floral stamp (the more or less vertical lines gently curving upward from the bottom of the binding and intersecting not quite midway at the place where two dots flank on either side of the intersection and then with the gold lines again curving upward until they meet with the branches, etc. of the floral area) is a proto design of what would soon after be a stylized (but further refined) way of Zahn’s handling the tooling from the outer picture frame gilt rolls to the inner design. This type of tooling became a signature design of Zahn’s although he was also famous for various studies in hand tooling replicating European styles of bindings as demonstrated in the bookbinding sections of The Printer and Bookmaker and The American Bookmaker of the mid-1890s-1900. Furthermore, this binding was most likely produced very early by Zahn, perhaps even before he was first in contact with Mosher. As I noted in the Mosher bibliography, Mosher and Zahn were becoming acquainted in 1897/98 which is when this binding must have been executed, although due to the proto nature of the design I truly think this may indeed be among some of Zahn’s earliest on a Mosher book. (7)

Lastly, here is another one of the Zahn bindings, only this one did appear in the October 1896 issue of The American Bookmaker (p. 110). Both the front cover/spine and the inside front cover were pictured. Although this binding has seen better days, it still reveals the complexity of Zahn’s good tooling and finishing. This copy came to the collection through a book trade from the West Coast. It was Edward DeWitt Taylor’s copy (artist, etcher, designer, printer, Taylor & Taylor Printers, San Francisco) with his printer’s bookplate.

Bookplates of Bishop and Poor in A Little Garland of Celtic Verse

The American binders of this era were plentiful and mostly located in our larger cities as one might expect, although certainly not all as attested by the Roycroft Bindery in small little East Aurora, NY. But the crème de la crème formed the Club Bindery in New York City. The bindery was founded in 1898 by Edwin Holden and a few other wealthy members of the Grolier Club to bring the art of fine bookbinding to America and to bind their most precious books following the finest standards of European binderies, but it ceased its operation in 1909. One of the bindery’s more outstanding binders and finishers was Léon Maillard who studied under France’s finest, including Marius Michel. In 1906 the Grolier Club held a major exhibition and published An Exhibition of Some of the Latest Artistic Bindings Done at the Club Bindery. Eight of the one hundred and thirty-eight bindings exhibited were on Mosher imprints—more than any other American publisher represented at the exhibition. Most of these bindings were very limited editions (ten or fewer) printed on Japan vellum or on pure Roman vellum, and belonged to Henry William Poor. Poor had a marvelous library in which appeared at least two hundred and forty-six imprints (including some sets) bound exclusively for the collector by New York’s Club Bindery. From that library there were thirty Mosher titles, all described in the “Henry W. Poor Library” sale catalogue (five parts, 1908-09). The third part of the catalogue, entry 812 contains notice of A Little Garland of Celtic Verse (1905) with Poor‘s red leather bookplate:812. MOSHER PRESS.—A Little Garland of Celtic Verse. 12mo, handsomely bound in full red crushed levant morocco, paneled with green levant, gilt tooled, paneled and gilt back, doublé of red crushed levant, gilt borders, gilt edges, in case, by the CLUB BINDERY. Portland, 1905 *No. 2 OF 10 COPIES PRINTED ON VELLUM.

The buyer: Cortlandt Field Bishop, the wealthy and well known figure in 19th century New York art circles. His most exquisite books and manuscripts were sold by the American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, the Kende Galleries and at auctions held in Paris. The next time the Little Garland appears is at London’s Phillips de Pury auction in 1993 at which time it goes back to America into a collection where it would wait its turn to be featured in a Grolier Club exhibition with accompanying catalogue Bound to be the Best—The Club Bindery in 2004 (entry 33 and plate 33). (8) I attended the opening of this exhibition and have recorded my reactions in the essay “At the Opening of the Club Bindery Exhibition” which can be found at

Several years later the Little Garland would grace the shelves of the Mosher Collection. It took many years of alliance with the former owner, Thomas G. Boss, to finally acquire an example of a Club Binding for the collection. My friend and fellow Mosher enthusiast, Norman Strouse, had a number of Mosher books in Club bindings, most if not all of which are now at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, CA. He collected those years ago, but now there is scarcely a Mosher book in Club binding ever offered, so this is the only one which has entered the Bishop Collection to date.

Leonard Mounteney binding on The Germ
Moiré silk doublure in The Germ

There’s a phrase in Larry McMurtry’s Cadillac Jack (1982) which says that “anything can be anywhere.” One never knows what might be found and where, and it was during such an instance that I acquired what might be said to be the best of my Mosher binding “finds,” this being from a little book and antique business in the wild, wild West. I was able to secure a copy of Mosher’s 1898 The Germ printed on real vellum (copy #4 of 4) and in a binding by one Mounteney. It’s the absolute “black orchid” of the whole Mosher corpus. I was looking at the “Westies” mimeographed “catalogue”

Title-page from a Japan vellum copy of The Germ (1898, one of 25 signed by Mosher)

The likes of Otto Zahn, Leonard Mounteney, and the binders at the Club Bindery were all European trained binders who made their way to America, but there were binders who received their training here, many of whom were talented and accomplished amateurs and some who became professionals in the field. In the late 19th century and early 1900s a whole bevy of American women went to learn the ABCs of binding in England and France. Many trained under Cobden-Sanderson of the Doves Press and the Doves Bindery. Evelyn Nordhoff became Cobden-Sanderson’s first pupil in 1895, and then a whole succession of students traveled to learn under his tutelage. All totaled there were more than a dozen women who trained at the bindery between 1897 and 1909 including Ellen Gates Starr of Chicago’s Hull House, and Florence Foote and Emily Preston of New York. From the Pittsburgh area Euphemia Bakewell became one of his best pupils, and like the others, when she returned to America she likewise took on students. Her two star pupils were the wealthy Rachael MacMasters Miller Hunt and her friend Elizabeth Utley. Hunt ended up binding at least six Mosher books, and both she and Utley provided examples of their work at the newly formed Guild of Bookworkers’ inaugural exhibition of members work at the old Tiffany Studios of Fourth Avenue, New York in April 1907. Among the seventy-four bindings in the show, there was Elizabeth Utley’s work on Rossetti’s The Blessed Damozel (Mosher, 1901) which is now in the Bishop collection of Mosher books. This same binding was also shown in The Art Society of Pittsburgh’s Exhibit of Artistic Industries in 1912, and at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s annual exhibition at the Carnegie Institute Galleries in 1935. More recently it was part of the Craftsman Farms Foundation exhibition “Women’s Work: the Role of Women in the Arts and Crafts Movement” from July-October 1996. Mosher’s almost 5 ½” square printing of The Blessed Damozel became a favorite for American binders and I’ve seen this attractively printed book appear more frequently bound in fine decorated binding than just about any other title in the Mosher line-up.

As before mentioned there are 350+ Mosher books in fine full or three-quarter leather in my Mosher collection. If you want to further explore some of the other binders and bindings represented in the collection just go to and click on any of the links within the discussion. The collection includes a number of professional and amateur productions and work that came from American and European binderies. Works produced for major exhibitions, bindings for the holiday trade, and bindings just given as a loving memento from friend to friend are all represented. Should readers have an interest in reading more about the Bishop Collection and how it was assembled, just go to then scroll down and click on any of the essays provided. It’s hoped that this present essay and those further listed will not only provide for your reading pleasure (admittedly, you’ve got to be a collector to love this stuff), but also to help give hints as to how the collecting game can be played. Maybe you’ll include a few wonderful bindings in your own collection.

And now for an unabashed advertisement: should anyone reading this essay in the “IOBA Standard” have a Mosher book in a fine highly decorated full leather signed binding that they’d like to donate or sell to the Mosher collection here, please feel free to contact the writer. Additionally he’s always looking for these particular kinds of things relating to Mosher Press:

The Bishop Collection

— Association copies — — Letters to / from Thomas Bird Mosher — — Mosher books printed on real vellum — — Illuminated copies of the Mosher Books — — Books from Mosher’s library with his bookplate or inscription —

Please forward all correspondence or contact via e-mail or snail mail to:

Philip R. Bishop MOSHER BOOKS P. O. Box 542 Ephrata, PA 17522-0542 717-733-1476

Bookplates (Addenda): Thomas Bird Mosher submitted by Philip R. Bishop

Thomas Bird Mosher bookplate

The bookplate Mosher used in books from his personal library was designed in 1897 by Frank R. Rathbun of Auburn, New York, with the designer’s monogram of an “F” with two “R’s” mirror imaged on either side. The bookplate was part of an exhibit (entry 1371) of bookplates from the Club of Odd Volumes held at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1898. Mosher’s bookplate is described as “emblematical pictorial” in the Burnham collection. The original plate was photo-mechanically printed on Japan vellum paper from Rathbun’s original drawing, but the later scarcity and high price of Japan vellum may have necessitated Mosher’s printing of the plate on Van Gelder paper. It has been said that when Parke-Bernet auctioned the Mosher library in 1948, any of Mosher’s books that didn’t have the bookplate were given one. These plates may have been from a reserve stock Mosher had prior to his death.

According to the Honey Jar, a small 1890s Columbus, Ohio magazine which often focused on bookplates:

“First we have the plate of Thomas B. Mosher (of Bibelot fame). Concerning its origin the owner says it is drawn from the Old German. On a shield the base, sinister and dexter points of which round off into scrolls, an open book supported by two dolphins, tails entwined. Two demi-griffins of heroic size act as semi-supporters. On a ribbon beneath the shield and between a number of conventionalized flowers ‘Ex Libris Mdcccxcvij.’ Below is ‘Thomas B. Mosher.’ All within a serrated border.”

Sappe, D. C., ed. Honey Jar: A Recep-tacle for Literary Preserves. Vol. III, No. 1. (Columbus, OH: Champlin Press at the Sign of the Green Wreath, November 1899), p. 16.


(1)A List of Books in Limited Editions. Portland, ME: Thomas Bird Mosher, 1898, p. 6.

(2)For a list of these sub-collections, see the companion piece interview in this issue of the IOBA Standard.

(3)The Roycrofters were a notable exception in America, and the Doves Press in England having its correlative Doves Bindery and likewise with the Gregynog Press and its bindery.

(4)It should be strongly noted that all bets are off with the field of collecting modern books. Here a book and its dust-jacket as issued are of prime importance and the rules of the game totally change. A fine binding on a modern book of literature may actually destroy the value of the book as a collectable. But like anything else, there are notable exceptions so even this doesn’t hold true in all cases.

(5)More information on Zahn and photos of some of the Toof bindings can be found in Don Etherington’s article, “Will the Real Otto Zahn Please Stand Up?” in the Guild of Book Workers Journal. Vol. XXXIII, No. 1. Spring 1995, pp. 21-31. Although there are a number of bindings pictured, Etherington apparently didn’t take notice that several of them were signed “L.S.” meaning the work was done by Lorenz Schwartz. Additionally Zahn did quite a number of bindings illustrating historical work from decades or even centuries past.

(6)Mosher to Emilié Grigsby ALS, March 21, 1898, p. 2, at the Gleeson Library, University of San Francisco.

(7)At the Houghton Library there is a letter dated October 31, 1898 from Otto Zahn to Mosher (No. 1638) with twenty-seven photographs of bindings on Mosher books (twenty-six covers and one doublure). The titles identified from the pictures are: from the Old World Series Helen of Troy (two copies), Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sylvie, The Rubáiyát, The Kasîdah, The Sonnets of Michael Angelo, Aucassin and Nicolete (three different copies), Félise, The New Life of Dante Alighieri, and Ballads and Lyrics of Old France (two copies). Bindings on The Bibelot Series include Long Ago, The Defense of Guenevere and The Rubáiyát (1894). Bindings on books from the Brocade Series are The Hollow Land, The Story of Cupid and Psyche, and The Story of Amis and Amile. There are also: Father Damien (Reprints from “The Bibelot” Series), Essays from the “Guardian” (Reprints of Privately Printed Books), In Praise of Omar (Miscellaneous Series), From the Upanishads (Miscellaneous Series), and a sample binding on one of the bound volumes of The Bibelot. All these bindings represent a wide array of styles ranging from art nouveau to the more Grolieresque designs. In yet another letter at the Houghton dated April 27, 1897 (No. 1638a), Zahn tells Mosher he has sent ten copies of Old World Series books “to the Nashville Centennial [the Tennessee Centennial Exposition], put up in elaborate art bindings. I bought the books from the Mansford Co. here.” He further remarks, “I also have bound some of your editions for booklovers in San Francisco, Cal. and Minneapolis, Minn. The prices of the bindings you saw at the Grolier Club are as follows: Sylvie: $30.00 The Kasidah $27.00. All the others: $20.00. I will be glad to dress your beautiful editions in a garb befitting their worth, should you chose to entrust me with them.” Mosher highly prized Zahn’s work and recommended the Toof & Co. to some of his more special customers.(

8)My own copy of this book is inscribed “For The Prince of Mosher Collectors Philip Bishop from his friend Tom Boss / The first inscribed copy 1 September 2004” along with and inscribed “invitation #1 T.G.B.” to the opening of the exhibition.

Philip R. Bishop operates MOSHER BOOKS out of Ephrata, PA and can be contacted at




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