Astor Library

Dodd Mead & Co. (New York, US)
Series dates: 1927-1944
Size: 5” x 7.5”

astor_logoThe Astor Library, like the English Masterpieces series, is a recycled series: a publisher (in this case, Dodd Mead) marketing a series (the Astor Library) consisting of books from a defunct series (Dial Standard Library) printed and (in some cases) bound by another publisher (Dial Press). Dodd Mead simply added new jackets to the Dial Press books and a new series was born. At least two additional titles were added to the series with the Dodd, Mead imprint.

In this case, unlike with the English Masterpieces, it’s not clear if the defunct series, the Dial Standard Library, was ever sold by the Dial Press. The Dial Press was established in 1923 by Lincoln MacVeagh whose name is typically included on the imprint until he left the firm in 1933. The Dial Press issued the The Bourbon Classics, The Dial Detective Library, the Fireside Library, the Golden Dragon Library, the Library of Living Classics and the Rogue’s Library in the short time MacVeagh ran the press. Many were series shared with UK publishers, and none reached more than a dozen titles.

The Dial Standard Library seems to have been an attempt at a general literature series, to compete with the Modern Library and Everyman’s Library. Of all the Dial series, it is the only one I have no evidence (yet) of being published and sold by Dial. The books themselves did not indicate the series name, thus a jacketed copy with the Dial Standard Library is required to confirm the series was sold by Dial. None has been found. The Dial Standard Library, then, may be a “ghost series.”

The issue is complicated as Dodd Mead was selling the books as the Astor Library but with the Dial Press imprint as early as 1927. With no indication of the series name on or in the book itself, the jackets are required to distinguish between the series. Copies of all of the first 12 books in the Astor Library can be found on WorldCat with the Dial Press imprint. Two additional titles have the Dodd Mead imprint (Dumas’ The Black Tulip, with a 1927 date and Dodd Mead imprint on the title page – see below, and A. Conan Doyle’s The White Company). Thus Dodd Mead was selling Dial Press books with Dodd Mead jackets, and added two additional titles to the series (for a total of 14).

Further complicating the issue is the fact that Lincoln Macveagh was an early innovator in having other publishers stock and sell his books: “…in later years, MacVeagh made an agreement with Dodd, Mead to carry his books in stock and handle sales and billing.” (History of Book Publishing in the US, vol. 3). It’s possible that the Astor Library was an example of this. However, The Booklist in 1927 indicates in its list of reprints “Astor Library (Formerly Dial Standard Library)” and in 1931 “Dial Standard Library (see Astor Library).” Another source (What books shall I read? by Simnet & Drury, 1933) also indicates “Astor Library (formerly Dial Standard Library)” and the Replacement List of Fiction (1933) includes Astor Library as a Dodd, Mead series. If Dial did issue the Dial Standard Library, it was only for a short time. No advertisements (by Dial or Dodd Mead) in contemporary sources have been found.

Lincoln MacVeagh and the Dial Press issued some books with a London imprint beginning in 1927. The Dial Standard Library and Astor Library titles indicate “Printed in Great Britain.” It’s possible that the series plates or possibly printed sheets were acquired around this time and the books printed in England with plans to sell the books in the US. The Dial Detective Library (similar in name to the Dial Standard Library) issued three titles in 1927. But by 1927 sources are listing the Astor Library as the replacement for the Dial Standard Library.

The best guess, unless a jacketed copy of the Dial Standard Library is found, is that Dial never issued the Dial Standard Library, but instead sold the books it printed – and in some cases printed and bound – to Dodd Mead. Dodd Mead changed the series name, added jackets to already bound copies and bound unbound copies, and began selling them in 1927. It does not seem that any more than the original 12 titles were issued, and none with the Dodd Mead imprint on the books themselves.

One other curious detail is that McKay of Philadelphia published a copy of Typee, shown below in the Astor Library, with the same number of pages and size, in the late 1920s. This title was in McKay’s young adult Newbery Classics series. Both these series may have been printed from the same (British) plates.

This copy of Melville’s Typee is undated but probably in the 1927-1933 range. Astor Library jackets are unique to each title, with an illustration, in this case by London illustrator Ellis Silas, on the front of the jacket. The illustrations are glued to the front of the jackets. It is possible the jacket illustrations were selected from color plates that could be printed and bound in the book. To save money, one color plate could be used for the jacket and the rest of the book left without illustrations. The jacket spines include the Astor Library name at the top and the price ($1.00). Dodd Mead is the publisher according to the jacket spine. The front jacket flap is blank. The jacket is made of heavy kraft paper.

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The rear of the jacket advertises the series and its 12 titles. The full color jacket is noted along with the book size (12mo) and price ($1). The series, like many other of its ilk, is advertised as a remarkable value for the price. The claim of “NEW PLATES” is also made. Twelve titles are listed, with the claim of “Other titles in preparation.” No additional titles from the series are evident.

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Beyond the jacket, we have a Dial Press production with no indication of Dodd Mead nor a series name. Books are basic black cloth with red decorations and typography. Lincoln MacVeagh The Dial press is indicated at the base of the spine.

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The minimalist half-title page:

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The title page includes the Dial Press logo and its New York imprint.

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None of the books in this series seem to have dates. “Printed in Great Britain” is noted at the bottom of the book.

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A second (also undated) Astor Library jacket, this one Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, is similar to the Typee title: a glued-on illustration on the front of a jacket that, besides the different title and author on the jacket spine is identical.

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The binding of the Joseph Andrews title differs from the Typee title in that Dodd Mead is the imprint on the book spine (rather than the Dial Press). The binding color (pale blue) is different from Typee, and the cover includes an additional wavy frame within the black box on the front of the book. It seems that the Dial Press bound some books intended for the Dial Standard Library (such as Typee) and left others unbound – as this copy of Joseph Andrews retains the Dial Press imprint on the title page (see below).

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Once past the binding, the book is identically designed as the copy of Typee: the half title page:

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The title page:

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…and the “Printed in Great Britain” indication on the copyright page.

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A third book from the Astor Library series is a copy is a Dodd, Mead production (and not a recycled Dial Press book). This book is a 13th title for the series that, unlike the two copies above (#11 and #7) has a Dodd, Mead imprint on the title page. Dodd, Mead added at least two titles beyond the original 12 that they seem to have acquired from Dial Press. This copy of Dumas’ The Black Tulip is also, unlike the other titles, dated (1927) on the dust jacket and in the book. Also unlike the other jackets, there is no illustration on the front of the jacket. The blank front flap remains. The price of $1, as well as the series name, is included on the jacket spine.

The rear of the jacket is the same as earlier copies but has been updated with two additional series titles: The Black Tulip and The White Company by A. Conan Doyle. Both are “New titles for 1927” suggesting the first 12 titles were sold before 1927, or Dodd, Mead was treating the series as already established, even though they began selling the series in 1927.

The binding with the Dodd, Mead imprint is similar to that of the Fielding title above.

The book does not include a half title page (the copies above both do). The Dodd, Mead imprint is on the title page, along with the date, unlike the previous two copies shown above.

There is nothing on the copyright page; both copies above indicate “Printed in Great Britain.”