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Bookseller Paul Elder and his Grandma Nellie: the Adventures of a regional Publisher and Bookseller in Earthquake Country

San Francisco had long been an entryway for those seeking opportunities in the West. By the turn of the twentieth century, San Francisco was a center for “bohemian” creativity. Metaphorically, local bookman Paul Elder was an avid gardener when the California Arts and Crafts Movement emerged celebrating the state’s distinctive biome.

He spent his adult life fostering a community of printers, artisans, and writers. Though dismissed by some for not having a formal college education, Elder cultivated printing entrepreneurs to engage Western book consumers. Elder recognized fallow ground and went about turning up vernacular themes of the California Arts and Crafts Movement between 1895 and 1930 in California idioms of living the good life.

Elder & Company’s last book produced in San Francisco before their move to New York City was San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire in August 1906. It was the first book describing the earthquake and fire based on Charles A. Keeler’s eyewitness accounts. (Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

With telephone systems down through May 1906 and supplies destroyed, this was a basic volume with photographic illustrations. The foldout frontispiece photograph depicts the dramatic sweep of the fire from Twin Peaks. (Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

David Paul Elder was born on January 1, 1872, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to attorney Scott Elder and his wife Mary Amelia Eyster Elder.[1] Some friends characterized him as emotionally complex, intelligent, and shrewd; some associates observed he sometimes took on too much responsibility; others described him as sphinx-like, a knower of secrets. Elder navigated tumultuous times in earthquake country by learning from book producers and booksellers of earlier eras to build a family-oriented book business with three generations of family wisdom behind him.

Paul and Emma Elder enjoyed a long marriage where Emma occasionally worked in a secretarial capacity. Paul Elder kept his family life separate from business, yet family was present in his business from beginning to end. (Photo from the San Francisco News January 8, 1931, courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

Paul’s father Scott Elder appeared unremarkable, but his maternal grandmother Penelope “Nellie” Blessing-Eyster (1836–1922) was a powerhouse among post-bellum literary and missionary circles. An abolitionist before the Civil War, she later wrote children’s Sunday school books in the “Sunny Hour Library” series introducing young readers to strong ethnic characters. Nellie’s only son Charles Eyster died the year Paul was born. Because she suffered from depression, Nellie and her husband transplanted three generations of the family to San José, California, in 1876. Blessing-Eyster then rallied and resumed benevolent work, taught literature and music, and contributed stories to the Overland Monthly and California Illustrated Magazine.

After her husband died in 1886, Nellie relocated to San Francisco to live with her daughter Mary, son-in-law Scott, and grandson Paul. She served as state superintendent of juvenile work for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. As president of the California Women’s Indian Association, Blessing-Eyster received pushback when she tried to finance a program to teach California Native Americans, considered to be sophisticated ethnobotanists, how to grow food and referred to them as “heathens.” However, she was elected as the first president of the Pacific Coast Woman’s Press Association (PCWPA), established in 1890 as a social and professional benevolent society for female writers. It offered support for women who might need legal aid if they were married to men who took control of their earnings under the legal doctrine of coverture. Blessing-Eyster made connections with major female West Coast writers and journalists.

San Francisco Printers and Printing

The San Francisco Bay Area already was a fertile, eclectic region for propagating the book arts, having become a Western printing hub in the 1860s. Printer Charles Albert Murdock (1841–1928), active in California during the Civil War, introduced the first English typeface (designed by William Caslon I, 1693–1766 to the West Coast.[2] . High shipping costs challenged Western booksellers, who started printing books locally to undercut East Coast publishers’ prices.

British-born William Doxey (1844–1916) launched Doxey & Company in 1881, selling antiquarian books, East Coast books, and locally printed books and greeting cards. After operating in a few locations, Doxey settled on the ground floor of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel from 1887 to 1899. Famous and infamous people passed through Palace Hotel, the city’s first great hotel, and among the most luxurious in the world. It was a city within the city, employing more than 1,000 people, with long-term tenants residing on the top floor. Within this transient world, diverse populations moved, including West Coast merchant princes and confidence men; judges, diplomats, and mystics; actors and musicians; and affluent tourists. In his ground-level location on Market Street, Doxey displayed a “shrine” of first editions, portraits, and memorabilia related to Scottish novelist Robert Lewis Stevenson, a favorite storyteller with his own San Francisco associations.[3]

When Doxey entered publishing, his output was contingent on outsourcing production to local printers. He published Jack and Jill: A Love Story (1891) to benefit the Silver Street Kindergarten Society, supporting the first kindergarten established by Kate Douglas Wiggin west of the Rockies. Wiggins described the kindergarten in her first novel, The Story of Patsy (1889). Kindergartens received funding from local philanthropists, including Phoebe Hearst, mother of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, but needed public support like missionary movements. However, the David C. Cook Publishing Company, based in Chicago, Illinois, dominated interdenominational Sunday school publishing allied with missionary movements through a tight focus on the market. Joaquin Miller penned an introductory photo essay for Jack and Jill describing how the Kindergarten’s new Boy’s Reading Room kept poor boys off San Francisco’s mean streets and out of trouble.

from the boy’s college-prep high school on Nob Hill. Unsatisfied with his first job as a clerk at Wells Fargo Express, Elder got a job with Doxey, where he got a liberal arts education and made connections. Doxey, a lovable nomad, offered Elder a fluid business model for a tourist-oriented bookstore as a social hub within a dynamic community.

Beyond the Palace Hotel, four San Francisco daily newspapers (the Call, Chronicle, Examiner, and Bulletin) targeted specific demographics. William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner in the Hearst Building garnered the largest readership in the West, with sports, gossip, and hate-mongering cartoon depictions of the Chinese. Capitalists controlling the media used hate-speak strategically to fuel xenophobia and influence working-class readers to support Asian exclusion. Opposite the Hearst Building stood the Claus Spreckels Building, named for the prominent financial and industrial capitalist, where the Call’s presses became a tourist attraction.

Missionaries connected San Francisco and Hawaii from the early 1840s. Although Hearst and Spreckels used their different platforms to build empires, both appreciated how missionaries laid the groundwork to support their empires. Spreckels procured a lucrative contract with Hawaii’s King Kalākaua during the Civil War to refine sugar, joining the two regions economically, and launched San Francisco as a major center of the food processing industry. Building heights offered metaphors of power for their titan owners. The Chronicle Building, home to the Chronicle, was San Francisco’s first skyscraper, but the Claus Building was the tallest structure on the West Coast.

A nationwide financial panic starting in February 1893 drove a persistent four-year economic depression shaping regional printing history by forcing skilled typesetters to work longer hours for the same pay. The Chronicle installed seven compositing machines called linotypes to produce lines of words as single strips of metal. This technology to arrange type for printing performed work equal to four compositors using a composing machine.[4] The transition coincided with a San Francisco printers’ strike for a “shorter” nine-hour workday. Out-of-work compositor-printers soon moved into new printing enterprises where they still worked long hours but could control their output.


William Doxey acquired available manuscripts and outsourced his printing to C. A. Murdock to publish affordable glossy gift books locally to compete with New York presses and department stores. Doxey worked with the Stanley-Taylor Company and Twentieth Century Printing, investing in quality production rather than shipping costs. Doxey also published a “cheap” humor magazine called The Lark between 1895 and 1897. Gelett Burgess (1866–1951) led a quirky San Francisco bohemian group known as “Les Jeunes” (The Youth) that contributed to The Lark. Members were born during the upheaval of the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era, and some had experienced deferred childhoods. Paul Elder was not a member of “Les Jeunes,” but he worked at Doxey when The Lark was published.

Not wanting to ignore possible revenue from a growing missionary industry operating throughout the Pacific Rim, but also not wanting to publish missionary literature, Doxey produced a Guide to San Francisco and the Pleasure Resorts of California (1897) specifically for the Christian Endeavor Union convention held in San Francisco. The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, an interdenominational youth society conference, brought an estimated 26,000 visitors to San Francisco.[5]

Burgess’s neighbor and Elder’s future partner Morgan Shepard (1865–1947) contributed an essay called “In Parenthesis” to issue #12 of The Lark on April Fool’s Day, 1896, about human-animal relationships from a horse’s point of view. Shepard, born on the last day of the Civil War, knocked about after getting bullied in high school. He set out on several adventures, working in mining, cow punching, and engineering. He also became involved in South American revolutions as a soldier of fortune before returning to the United States, eventually landing in San Francisco. He was fired from streetcar driving in San Francisco after giving too many children free rides and then he settled into a job as a bank clerk at Bank of America, which he found oppressive.

After apprenticing five years with Doxey, Elder was well-schooled in handling rare books.[6] His attorney father and father-in-law likely advised him on business matters after he married a piano teacher, Emma Moore, on May 5, 1896.[7] As an adult, Paul Elder was a handsome family man who wore a thick wedding ring; his wife Emma sometimes worked as his secretary. In 1897, he established his first independent enterprise as a publisher’s agent and book dealer in a hole-in-the-wall office on the mezzanine floor of the Mills Building. Adjacent to S. & G. Gump’s import business on the up-and-coming Post Street retail corridor sandwiched between Union Square and Chinatown, Elder planted his business in the right place as the economy started to rebound.

The D. P. Elder & Morgan Shepard Partnership

Paul Elder and Morgan Shepard formed a partnership in March 1898. They opened “The Book and Art Shop” two months later on the ground level at 238 Post Street in the Shreve & Company Building. Like Doxey, they created engaging window displays and offered antiquarian book searches and interior decorating services, along with standard bookstore merchandise. Artsy Shepard married an older woman from an affluent family who did not want to risk having children. Shepard’s wife brought commissions to the partners. Elder and Shepard were well positioned to succeed after their mentor Doxey filed for bankruptcy in 1900. They likely harvested his remainders for a good price.

Elder and Shepard blithely built on Doxey’s somewhat heedless business model. They launched a “monthly in-house leaflet of book-notes,” Personal Impressions, on March 1, 1899. To printer-publishers, “impressions” hold multiple meanings, but the partners likely shared impressions of childhoods lost and were motivated to invigorate adulthood with childness. At a time when many families owned only a few books, they impressed upon the marketplace the importance of growing home libraries. Elder and Shepard used Doxey’s strategy of outsourcing jobs to printers, including C. A. Murdock. They stylistically distinguished their publications from Doxey’s by producing less glossy and more matte and durable books for family use. Their goal was to develop a market niche as “Western” book producers within a community of book-loving consumers.

Impressions was a monthly publication of Elder and Shepard containing small printing specimens. The Japanese term “tomoe” (巴) is a comma-shaped symbol. Elder and Shepard launched use of the three-tomoe (mitsudomoe) design as their logo; it delineates perfect harmony within a circle. Elder continued to use the “tomoye” for his main publisher’s device to indicate a link between his Western Tomoyé Press to the Pacific Rim.”

At the turn of the twentieth century, may have thought of themselves as young William Caxtons introducing letterpress printing to the wild West. Personal Impressions served as a directory of affinity businesses, interior decorating, and antiquarian books. As Western tastes in housing began favoring small bungalows, Elder pioneered producing framed, finely printed specimens with mottos to add design elements to home decor.[8] Impressions sometimes included free letterpress keepsakes offering quotes or words of inspiration designed to fill the mind throughout the day. It offered reviews by Elder & Shepard authors, children’s story competitions, and advertisements from local Japanese and Chinese artisans. Impressions also promoted a restaurant called “At the Sign of the Peacock,” where customers could stop for a bite to eat after browsing in the bookstore.

Printing specimen of quote from Emily Dickinson inserted in Impressions (February 1901).

From 1898 to 1903, Elder & Shepard published more than forty books. They appropriated ideas and design elements from throughout the Pacific Rim. The Japanese word tomoe refers to a comma-shaped symbol, and Elder and Shepard first applied the image of “Tomoyé” as their publisher’s mark in 1900. It consisted of three commas (for the elements of earth, wind, and fire) within a circle representing the energy of waves, visually communicating unity between idea, designer, and maker.[9]

Tomoyé pressmark.

The quatercentenary of Europe’s post-incunabula period was not lost on Elder and Shepard. Without formal education, they relied on college-educated writers for content. Familiar with boom-and-bust San Francisco, they created aspirational books providing ideals, optimism, and a dash of Western swagger. Gelett Burgess’s Stanford-educated protégé Wallace Irwin (1875–1959) wrote The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum (1901) as an early production of the Tomoyé Press. Irwin, a Hearst journalist, created parodies. Burgess’s introduction superficially referenced Italy’s “Three Fountains”—Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch—who transformed vernacular Italian into the language of high art. Irwin’s first poem, “An Inside Con to Refined Guys,” was typeset with italics to consolidate more words attractively on a page, in a seeming nod to Aldus Manutius (1449–1515), who developed pocket-sized books using italics in 1501. His youthful pun-filled verses extolled the love of women and good cigars with equal vigor. They were fun but did not rise to the Three Fountains’ level of using vernacular language as high art.

Wallace Irwin’s The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Jr. (1902) illustrated by Gelett Burgess stylistically set the two young publishers on trajectory for success in local book publishing.

Burgess brought his iconic designs from The Lark to broader audiences with The Burgess Nonsense Book (1901), published by Frederick A. Stokes in New York. Elder & Shepard next published Irwin’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Jr. (1902), illustrated with Burgess’s stunning images. They were a twentieth-century interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1321) but with more odes to tobacco. This volume also displayed the Tomoyé Press mark.

As a young firm, Elder & Shepard competed in a competitive marketplace and reluctantly advertised a 20 percent discount on East Coast publications to keep the locals browsing. Women contributed to about a quarter of their titles as authors or illustrators.[10] Elder and Shepard aligned their Book and Art Shop with the Bay Area Arts and Crafts Movement. Shepard served as the first president of The Bookbinders’ Guild of California (established in August 1902), and Elder became its first secretary-treasurer. Although the products of the scholar’s study enlarged the homes of the Renaissance merchant class with collected books and objects, public libraries in the West grew collections so middle-class families dwelling in smaller homes had access to good literature. Elder and Shepard offered merchandise for those in search of a good life connected to the adjacent natural world.

Elder & Shepard published a series of Burgess’s didactic essays in The Romance of the Commonplace (1902), in which he expounded on the art of play within the urban environment and the processes of making things smaller, suggesting that reducing the commonplace offered infinite ways of mastering life with resiliency.[11] Burgess wrote, “We are not here to be entertained, but to entertain ourselves.”[12] Elder and Shepard held the Guild’s first public exhibit in The Book and Art Shop in November 1902. Morgan Shepard left the firm in 1903 to get his liberal arts education in Europe, where he studied bookbinding and jewelry design. Subsequently, the firm became Paul Elder & Company.[13]

Meanwhile, at sixty-six years of age, Nellie Blessing-Eyster was still active in the writing community. Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier encouraged her to write a novel called A Chinese Quaker: An Unfictitious Novel (1902), published by a firm with offices in Chicago. The 1900 Boxer Uprising targeting missionaries in China had affected fundraising efforts for missionary enterprises. Blessing-Eyster, more evolved in her thinking than some, humanized the Chinese residents in San Francisco. In her foreword, she stated, “The book is not a mere chronicle or biographical sketch, but a picture of certain phases of Chinese life on the Pacific Coast, of large moral importance to the American people.”[14] Beyond building better American-Chinese relations, Blessing-Eyster argued that the Chinese would inevitably become economically viable as citizens. Her book received international attention for the catchphrase, “Disarm yourself of all prejudice.”[15]

Paul Elder Builds the Tomoyé Press

Lasting security would be fragile for Elder and Shepard as they traveled individual paths in the book trade. Elder relocated his young family to Berkeley, California, the epicenter of the Western Arts & Crafts Movement. He commuted by ferry to San Francisco, where he set the character of his publishing program, favoring California fiction, nonfiction related to nature study, poetry, parody, and plays. His firm, now Paul Elder & Company books, shared a superficial similarity to Roycroft, established by Elbert Hubbard in 1895 as a utopian Arts and Crafts community in East Aurora, New York. After Shepard’s departure, Elder continued to be a vector for the Arts and Crafts Movement in the West.[16]

Elder approached John Henry Nash (1871–1947) at the Twentieth Century Press, who recently had dissolved a partnership with Bruce Brough. Nash later recalled, “I owed the paper companies, the telephone twenty times for unpaid bills. We didn’t know anything about costs, not a thing. This man would come in and say that he had four estimates on a certain book for composition and if we could do it cheaper, the business was ours. We always did. We thought we were doing the other fellow out of good work. Oh, this partner of mine was a wonderful businessman!”[17] Elder & Company absorbed Twentieth Century Press in 1903. Although Nash was not the innovator—his creative style was like Aldus Manutius, with page layouts characterized by mitered rules of vertical and horizontal lines. Indeed, author Edward F. O’Day later labeled Nash the Aldus of San Francisco. Elder and Nash’s pocket-sized compilations sometimes contained elements initiated by Aldus Manutius but were produced on a much smaller budget in the absence of big investors.

Elder offered Nash more creative freedom of expression as chief designer, typographer, and printer than he had experienced with Twentieth Century Press. Nash exercised this free rein to experiment within his budget for books in general, humorous memory books, and occasional greeting cards. When Elder allotted funding for higher quality, Nash rewarded him with modern interpretations of classic book arts. They revealed their aspirational business model in a broadside called “Of the Making of Books” in which they asserted, “Every detail—type, paper, binding, decoration—all in perfect harmony with the subject. Each volume has a personality.”[18]

Wallace Irwin’s Fairy Tales Up-to-Now (1904) modernizes fairy tales to appear right out of mes[a]er headlines. John Henry Nash utilized embossing on the cover to appear like a newspaper front page.

The Tomoyé Press exemplified how aesthetic value in design was more important than its socioeconomic functions. Some of their early children’s books were gems. Playing with the theme of newspaper headlines, Irwin updated popular stories with Fairy Tales Up-to-now (1904), bound in embossed newspaper-like covers. Elder also published The Simple Home (1904), a small architectural treatise by ornithologist and poet Charles A. Keeler (1871–1937), in which he argued that a dwelling should connect inhabitants to nature. Keeler dedicated the volume to Berkeley-based architect Bernard R. Maybeck, stating, “All the arts are modes of expressing the One Ideal; but the ideal must be rooted in the soil of the real, the practical, the utilitarian.”[19]

Charles Keeler’s Simple Home (1904) presented a multicultural treatise for the idealized home of the Western Arts and Crafts Movement.

The 1490 placard above the Aldine Press in Venice, Italy, revealed an intelligent business model for publishing in an empire-building era. It stated, “Talk of nothing but business and dispatch that business quickly.”[20] It revived and promoted the work of earlier poets, including the Three Fountains, in conjunction with contemporary scholars. As a business entity, Elder & Company expressed multiple ideals and tapped untested talent. However, Elder seemed inclined to putter in his Arts and Crafts garden, cultivating a book-loving clientele with book talks and sowing seeds to propagate cultivated book consumers. He relied on Nash to focus on book production so they could offer items at multiple price points. Elder identified himself as a “Western publisher,” as he and Nash aspired to produce books of the commonplace as higher art.

Elder recognized women as a growing consumer base. Women were creators in the California Arts and Crafts Movement, so he commissioned San Francisco-born artists Albertine Randall Wheelan (1863–1954) and Elizabeth Ferrea (1883–1925) to books with cover art, illustrations, and “illuminating” borders. Nash’s biographer Robert D. Harlan commented on this female representation by Paul Elder, “On Elder’s author list, local lady poets and compilers predominated. Their works are not remembered.”[21] Ruth Gordon’s checklist confirmed how, from more than three hundred titles published by Elder & Company, nearly one-half were written by women, showing a significantly proportionate increase from Elder & Shepard’s output.[22] The “ladies” produced prose, humor, reflections, poetry, and designs than the “gentlemen” despite societal constraints as to what they could properly discuss in literature for family consumption.

Dr. Lyman J. Abbott, son of best-selling children’s book author Jacob Abbott and editor of The Outlook, a weekly Christian magazine, observed that “not the largest, but certainly the most artistic and charming book-store I have ever visited, East or West, in America or Europe, is the book-store of Paul Elder.”[23] Elder opened a Southern California satellite bookstore in Santa Barbara, which had a thriving artist colony in 1904.[24]

Child’s Book of Abridged Wisdom (1905) as a 26-pages picture-book was formed in a Japanese fold with an exposed binding showing four cords depicting families in an ideal urban Arts and Crafts world

The Tomoyé Press was not limited to movable type letterpress books. One of Elder’s most endearing publications was an early engraved picture book, formed like an oversized comic strip and produced with a Japanese folded binding, to create a twenty-six-page volume. A Hearst newspaper journalist and designer, Edward “Ned” Salisbury Field (1878–1935), created A Child’s Book of Abridged Wisdom (1905) under the nom de plume Childe HaroldUsing visual and literary puns, it depicted families in an urban Arts and Crafts world bonding with nature, using elements from German landscape architect George Hansen (1863–1908), a proponent of natural landscaping in urban parks and kindergartens.[25]

The Book Business in Earthquake Country

In early 1906, Morgan Shepard, after obtaining his European education, returned to San Francisco to start his own greeting card design firm, located in the Crocker Building, not far from his former partner Elder. The varied merchandising and consistent sales at Elder & Company seemed to support expansion. Elder, finding himself with growing debts to suppliers, refinanced loans to pay royalties, but the Tomoyé Press failed in March.[26]

Paul Elder Jr. was born on March 12, 1906, just five weeks before the San Francisco earthquake and fire on April 18, 1906, destroyed his father’s bookstore and the Tomoyé Press. Elder, traveling by ferry from Berkeley, retrieved jewelry inventory and manuscripts. Elder’s first location in the Mills Building suffered extensive damage after supporting columns buckled and safes from above crashed through hollow terra cotta floors.[27] The eleven-story Shreve Building survived structurally due to fireproof construction on lower floors, but the heat and building expansion caused damage to the Post and Grant facades and upper-floor interiors.[28] 

Morgan Shepard suffered a severe leg injury attempting to retrieve valuables from his office safe. All his publications, plates, manuscripts, and records were destroyed. Shepard recognized the ground-shaking event as a potential opportunity—breaking up the old to prepare for something new. He remembered, “… the big earthquake… finally picked me up and dropped me in my niche. But it took one of nature’s greatest upheavals to point the way… I got knocked around… After I got patched up in the hospital, I managed to patch up my broken finances so that I started in this little publishing undertaking.”[29] While recovering from a leg operation, Shepard started selling poems and stories to children’s magazines, including St. Nicholas, under the pen name “John Martin.” With the income he earned, Shepard secured duplicates of manuscripts representing the literary past to reestablish his business in New York City.

For a businessman as conservative, Paul Elder offered no signs of risk aversion in responding to the disaster. He initiated plans with Maybeck to construct a temporary bookstore in an English-style cottage on the southwest corner of Van Ness and Bush.[30] Elder hired Ray B. Howell as secretary and John G. Howell as a manager for San Francisco operations. Elder and Nash relocated publishing operations to the center of the American publishing industry in New York City.

Elder & Company’s last book produced in California before their move was San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire (August 1906) by Charles Keeler. Although not the first book on the earthquake and fire published, it was the first one based on eyewitness accounts. With telephone systems down and supplies destroyed, producing the book was no small feat. The thin volume had no colophon, but its fold-out frontispiece photograph depicted the sweep of the fire from Twin Peaks. Keeler’s narrative and photographs chronicled the destruction of the landmarks of Paul Elder’s San Francisco of the past, including the Palace Hotel, Call Building, Mills Building, and City Hall. It offered a stark metaphor for human, cultural, and economic loss. The June 9, 1906, Argonaut reported that Elder & Company undertook this book to illustrate how the region could still produce and support the book arts.

Two “Western” Presses in New York

Newspapers reported Elder’s plans to transplant his publishing enterprise to New York using the publisher imprint from “San Francisco and New York.” Akin to the notion of moving the Aldine Press from Venice to Rome, Elder’s challenge in relocating a regional grassroots San Francisco press to New York lay in whether Western cultural values could take root in a denser publishing environment. Not far from the emerging bohemian neighborhood of Greenwich Village. Elder and Nash set up the Tomoyé Press and a bookstore at 43–45 East 19th Street in Manhattan in August 1906. Coinciding with this move, Morgan Shepard relocated to New York’s Parker Building at 225 Fourth Avenue, offering books, brochures, cards, and leaflets.

“Leaflets, Dodgers, Broadside, Calendars and Greetings from the Catalogue of a Western Publishers” includes products offered at Paul Elder & Company’s New York bookstore located at 43–45 East Nineteenth Street, not far from Morgan Shepard’s establishment.

Perhaps Elder’s “companion” planting his Western Arts and Crafts aesthetic too close to his former partner and Roycrofters did not have the anticipated effect of enhancing production. He likely thought the Tomoyé Press could get a competitive edge in New York City. He took on Emily Foster Day’s The Princess of Manoa and Other Romantic Tales from the Folk-lore of Old Hawaii (1906), illustrated by Hawaiian-born painter David Howard Hitchcock; it hauntingly demonstrated the emotions of missing loved ones at a distance. Aspiring to build a new plant for printing books, Elder and Nash left their primary clientele behind in the San Francisco Bay Area. Book production in New York was delayed because of high costs.[31] Nash remembered, “We decided we were being robbed in New York City and we put in our own plant.”[32]  

Meanwhile, the Morgan Shepard Company also called itself a Western publisher. Shepard also looked to the past when he procured Chauncey L. Canfield’s The Diary of a Forty-Niner and published it in October 1906.[33] Although still recovering from his leg surgery, Shepard demonstrated resiliency and shifted direction. On January 25, 1907, he published a biography of Henrik Ibsen shortly after the playwright’s death, revealing his new home base as solely a New York-based enterprise.[34]

Relocating was risky for both men, however; Elder was overextended in supporting three bookstores in New York, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco. In addition, production delays in printing, especially for their gift books, meant they lost the 1906 Christmas market. Elder wrote to John G. Howell on October 21, 1906: “I get desperate at times—as you can imagine—when I think that we are still setting up type on most of our important books with hardly anything coming in a completed form…”[35]

Elder believed he was on a sound financial footing by December 1906. He authorized John Howell and John Keane to deposit $2,500 and sign a lease on a new brick and stone building to be constructed on Post Street in San Francisco for a permanent future bookstore, and take out a loan for an additional $6,000 (today worth $262,506) for a ten-year lease. Elder reported in his annual financial statement on December 31, 1906, that the company remained sound, with $85,000 in assets over liabilities, but no cash. The company amassed debts in New York of almost $74,000 (today worth $2.6 million). Elder could not anticipate an East Coast banking and financial crisis. The Panic of 1907, resulting from excessive market speculation in April 1907, caused interest rates to spike, ensnaring Elder in its net.

Elder & Company produced a collection of short stories by California authors to benefit poet Ina Coolbrith, elected president of the in 1911 and later appointed first California Poet Laureate, who had lost everything in the earthquake and fire. Gertrude Atherton spearheaded The Spinners’ Book of Fiction (October 1907). The name “Spinners’” was a modern interpretation of “distaff” referring to professional female weavers used by a self-styled group of women who were professional writers weaving modern tales. College-educated Atherton called Elder an “amateur publisher,” expecting him to pay contributors a royalty when he was already struggling financially.[36] The effort appeared to benefit Coolbrith, but Atherton was more concerned about publicity to benefit the Spinners’ Club and established a bond fund for Coolbrith. Book sales did not contribute to the fund: 20 cents from each copy went to the contributors, but of that, Coolbrith received only 1 cent. Coolbrith’s check from the Fund was $15.80 (worth $523 in 2023) and hardly enough to help. Moreover, being labeled a public beneficiary undermined Coolbrith’s reputation and ability to find work.[37]

Despite problems with the Spinners, Elder and Nash crafted a collection of short stories from California writers, including Atherton, Mary Austen, Geraldine Bonner, Mary Hallock Foote, Jack London, Miriam Michelson, and Eleanor Gates. The latter submitted a Chinese-empathetic story called “A Yellow Man and a White,” reflecting changing perceptions of the Chinese in California. It told the story of an educated Chinese medical practitioner ministering to Chinese laborers in a California mining town. He is called to care for a White woman and her (perhaps opium) addicted husband, who cannot transcend their deep-seated bigotry.

Elder finally looked to the past for great California writers, using late-nineteenth-century extant manuscripts. Elder and Nash used the best available material, including Fabriano paper, ink, typography, and binding, selecting “Western” stories and illustrators. Nash produced “fine printing” with their Western Classics series, using short stories by Bret Harte, W. H. Rhodes, Ambrose Bierce, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Nash typeset with Caslon 471, Bookman, Scotch Roman, and Cheltenham Wide, respectively. Geraldine Bonner, in her introduction to a second volume, The Case of Summerfield (1907), by Rhodes, described how this uniquely Western mystery (like an episode of the television series The Wild, Wild West), first published in newspapers during the early 1870s, was “saved from oblivion.”[38] Stevenson’s atmospheric essay “The Sea Fogs” described the substantive fogs as if they were smoke from the earthquake and fire, clearing a view of a new era. Despite all their hard work, however, Shepard proved to have more foresight when he reinvented himself as John Martin and established the John Martin Company in 1909 to produce children’s literature to foster mental and moral well-being.

Time to Return Home

Elder failed to prune his expanding enterprise, and his publishing venture never recovered from the economic impacts of the earthquake and fire, the Panic of 1907, and several subsequent economic recessions. His contemporary Western authors fled to Eastern publishers with more expansive marketing networks or sank into obscurity. Ultimately, Elder’s “Western” aesthetic did not transplant to the East Coast. Elder and Nash closed the New York bookstore and returned to San Francisco in 1909. Elder replaced the temporary Van Ness location with his second “Arts and Crafts Bookshop,” located at 239 Grant Avenue at Tillman Place.

On the third anniversary of the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Call reported Elder & Company was putting the final touches on the building before inhabiting it, with interiors designed by Maybeck.[39] Elder impressed a sense of coolness and security in the bookstore of a bygone era. Elder & Company occupied four of the building’s eight floors; the interiors were constructed as if to set a stage, with Gothic arches intercrossed above. The Chronicle described the bookshop as “Books in a Gothic scriptorium, books in a sort of place where books were born, and thought and learning felt at home, are what the new San Francisco will have to offer in Paul Elder’s store… Its atmosphere is as little suggestive of merchandizing, even of book merchandising, as anything today could be.”[40]

The Tomoyé Press, no longer a complete press, occupied the third floor along with Nash’s composite and design space. Printing again was outsourced to Stanley-Taylor Company in San Francisco. Elder pruned his business back to its original concept of an “Arts and Crafts Bookshop”, so it grew as the literary place to be on the West Coast. According to Publishers’ Weekly, “Books were the dominant interest in the Post Street Shop, pictures and pieces of pottery and metal being displayed as adornment, and to give an uncommercial atmosphere.”

Elder and Nash enjoyed symbiotic (yin-yang) synergy in line with Tomoyé’s three-comma logo: Elder needed Nash, the typographer, and Nash needed Elder, the impresario publisher-bookseller. However, when they returned operations to San Francisco, the pair increasingly clashed over budgets. Although Elder spent generously on his bookstores, he put Nash on salary and tightened the budget for the Tomoyé Press. After a rancorous falling out, the Elder and Nash partnership ended in 1911 when Nash left the Tomoyé Press.

A Tale from the Rainbow Land (December 1914) by Katherine M. Yates was published before the Panama Pacific International Exhibition. Swart’s typography for the Tomoyé Press utilizes black ink with a teale hue to signify inspirational principles.

John Bernhart Swart (1886–1919) worked at the Tomoyé Press between 1911 and 1916. The Tomoyé logo and colophon appeared less often. Nellie Blessing-Eyster remained a presence, however. Missionary literature needed to justify the need to support missionary objectives where there was growing resistance to maintain financial support. Swart designed A Tale for the Rainbow Land (1914), an elegant volume by Hawaiian-based writer Katherine M. Yates and illustrated by Audley B. Wells. Before 1910, Yates was established as an allegorical Christian Science storyteller endorsed by Mary Baker Eddy. Her stories were not age-specific. Yates presented a ‘missionary” counter-culture logic omitting the notion of “heathen.” Yates owned and operated a small regional press in Chicago, known as a hub for Sunday school publishing, however, the K. M. Yates Press, unlike Elder & Company, produced books with a minimalist aesthetic that focused texts with clean logic and little ornamental embellishment. Typesetting was outsourced to local Chicago printers. Yates relocated to Hawaii after 1910, making Elder & Company a good firm to publish her story set in Hawaii while she established new distribution networks on the East Coast.

Yates was transparent in how and why she appropriated mythical Hawaiian dwarfs in storytelling when she stated in her foreword, how used, “in this little tale merely as a fanciful vehicle to carry the words of the Loving People; and the local color, merely as a setting for a world-wise phase of human life.” Swart used Munsell blue to highlight important concepts in the allegory. He later oversaw the production of a treatise on pragmatic multicultural changes in women’s attire and undergarments based on the natural needs of the human body, not different from Keeler’s treatise on the simple home.[41]

Seven Maids of Far Cathay, Being English Notes from a Chinese Class Book (August 1916) was dedicated to Nellie Blessing-Eyster and Paul Elder. The design and thematic character of the book was one of the last books published by Elder and Company for missionary readers.

The Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) offered an impetus for Bay Area artisans to demonstrate how San Francisco was resilient and had reinvented itself. Herman A. Funke (1877–1959) joined Elder’s team for the PPIE build-up to direct printing. Elder compiled-authored ambitious California-centered anthologies that were sold in his booth in the Liberal Arts Building. Funke designed Seven Maids of Far Cathay, Being English Notes from a Chinese Class Book (1916), compiled by Bing Ding (Mary F. Ledyard) and illustrated by Ai Lang. Dedicated to Nellie Blessing-Eyster, the volume consisted of seven essays written by fictional female students at a Chinese missionary college.[42] Each student was assigned an aspirational essay topic to read aloud in class, revealing various levels of English language proficiency. This book was one of the last to include a stylistic colophon tying together the design and thematic character of the book, identifying its publisher, authorship, and printer.

As World War I started, Paul Elder offered creditors half of all the money owed them in exchange for a two-year extension on his remaining debts. Meanwhile, the health and finances of Elder’s mentor, William Doxey declined in 1915. Elder directed a campaign for San Francisco booksellers and former clients to contribute to a relief fund for him.

Inflation and paper shortages during World War I had taken a toll on the book production business. Elder remaindered Tomoyé Press books for cash and retired from active publishing in 1917. Mexican-born Ricardo Juan Orozco (1872–1956) was the final printer at the Tomoyé Press between 1917 and 1918 who closed out the enterprise.[43]

Even in its waning days, reviewers praised Elder & Company as a relic of bygone bohemianism, “There is an art peculiarly Californian in many of the books designed by this firm… books of beautiful type design, artistic balance and dignified beauty that might well have been the handiwork of some of the type designers of the Old World whom printers of today recognize as masters of the craft.” The Tomoyé Press’s legacy during its heyday established a standard, attracting other fine printers to San Francisco, including Edwin & Robert Grabhorn, Alfred & Lawton Kennedy, and Nash.

The severity of the H1N1 influenza A virus pandemic in October 1918 led San Francisco public health officials to order people to wear masks in public. This temporarily impacted the home-like ambiance of the bookstore and its outreach events. While Willard Wright described Elder as an “aesthetic intellectual” the bookselling landscape was changing. Paul Elder survived a tumultuous twenty years in the business when others picked up stakes and searched for easier pickings in more established markets. The 1906 earthquake and fire tested Elder as a book publisher with his short-term enterprise in New York. Elder tried to transplant the Tomoyé Press in New York while he rebuilt his San Francisco Bookshop. However, in the end, Elder chose to prioritize bookselling in the area where his grandmother was now influencing the lives of her great-grandchildren. Elder lived the remainder of his life in earthquake country, devoted to his family-oriented bookshop.

John Martin’s Book

The Roycrofters ebbed after its founder’s death in 1915, but in 1920, that firm printed the nature-loving poetry of World War I veteran Alfred Ritchey, The Jars of Life. During the same period, Morgan Shepard grew his series of subscription letters into John Martin’s Book, and his subscriptions jumped from fifteen thousand in 1919 to thirty thousand in 1923. Without advertising, Shepard estimated that John Martin’s Book reached a half-million children monthly.[44]

Paul Elder’s legacy in printing history was different from that of John Henry Nash and the other typographers with the Tomoyé Press. He fostered marketing mechanisms for selling an array of letterpress printing to the masses.

Paul and Emma enjoyed a long marriage, and their children all graduated from college. For the next three decades, Elder contented himself as bookseller. Paul Elder Jr., whose formative days were punctuated by an earthquake that changed many lives, joined his father at the Elder & Company in 1931. When Elder Sr. retired in 1943, the bookstore remained a fixture in San Francisco bookselling under Paul Jr.’s leadership. The late 1960s heralded a new youth movement born after World War II that blossomed in the 1967 Summer of Love. This youth movement also embraced nature but had different ideals than the earlier youth movement born out of the Civil War. The dynamics of the bookselling business had transformed long before Elder & Company closed its doors in 1968.



[1] For more about Paul Elder, with images of his life and work, visit David Mostardi’s webpage “Paul Elder & Company: San Francisco bookseller and publisher, 1898–1968”

[2] Robert D. Harlan, At the Sign of the Lark: William Doxey’s San Francisco Publishing Venture (San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 1983), 30.

[3] Flodden W. Heron, “The William Doxey Book Shop: another chapter,” The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter 15, no. 4 (Fall 1950): 83.

[4] Robert D. Harlan, John Henry Nash: The Biography of a Career (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1970): 5–6.

[5] Robert O’Brien, “The Doxey Story,” The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter 15, no. 2 (Spring 1950): 30.

[6] [Willard Wright], “Who’s Who in the Local Arts, III, Paul Elder, San Francisco Bulletin (May 12, 1919), found in “Clippings: Paul Elder – Bookseller,” San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

[7] Elder met Emma Moore at a musical event; they lived on the same block of Vallejo Street. Anna Summer, “How to be Happy though Married: Music, Books Provide Harmony in Lives of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Elder; Marriage Is System of ‘Checks and Balances’ Couple Find in 31 Years,” San Francisco News (January 8, 1931), found in “Clippings: Paul Elder – Bookseller,” San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

[8] Attributed to William Wright, “…Elder was the publisher who first issued the kind of printed mottoes which have now deluged the earth.” [Wright], May 12, 1919.

[9] David Mostardi, A Checklist of the Publications of Paul Elder (Olalla, WA: The Arts and Crafts Press, 2004): 9.

[10] Ruth Gordon, “Paul Elder Bookseller-Publisher (1897–1917): A Bay Area reflection,” (Diss. University of California, Berkeley, CA, 1977), 179–181.

[11] Mark Twain was a leading proponent of extending American copyright law. Although Morgan Shepard was related by marriage to a Librarian of Congress, he saw the need for additional copyright protection and often used “entered at Stationer’s Hall, London” as copyright protection. Gelett Burgess, The Romance of the Commonplace (San Francisco: D. P. Elder and Morgan Shepard, 1902): title page verso.

[12] Burgess, 2.

[13] Elder dropped his first name (David) when he incorporated Elder and Company on May 8, 1903.

[14] Nellie Blessing-Eyster, A Chinese Quaker: An Unfictitious Novel (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1902): 10.

[15] A Chinese Quaker offers Chinese history with emphasis on Chinese women in submissive slave-like roles. A missionary named Isabel advises the Quaker protagonist Wilhelmina to shed prejudice about a Chinese boy she is tutoring, Blessing-Eyster, 1902, 33.

[16] Kenneth R. Trapp, ed., “The Arts and Crafts Movement in the San Francisco Bay Area,” The Arts and Crafts Movement in California: Living the Good Life (Oakland: Oakland Museum/New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1993): 134–135.

[17] John Henry Nash, “Co-operation Between Organized Advertising and Publicity Groups for the Development, Expansion, and Prosperity of American Industries and Business,” Photo-Engravers Bulletin 151, no. 1 (August 1925): 154.

[18] Gordon, 107.

[19] Charles Keeler, The Simple Home (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Company, 1904): v.

[20] Thomas Frognall Dibdin. Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of Greek and Latin Classics 1 (London: W. Dwyer, 1804): 436.

[21] Harlan, 16.

[22] Robert D. Harlan, one of three men on Gordon’s dissertation committee, was dismissive of Elder’s influence on San Francisco printing. Gordon, 181–199.

[23] Lyman Abbott, “Impressions of a Careless Traveler,” The Outlook 78 (September 17, 1904): 167.

[24] In late 1906, Elder’s Santa Barbara outlet was relocated to the corner of State Street and Anapamu. In 1909, Elder’s financial pressures compelled him to sell this store because sales outside the Bay Area did not sustain it.

[25] Hansen worked with a spinal cord injury. George Hansen, What Is a Kindergarten? (San Francisco: Elder and Shepard, 1901).

[26] Had no disaster occurred, Elder likely would have been able to pay off the loans. Trapp, 272.

[27] A. L. A. Himmelwright, The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire: A Brief History of the Disaster: A Presentation of Facts and Resulting Phenomena, with Special Reference to the Efficiency of Building Materials, Lessons of the Disaster (New York: Roebling Construction Co., 1906): 70–79. 

[28] Himmelwright, 146–150. 

[29] Jay, Alex, “Creator: John Martin is Morgan van Roorbach Shepard,” Tenth Letter of the Alphabet (blog) (September 17, 2018):

[30] Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory for the Year Ending October 1907 (San Francisco: H. S. Crocker Company): 569.

[31] “To Forander’s “History of the Polynesian Islands,” to Mr. Daggets “Hawaiian Myths” and to various native friends are due the thanks for the incidents of the following tale.Using historiated letters with indigenous-inspired Hawaiian design motifs and tipped-in photoprints of paintings by D. Howard Hitchcock, Nash used a different kind of paper stock and created an elegant book that could be purchased with multiple cover options. Mrs. Frank R. Day, The Princess of Manoa and Other Romantic Tales from the Folk-lore of Old Hawaii (San Francisco and New York: Paul Elder and Company, 1906): iii.

[32] John Henry Nash, “Address before the San Francisco Advertising Club,” transcript (May 7, 1925): 10–11, John Henry Nash Papers, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.

[33] Stylistically, this volume was like Burgess’s The Romance of the Commonplace, copyrighted October 30, 1906, and entered at Stationer’s Hall, London. Chauncey L. Canfield, The Diary of a Forty-niner (San Francisco and New York: Morgan Shepard Company, 1906): title page verso.

[34] Shepard’s first publisher’s mark was his initials “MS” in an iris motif with a shape roughly like the Aldine mark. This volume was also registered at Stationer’s Hall, London. Haldane Macfall, Ibsen: The Man, His Art & His Significance (New York and San Francisco: Morgan Shepard Company, 1907).

[35] Gordon, 119.

[36] Gordon, 131.

[37] “A Letter from Ina Coolbrith containing a final statement from the Poet concerning her relations as a beneficiary with those who were instrumental in assisting her at a time of need,” Town Talk (San Francisco) 7, no. 848 (November 28, 1908): 8.

[38] The second volume in the Western series includes a photogravure typical of Elder’s books, in this volume, the illustration is an image of alchemy in oil by Galen Joseph Perrett (1875–1949). William Henry Rhodes, The Case of Summerfield: with introduction by Geraldine Bonner (San Francisco and New York: Elder and Company, 1907).

[39] “Home again After Three Years,” San Francisco Call, Part I, Magazine Section (April 18, 1909).

[40] “Paul Elder’s New Book Shop,” Publishers’ Weekly, no. 1959 (August 14, 1909): 388.

[41] Eva Olney Fartnsworth; with illustrations by Audley B. Wells, The Art & Ethics of Dress as Related to Efficiency and Economy (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Company, 1915).

[42] “The custom of Americanism having been related to me—‘That one book shall take unto self one dedication’ —I have honor to make speeches of presentation unto N-B-E, a Grandmother Genius of Geniuses,” refers in stylistic language to Eyster and grandson Elder. Compiled by a White author sympathetic to missionaries, some stories utilize derogatory American terms referring to unskilled laborers from China and other Asian countries. Bing Ding, Seven Maids of Far Cathay, Being English Notes from a Chinese Class Boo (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Company, 1916): [iii].

[43] Ricardo Juan Orozco’s work received promising reviews with Elder & Company and went on to establish his own press. “Specimens of the Bookmaker’s Art,” Pacific Printer and Publisher 13, no. 1 (July 1917): 95. Online:

[44] Morgan Shepard, “The Substance of Dreams: A Bit of Intimate History and Romance of How John Martin’s Book Came to Be,” The John Martin’s Book: A Magazine for Little Children 28 (July–December 1923).

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