These pages document a personal collection of around 2500 books with dust jackets in over 300 different publisher’s book series published from the 1890s through the 1980s. I bought these books to read (at least some of them), but also because they were affordable in used bookstores and online (typically cheaper than new paperbacks or e-books). The books were also appealing as they alluded to a largely undocumented history of personal, home library books for readers of modest means.
These pages provide basic documentation for the many publisher’s series that don’t have much documentation anywhere else. Excellent resources exist for the Modern Library and Everyman’s Library, but there is nothing even close for other series. This effort is in part driven by growing scholarly interest in publisher’s reprint book series, and a growing interest in 19th and 20th century dust jackets. I hope the information and images assembled here provide some background and empirical data about the books, their jackets, range of titles in the series, book and jacket changes over time, and publishers.
This work including all pages and their text and images, other than those freely available elsewhere, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
In the last few decades there has been growth in scholarly interest in publisher’s reprint book series. The two volumes of The Culture of the Publisher’s Series, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2011), edited by John Spiers, highlight this growing area of research. Publisher’s reprint series are of interest in terms of their relationship to the shaping of the public’s literary taste, in particular with “common” readers who could afford to buy cheap series books and assemble a home library. Publisher’s series also speak to the development of the book trade, the marketing of books, the role of copyright, the shaping of “the canon,” and the social and human context within which these books are embedded. Lise Jaillant examines the impact of book series on the development of literary modernism in the 20th century. Cheap Modernism: Expanding Markets, Publishers’ Series and the Avant-Garde (Edinburgh University Press, 2017) uses series such as the Oxford World Classics, the New Adelphi Library, and the Phoenix Library as a way to argue that cheap, modernist literature – via inexpensive publishers’ series – was an important component of the emergence of literary modernism in the 20th century.
Dust jackets too have received increasing attention. Long ignored by most bibliographers and literary researchers, jackets were also likely to be thrown away (immediately after purchase, or when they became tattered) much like the packaging for just about any product. Scholarly efforts have attempted to address the importance of book jackets, examining their graphic and artistic character, the role they play in marketing books, and the information found only on jackets about books and authors and publishers. A good example of the latter is the fact that some of the series books on these pages include the series name on the jackets only (there is no indication in the book itself that it is part of a series). It is relatively easy to find reprint series books, but much more difficult to find them with jackets. Jackets were not uncommon in the 1860s and probably used on most books by the 1870s including publisher’s series books. It is safe to say that many series books published after the 1870s had jackets, although very few have survived. In addition, few of those jackets were preserved on the books they were issued with by libraries, so it is nearly impossible to find accessible systematic collections of publisher’s reprint series and their jackets.
I typically do not include books here that do not have a dust jacket (in other words, they are not complete). I do include books that came wrapped in tissue or in a box or sleeve. Most series books from the 1870s onward had jackets, so they are an important part of the book. There were certain kinds of series books that seemed to be issued without jackets, in particular book series that were sold in quantities to schools (literature in particular). These can usually be distinguished by the significant amount of information (including series name, serial number, and other details) on the book itself: information that would have been on a jacket had it been issued. Since it is difficult to confirm that a book was issued without a jacket, I have not included jacketless series on this site.
G. Thomas Tanselle’s Book-Jackets: Their History, Forms and Use (2011) is an excellent review of the history of the dust jacket and their literary, artistic, and intellectual importance. He also includes a census of known 19th century dust jackets.
The entries here are not up to strict bibliographic standards nor are they complete for every series, but they are a start on a under-appreciated area of book history. There are many more series not documented here. This site documents actual books with jackets I own: as I find copies of books from additional series the books and series will be added to the site. Not included here are paperback series, non-English language series, or single-author collections (sets). I also tend to avoid juvenile series (unless they are reprints of classics, aimed at a young-adult audience), scholarly monograph series (unless they are aimed at a general readership), and technical series for the most part.
I appreciate hearing about errors or omissions and will happily adjust the content on these pages. Given the lack of information on most of these publisher’s book series, I’ve had to scrape together information from scattered sources and make educated guesses about the time spans of series, titles included in series, and publisher information.
In reviewing the collection and assembling these pages many questions have popped into my head (in no particular order):
Dust jacket spine design – typically the only thing the consumer would see; movement of plates, titles and series between different publishers, jacket design in relation to different series (subtle and not so subtle); series mimicking other series (titles, design, etc.); link between series and other popular media (movies, as in the case of the Readers Library), where prices are printed (if they are) on the jackets; variations in book size; series with series names printed in or on books vs series without names in or on books (only on jackets); variations in prices from series to series; changes in prices in same series (drop in prices during 1930s); downgrading series after the 1920s (cheaper materials); changes in size of books in a series; variations in a series (different bindings, price points, etc. such as Handy Pocket Classics); advertisements for other series, books or even non-books on jackets (Collins Classics, Wayfarer’s Library) or in books (or on the books, Hurst & Blackett’s 7d Novels); why did so many new series published right after WW2 fail within a few years (in the early/mid 1950s)?
The kind of hardcover reprint publisher’s series contained in this site were prefaced by much cheaper, soft bound reprint libraries often called “dime novels” popular through the latter half of the 19th century.
An example of a cheap reprint series from the 19th century, The Leisure Hour Library, published by Lupton from about 1884 to 1904. This series was printed on poor quality paper, sold for a nickel, or $2.60 for a year’s subscription of 52 titles. These super cheap series dominated in the U.S. after the Civil War, taking advantage of the lack of international copyright (and minimally enforced national copyright laws), cheap mailing costs, and a newly emerging demand for reading materials (literacy was driven up during the Civil War).
As international copyright took hold in the last decade or two of the 19th century and copyright became more of an issue, these cheap reprints faded. At the same time, the demand for higher quality (if still relatively inexpensive) hardcover books grew: people wanted books they could keep and re-read. The glut of these cheap, paperbound titles in the late 19th century actually played a role in the origin of one of the 20th century’s biggest reprint publishers, Grosset & Dunlap. The duo started their business, in 1898, by purchasing very cheap, paper bound remaindered copies of Hall Caine’s The Christian from a bookstore and adding hard cover bindings. The demand for the hardbound copies was significant, revealing the public interest in hardcover (vs paperbound) titles, and launching Grosset and Dunlap’s business.
General information on titles in series, dates, book values, book dimensions, and additional resources are below.
Titles in Series
I include scans of lists from jackets or from lists in books when available; catalogs change over time as more titles are added to or removed from the series. Slow selling titles are often left to go out of print. Series such as Everyman’s Library and the Modern Library routinely replaced titles and reused series numbers. The highest numbered regular series Modern Library book is 396, but there are around 500 regular, unique titles. Finding the ultimate, final list of titles requires research into all existing catalogs and lists of titles (from inside books as well as jackets), as well as bibliographic research on sites such as WorldCat. Scans here are a start for anyone interested in compiling titles in a particular series. Dust jackets are often vital for this kind of project.
If the books themselves do not indicate the series name (eg., the series name is on the jacket only, which most libraries discard) it means the series name won’t be included in library records such as those at WorldCat. Even when the series are named in the book, library catalogers don’t always include the book series in the bibliographic entry. Finally, some publisher’s reprint series are absent from library catalogs. If the books were out of copyright, there was no particular reason to send a copy to the Library or Congress or British Library. In addition, libraries may not acquire reprints when they already have the original books in their collections.
I have compiled lists of titles for some of the series in these pages, but it is a tedious project. I am happy to add lists (or correct or expand the ones I have) if anyone wants to send them along to me.
Series & Book Dates
Determining the start and end years of a reprint series can be complicated. If a publisher followed typical procedure, they would include a printing date in the book. Often, with a reprint series, the original date the book was published and the reprint (or reprint dates) in the series are indicated. In this case, WorldCat is a good indication of the span of years of a particular series. Another good source for the start date of a particular series, especially if dates are not included in the books, is a search of periodicals (on sites like Google Books or HathiTrust) for publisher announcements or advertisements.
The end year of a series is more complicated. In many instances a few more popular books from a series were reprinted long after the series was no longer active. It is rare to find a publisher’s announcement that they have ended a series. On this site, I have tried to estimate when a series ended by taking into account the last title published and a significant drop in reprints from the series. The end dates are educated guesses in many instances.
In dating a particular series book, only the minority of series include the actual date of the series reprint. Dates are often not included in reprint series books; the lack of a date does not mean the book is a first edition. Indeed, there are few true first editions in these reprint series as most are reprints. At best, you have the first reprint edition, which is sometimes noted in the book.
If included, the date may be a copyright date for title itself or the plates (which is often much earlier than the book was printed).
Dates are in a few cases indicated on the jackets (dated catalogs) or catalogs in the back of the books.
In general reprint series books are not worth much, especially without a jacket. Even with a jacket and in good condition, the book may be rare, and in some cases very rare, but that does not equate to value. Sellers often ask a significant price for these books. Most of the books documented here were purchased for $10 or less. On eBay I am often the only bidder on books from reprint series – even for very scarce old copies with dust jackets. Nobody collects 99% of these book series. When I pay $5 for an old series book in a nice jacket in an eBay auction, then find several similar copies on used book sites for $50 or $100, I suspect something is askew. There are exceptions where reprint series books are worth something:
Collected Series: for example, the Modern Library and Everyman’s Library. More valuable copies include jacketed, older copies and rarities. Few other series seem to have organized collectors and information sources.
Collectible Authors: For example, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hemmingway, Doyle, the Tarzan series, etc. In these cases, condition and a good dust jacket are usually required.
Collectible Titles: For example, Dracula, especially if the dust jacket is illustrated. William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, because of its connection to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Collectible Book/Jacket Design:
New Classics Series: Alvin Lustig’s mid-century modern jacket designs; only copies with Lustig jackets in good condition.
British Readers Library books with jackets, especially movie tie-in titles.
Blackie’s Red Letter Library, Red Letter Poets, etc. with Glasgowian arts and crafts designs
Salvador Dali illustrations: Dali illustrated many books in the 1950s and copies of reprint series (such as the Illustrated Modern Library) with his illustrations can be valuable.
Reprint series were often offered in a smaller, “pocket” size (with lower material cost) and advertised as “handy” or “portable” or “compact.” I readily admit to a bias in favor of these smaller format books (over the relatively fewer 20th century reprint series in more typical octavo sized series).
Book sizes are determined by the number of book pages printed on a sheet of paper. The size of the original paper varies, thus the actual size of the final book will vary (see below).
A duodecimo (12mo) book is printed as below, showing both sides of the printed paper for the book:
Traditional book sizes (and their rough equivalent in inches) include:
Folio: more than 13 inches tall
Quarto (4to): approx. 10 to 13 inches tall, average 12 inches
Octavo (8vo): approx. 8 to 10 inches tall, average 9 inches
Duodecimo (12mo): approx. 7 to 8 inches tall, average 7.5 inches
Sextodecimo (16mo): approx. 6 to 7 inches tall, average 6.5 inches
Because of varying paper size, each of these five book size categories have named sub-sizes.
AbeBooks.com: Of all the online used book sites, AbeBooks has the best quality control of entries and ease of searching. Useful for finding start and end dates of series (in tandem with WorldCat), seeing images of series books (if an image is included of the book). Also useful for buying books. Limitations include the large number of books without images, dealers who do not indicate series names in the entries, and the listing of books without jackets under the “dust jacket included” category (often with the false statement “issued without jacket”).
Henry Altemus Company: Contains extensive information about the late 19th and early 20th century publisher of book series. Also includes information on other contemporary series publishers.
Chronicling America: Hundreds of historical U.S. newspapers from 1836-1922 scanned and searchable. Good source for book reviews, advertisements, etc.
Dictionary of Literary Biography: available to academic institutions online, this resource has extensive author, book, and publisher history information.
The Directory of American Book Publishing, from Founding Fathers to Today’s Conglomerates. George Thomas Kurian. New York : Simon and Schuster, 1975. A useful, succinct supplement to the massive four volume A History of Book Publishing in the United States by Tebbel (see below). Kurian’s book includes entries for hundreds of publishers with brief historical facts about each. Out of print, but gently-used inexpensive ex-library copies can be found on internet book sites.
eBay: Inconsistent, with a range of people selling books from expert dealers to random people clearing junk out of their house, eBay’s international reach and huge number of sellers does make it a decent site for finding obscure series books as well as getting start and end dates of series. Benefits include photos for almost every auction and (often) cheap prices for old series books.
Elephind: Searches thousands of freely available full text historical newspaper archives (including Chronicling America). For some reason, an emphasis on Australian content.
Google Books: for old publisher advertisements, series lists, dates. Limited by lack of access to full text versions of many of the books Google has scanned. There are more full view scans from about 1910 and earlier. Search for a series name then sort the entries by date to trace a series from start to end.
HathiTrust: “a partnership of academic and research institutions, offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world.” Access to older magazines, journals and publications which have some contemporary reprint series information.
A History of Book Publishing in the United States. John William Tebbel. New York: Bowker, 1972-1981.
Volume 1. The Creation of an Industry, 1630-1865
Volume 2. The Expansion of an Industry, 1865-1919
Volume 3. The Golden Age Between Two Wars, 1920-1940
Volume 4. The Great Change, 1940-1980
By far the most comprehensive history of American publishing. Tebbel took on a complicated and nearly impossible-to-organize task: documenting the myriad of companies and issues that comprise the history of publishing in the U.S. To do this Tebbel worked his way through the entire run of Publishers Weekly (see below), among other materials. Thus his massive four-volume history manages to include a wide range of details including reprint book series. The volumes are out of print, but many gently used ex-library copies are available online for a pittance if you search a bit.
Internet Archive: “A collection of items created by a non-profit organization dedicated to permanently preserving historically significant collections in digital form. Though it includes internet sites, images, audio recordings, and music archives it is widely known for its digitized book collections which cover everything from fiction to historical and academic texts. Both in-copyright and public domain materials can be found here.” Access to older magazines, journals and publications which have some contemporary reprint series information.
Edward T. LeBlanc Memorial Dime Novel Bibliography: An extensive list with details including hundreds of paper-bound dime novel series published in the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century. Includes an overview of the history and characteristics of the dime novel: Paper for the People.
The Literary Year-Book (Google Books). A 999 page compendium of all things book and literary related. Google Books has a full text version from 1912. Particularly useful is an Appendix (which I have modified, rotating some pages and adding the ability to search text): “Tabulated List of the Books Contained in Ninety-Three Different Series of Cheap Book Reprints.” A list of the reprint series is followed by a list of authors/titles and which series feature them.
Firms Out Of Business: A database of exactly what the title says; useful for basic information on publishers including dates of incorporation and dissolution.
The Lucile Project: Documenting the numerous printed versions of the late 19th century book Lucile (by Owen Meridith) this project has documented a broad array of reprint series and publishers active between 1860-1938, when around 100 publishers sold at least 2000 editions of Lucile. The Publisher’s page contains information about many obscure (and some not so obscure) publishers and descriptions of many reprint series which contained Lucile.
Paperback Revolution: Focused on paperbound books from 1840 to the end of the Second World War. Paperback series co-existed with hardcover reprint series in this era, and a primary source of competition for the book buying public.
ProQuest American Periodicals Series: available to academic institutions: Includes “periodicals published between 1740 and 1940, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children’s and women’s magazines and many other historically-significant periodicals.” Access to older magazines, journals and publications which have some contemporary reprint series information.
Publishers Weekly: Historical copies of this periodical, published from 1872 to date, contain a wealth of information about reprint series books. Unfortunately, only selected early 20th century volumes are available as full text. HathiTrust: has some, but a significant number are searchable but not readable online. Google Books has a small number of volumes available in full text.
Publishers’ Bindings Online 1815-1930: “All academic libraries have within their holdings books bound in 19th century decorative bindings. These materials are significant in their place within the fabric of American history and culture, but efforts to present these bindings in a collection that is representative of the era as a whole and to make them available virtually, via the World Wide Web have been limited. PBO, a significant digital collection of decorative bindings, along with a comprehensive glossary and guide to the elements of these objects, will strengthen the growing interest in and create broader awareness for this “common” object called the book.” In particular, the extensive glossary of book binding terms is helpful to identify terms related to the binding of books from this era.
Publishing History: Includes book series and lists of titles in series.
Replacement List of Fiction, with Selected List of Recommended Series and Suggested Specifications for Book Manufacture. Carl Cannon. Chicago, American Library Association, 1933. An excellent overview of the characteristics and limitations of reprint series books for library use. The authors focus on all aspects of book design and construction and are critical of many reprint series lack of editorial oversight, poor typography, size, cheap paper and bindings, etc. This report helps distinguish well crafted reprint series from those that are cheap and marginal in quality. The report also includes a relatively comprehensive list of reprint series available in the early 1930s. A revision was issued in 1939: Replacement List of Fiction, Compiled by the A.L.A. Editorial Staff from Reports of Practice in Twelve Representative Libraries. Chicago, American Library Association, 1939.
The Times Digital Archive: Full searchable collection of the London Times. Many publishers of UK series placed ads in the Times and there are also articles about various series, authors and publishers. Requires a subscription (typically through an academic institution).
What Books Shall I Read? F.K.W. Drury & W.E. Simnett (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1933). One of numerous books telling you how and what to read. This guide includes Appendix A: Series of American Publishers listing series available in the U.S. in 1933. Such sources helped build the list of series found on the Publishers & Series page of this site.
WorldCat: a catalog of millions of books from thousands of libraries around the world; ability to search by series if you have access to the advanced search capabilities via an academic institution. The Expert Search allows you to search by series (se:) along with dozens of other fields. Once you find copies in a series, you can limit the search by date and see the span of years and number of book entries in WorldCat. This can help pin down the start and end of a series. A serious limitation is when books don’t include the series name on or in the book itself (a surprising number don’t, only indicating it on the dust jacket). Thus you can’t search for these series on WorldCat (as libraries didn’t preserve book jackets in most cases).