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Harry B. Matthews: Book Designer, Illustrator, Decorator of the Rubaiyat

February 8, 2022

Joseph Howard has been investigating the work of a Rubaiyat artist previously only known by his initials HBM. In what follows, Joe identifies the name behind these initials and also provides much information on the artist’s work on the Rubaiyat and that of the publisher with whom he worked. Our thanks to Joe for sharing his research with us all. If any readers can fill in the remaining gaps in this story, particularly relating to the life of HBM about which little is still known, please comment below.

A previously unidentified decorator

In his informative book about early decorated editions of the Rubaiyat1, Danton O’Day includes the work of an artist identified only by his distinctively conjoined initials, “HBM”. These initials occur on every decorated page of a Rubaiyat published by H. M. Caldwell & Co. (New York and Boston) and marked “Copyright 1900”. Except for its size (5½x6¾ in.), this book matches the limited description of item 244 in Potter’s bibliography: Potter describes a book “9×6½ in.” with “…text in olive green dec. borders of var. designs”. However, he makes no reference to the initials HBM, nor does he comment on the binding or the endpapers. The image shown in Fig.1 is from my copy (identical to Danton’s). There are eight different decorative designs presented as mirror-image pairs on facing pages. These eight designs repeat, in sets, throughout the book, which has flexible green leather covers and endpapers containing a picture of classical ruins.

The initials “HBM” are those of Harry B. Matthews, an arts-and-crafts book designer, illustrator and author, whose work was regularly published between ca. 1900 and 1915. Evidence for this attribution is:

  • In several, non-Rubaiyat, books2 Matthews is specifically named as the illustrator/designer and his characteristic initials are included with his illustrations/designs.
  • In some books3 he extends his initials to include his full family name (Fig.2 centre and right)
  • Reference works on artist/author monograms4 assign the distinctive HBM monogram to him.

Matthews designed the front boards of many hardback books, usually with his initials impressed into their surfaces (Fig.2 left and centre). He also illustrated the works3 of other authors (Fig.2 right) or decorated their text pages with borders/frames5. In addition, he was both author and illustrator/decorator of several books. For example, in 1907, at a time when young women were attending college in increasing numbers and scrapbooks/memory books were popular, Matthews designed and illustrated6 “Alma Mater Days”. This beautifully designed and bound “memory book” includes thoughtfully designed pictorial section-headings intended to guide students with the organization of their memories.  Matthews also wrote, designed and illustrated7, a large (10×12 in.) and brightly coloured children’s book titled “Happy Day Fair” Notably, the Rubaiyat is not listed as one of his publications in any of the online sources I searched.

H. M. Caldwell & Co., Publishers

H.M. Caldwell & Co. (Caldwell) operated between 1896 and 1914.  The Company published many series of books with each individual series having some uniformity in format and style. Some of these have obvious themes (The Belgravia Series of Art Monographs, The Great Galleries Series etc.) while others are less obvious (Overton Series, Sesame Series etc.). Books were commonly featured in more than one series and many series lasted just 2-3 years. The series name is often not printed in the matching publications, though I have seen them printed on the accompanying boxes: now frequently missing.  Within a series, the physical appearance (dimensions, binding) could vary over time. These practices, when combined with the inclusion of printed copyright dates, rather than publishing dates, in the texts, create problems in determining exact publication histories. Searches of advertisements and annual catalogs can facilitate the assignment of books to their relevant series and provide insights into publication dates.

An advertisement by Caldwell in The Publishers Weekly8 is headed “Preliminary Fall Announcement 1909” and contains the entry “ALEXANDRIAN SERIES Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam etc. Ten titles. Cloth $1.00: limp leather $1.50”.

A later (also 1909) advertisement9 in the same publication provides much more detail:

 “THE ALEXANDRAN SERIES: A choice and selected list of classic poetry and prose. Printed on antique wove paper, deckle edge with original border designs and illuminated title-pages by Matthews, photogravure frontispieces. End-pieces by BARON von PALM.

  Bound in dark green T cloth. Cover design and titles in gold, gilt tops. Size 5½ X 6¾ inches. In a box matching binding. Price each $1.00. Deep green paste grain leather, cover design in gold, git top, boxed. Price $1.50.”

This advertisement also includes a photograph (B&W) of a sample cover of this Alexandrian Series. The description and photograph (except for the specific title) match, in all respects, the book shown in Fig.1. The advertisements confirm the assignment of the borders to Matthews but adds the information that he designed the unsigned frame on the title page (see Fig.4 below). It also provides the name of the artist whose work is used for the endpapers. The photogravure frontispiece is found in our copies and is the well-known image by “AD Marcel”. The book shown in Fig.1 is clearly from the Alexandrian Series.

A 1910 advertisement repeats the details of the binding options for the Alexandrian Series but adds the words “Fraternity Edition $1.50.” The corresponding advertisement for 1911 mentions only the “Fraternity Edition of the Alexandrian Series.” It is therefore likely that the copies described above (copyright 1900) were published in 1909 and possibly 1910.

A second set of decorations by Matthews

I own two additional Rubaiyats, each also marked “Copyright 1900” and published by H. M. Caldwell (New York and Boston) which are larger (8½x6 in.) than the copies described above. However, their contents and pagination are also identical to that described in Potter 244. Of particular interest is that they contain an entirely different set of decorations by Matthews (Fig.3). These decorations (yellowish in one copy and brownish in the other), form frames for the text. Once again there are eight different designs cycling through the books. Here, the positioning of the initials HBM is inconsistent: they can be found at varied locations inside and outside the frames and are omitted from some pages.  

In these two hardback books Matthews’s decorations are extended to the title pages (Fig.4b), whereas in the Alexandrian Series copy, Matthews provided a simpler design (Fig.4a). These decorations by Matthews add considerably to the charm of these editions, however, the inclusion of a complete frame on text-free pages creates the unfortunate impression that something is missing (Fig.4c). This is not the case with the simpler decorations.

These two books have very distinctive covers (Fig.5) and identical endpapers dappled in purple and white. The copy with the purple/flowery cover exhibits the usual shimmering (moiré) effects associated with the rounded triangular prism-like structure of silk threads. The second copy has gilded blue boards with a cameo at the centre. This cameo is mounted on rectangular, cream-coloured, card that is embossed in a repeated herringbone pattern with added gilded and “jeweled” ellipses.

These copies can be assigned to the appropriate Caldwell Series and to their likely publication dates by building on the results of extensive work completed10 in support of “The Lucile Project”. This project aims to detail the complete publication history, estimated at 2000+ volumes, of the book “Lucile” authored by Owen Meredith (who gave his one and only public speech at a dinner of the Omar Khayyam Club of London in 1895). In support of the Lucile project, extensive work has been done on many Caldwell series. Using this information, we can assign both books to the “Ariston-Dilettante Series” with publication dates in the range 1908-1911.

Concluding remarks

Matthews decorated many other books for Caldwell, including some entire series.

While researching this work, I’ve seen further evidence that Potter’s listings (243 and 244) of Caldwell editions of the Rubaiyat are incomplete. For example, some pre-1900 editions are not mentioned. If someone has already done the work to generate a more comprehensive analysis of the Caldwell editions, I would very much welcome it being shared. If not, I will complete the research I’ve started and share it via this blog. Please comment below.

Lately I came across a blog curated by Sarah Sunday11 which is a useful source of images of some Rubaiyat editions from Caldwell and other publishers. Additional photographs (cover, endpapers, frontispiece etc.) of the Alexandrian series Rubaiyat are provided there.

I express my sincere thanks to Roger Paas and Danton O’Day for fruitful discussions and assistance with the assignment of individual volumes to specific Series.


  1. The Golden Age of Rubaiyat Art 1884-1913 III, The Decorators, Danton H. O’Day, Blurb New Edition, 2021
  2. Cupid’s Middleman, Edward B. Lent, Cupples & Leon, New York, 1906 
  3. The Love That Prevailed, Frank F. Moore, illustrated by Harry B. Matthews, New York Empire Book Company Pub., 1907;
  5. The Players of London, Louise Beecher Chancellor, B.W. Dodge & Co., New York, 1909. His work with frames/borders
  6. Alma Mater Days, H. B. Matthews, G.W Dillingham Co., New York, 1907
  7. Happy Day Fair, H. B. Matthews, McLoughlin Bros. Pubs., New York, 1908
  8. The Publishers’ Weekly,Aug. 28, 1909, p.452
  9. The Publishers’ Weekly, Sept. 25, 1909, p.880
  10.; and the section with list of series dates

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2022 4:40 pm

    Great detective work and excellent story, thanks, Danton O’Day

  2. Joe Howard permalink
    February 10, 2022 3:54 pm

    I neglected to mention that all three books I describe in my article use Fitzgerald’s fourth edition of the Rubaiyat. Thanks to S&B for pointing this out.

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