Black and Gold Library

Boni & Liveright (New York, NY)
Series dates: 1927-1928
Size: 5.75″ x 8.75″

Horace Liveright, Inc. (1928-33) / Liveright Publishing Co. (1933-69) (New York, US)
Series dates: 1928-1971
Size: 5.75″ x 8.75″

In 1925 the struggling publisher Boni & Liveright (in name only, Boni sold out in 1919) sold the very lucrative Modern Library series (began in 1917) to Bennett Cerf in an attempt to raise funds to keep the firm afloat. In 1928 the firm changed its name to Horace Liveright, Inc., and, after bankruptcy in 1933, to Liveright Publishing Co.

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The Black and Gold Library, edited by edited by Manuel Komroff, was one of Liveright’s attempts to recapture the success of the Modern Library series. The vision was of a much more substantial book than any in the Modern Library: larger format (5.75″ x 8.75″) with higher quality binding, paper and printing. The problem, though, was that at $3.50 (later reduced to $2.50) the series ended up on the expensive (and large) end of the spectrum of reprint series (compare to .95 cents for Modern Library titles). While advertising sources indicate that the Black and Gold Library was a success, other sources suggest that the series accounted for a relatively small part of Liveright’s business and was nowhere near as successful as the Modern Library – in large part because of its cost.

The Complete Poems of Francois Villon (or The Great and Little Testaments of Francois Villon on the half-title page, or The Testaments of Francois Villon on the title page) is one of the initial Black & Gold Library titles. This translation by John Heron Lepper was initially published by Boni & Liveright in 1924 in a limited edition of 1050. There was a subsequent edition in June 1926, and a third edition, probably in the Black & Gold Library in March 1927.

This particular book, despite the 3rd edition indication on the jacket spine and 1926 date on the title page, is the 4th printing of February 1928. The imprint is Boni & Liveright, although by 1928 Boni was long gone and the firms name had been changed to Horace Liveright Inc. As this title had been set up with the Boni & Liveright imprint, the firm was probably reluctant to change the imprint for this particular printing.

Early copies of the Black & Gold Library have jacket designs common to the series. The jacket spine contains a 3rd Edition indication, although this is actually the 4th printing. The Boni & Liveright logo (the monk) is on the jacket spine. The front of the jacket indicates the book’s title as The Complete Poems of Francois Villon. A rather elaborate design circles the B&L logo, with “Third Edition” also printed on the jacket front. The translator in noted, and a logo for the series. Boni & Liveright is printed again at the base of the jacket. A summary of the book is included on the front jacket flap.

The only place the Black & Gold Library is indicated on this book is on the jacket. The book itself does not contain the series name.

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The rear of the jacket is a wonder of tiny type composition, with three columns. The first contains titles already published:

The Dialogues of Plato
Il. Pentamerone
The Satyricon of Petronius
The Travels of Marco Polo
Tristram Shandy
A Sentimental Journey
The Physiology of Eliza
The Complete Poems of Villon

The center column contains three glowing reviews of the new series, and at the bottom, the price of $3.50. Three more forthcoming titles are in the final column:

The Golden Ass of Apuleius
The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Marco Polo and His Contemporaries

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Glossy black cloth binding contrasts with the gold typography and decorations.

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The half-title page indicates the title of the book is The Great and Little Testaments of Francois Villon, surrounded by a patterned box.

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A frontispiece consists of an illustration and text from a Villon edition of 1489. The two color title page includes the date of 1926, although this is a 1928 printing. The title here is The Testaments of Francois Villon. 

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The copyright page indicates the four printings of this title by Boni & Liveright.

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By the early 1940s the Black & Gold Library jackets have been redesigned and the price reduced to $2.49.

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This Black and Gold Library edition of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey was first published in the series in 1942. The jackets are unique to each title. Liveright (Liveright Publishing Co.) is indicated as the publisher on the jacket spine. The front jacket flap contains a blurb about the book. There is no mention of the series name on the front, front flap, or spine of the jacket. The series name is not mentioned in the book itself.

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The rear of the jacket contains a prospectus for the series as well as reviews lauding its quality. Several new issues in the Library are listed on the rear jacket flap.

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The inside of the dust jacket (below, click to enlarge) contains a complete list of titles in the series at the time (1942). Several titles are illustrated (marked with a star in the list). Certain titles are boxed, but it’s not clear why. Each title contains a very brief description.

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The Black and Gold Library bindings are in black and gold – and red. In striving for some level of luxury in a reprint series, the decorations come off as trying a bit too hard.

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After unusual black endpapers, a simple half-title page:

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A two color title page:

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The copyright page contains both copyright and the date of publication in the Black and Gold Library.

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