September 11

“To bring together the posies of other men bound by a thread of one’s own choosing is the simple plan of the editor of the Bibelot.

“In this way those exotics of Literature that might not immediately find a way to wider reading, are here reprinted, and, so to speak, resown in fields their authors never knew. . . . Besides this, to more widely extend the love of exquisite literary form, it must be shown by example that choice typography and inexpensiveness need not lie far apart.”

Thus wrote Thomas Bird Mosher, of Portland, Maine, who was born this day in 1852. The statement appeared in the first number of a little periodical for book lovers which was published monthly for twenty years, between 1895 and 1915. Mosher, the son of a State of Maine sea captain, himself followed his father’s calling for a five-year period, but finally decided upon a landsman’s career when he came of age. He went to work as a clerk in a law-stationer’s office in Portland, but finding law books unsuited to his tastes, he spent a year or two as a clerk in a bookshop in St. Louis, Missouri.

Returning to Portland, he again became connected with law publishing, becoming a partner in the firm of Dresser and McLellan. A love of literature and fine books promoted his establishment of his own firm, the Mosher Press, in 1891. At 39 years of age he began a career and became, in the words of Norman Strouse, his only biographer to date, “One of the most remarkable printer-publishers in the private press movement on either side of the Atlantic.”

In England, William Morris was ready to embark on his own effort to promote the printer’s craft, although his route was not at all that of Mosher, whose desire was to make literature readily available in tasteful format at a low price, while Morris catered to the purse of the wealthy book collector.

The first of 332 titles which Mosher was to issue from his press prior to his death in 1923, was George Meredith’s Modern Love. Its physical appearance was to set the pattern which makes the Mosher books easily recognizable, although each book received an individual treatment. Most of the books were issued in series, all small volumes.

With the publication of the Andrew Lang translation of Aucassin and Nicolete in 1895, Mosher was involved in charges of piracy, as Lang, in England, accused him of printing without permission. Mosher wrote a letter to the English book periodical The Critic, in which he said, in part, that he was opposed to “the fad with authors and their publishers to kowtow to the wealthier classes and at the same time play into the hands of the speculative bookseller.” He also argued that the translation was not in copyright, and that the limited and high priced English edition did not receive the wide circulation it deserved. Later on Mosher met Lang in London, and after a discussion they parted friends.

Bruce Rogers, who always disliked the American propensity to match any individual with an historical figure, thought enough of Mosher to call him a “XIX Century Aldus,” which was a fitting comparison indeed.

One Comment

  1. Dear Terrence Chouinard:

    Nice to see something here printed on Thomas Bird Mosher, most of which is based on Norman Strouse’s book, The Passionate Pirate (1964). Much has been discovered on T.B. Mosher and the Mosher Press since that book was published. In particular, the writer and reader might want to consult the bio-bibliography published in 1998 by Oak Knoll Press and The British Library: Thomas Bird Mosher–Pirate Prince of Publishers.

    Philip R. Bishop

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