George Bell & Sons (London, UK)
Series dates: 1913-1932
Size: 4.5″ x 6.75″
The background information on publishers Bohn and Bell below is mostly taken from “H. G. Bohn.”, in: Patricia J. Anderson and Jonathan Rose, eds., British Literary Publishing Houses, 1820-1880 (Dictionary of Literary Biography, 106), Detroit: Gale, 1991. 59-62; and “George Bell and Sons.”, in: Patricia J. Anderson and Jonathan Rose, eds., British Literary Publishing Houses, 1820-1880 (Dictionary of Literary Biography, 106), Detroit: Gale, 1991. 22-31. I also used Francesco Cordasco’s The Bohn Libraries: A History and a Checklist, Burt Franklin, New York, 1951. This source is mostly a checklist of volumes in the different Bohn Libraries in the 19th century).
Henry G. Bohn was a Londoner, born to a German immigrant book dealer, who began scouting and buying books for his father’s business at age 16. He established his own bookstore in 1831 and soon was a dominant force in the UK rare book trade. Along with rare books, Bohn also purchased remaindered titles and their copyright from other publishers and offered these titles at a cost well below their original price. This reprint strategy coalesced as Bohn’s Standard Library series first issued in 1846. Bohn’s series was immediately successful and spawned numerous additional series (with the first and last year of publication for titles in the series, if known; arranged by year series was first offered):
Standard Library (245 volumes, 1846-1892)
Extra Volumes Uniform with Standard Library (6 volumes, 1846-1855)
English Gentleman’s Library (6 volumes, 1846-1861)
Antiquarian Library (40 volumes, 1847-1892)
Classical Library (89 volumes, 1847-1901)
Scientific Library (63 volumes, 1847-1893)
Illustrated Library (76 volumes, 1847-1900)
Royal Illustrated Series (7 volumes, 1850-1862)
Ecclesiastical Library (18 volumes, 1851-1877)
Philological and Philosophical Library (10 volumes, 1852-1866)
Shilling or Cheap Series (76 volumes, 1852-)
British Classics (29 volumes, 1853-1857)
Historical Library (13 volumes, 1855-1902)
Library of French Memoirs (6 volumes, 1855-1856)
Novelists’ Library (13 volumes, 1857-1889)
Collegiate Series (10 volumes, 1859-1889)
Artists’ Library (8 volumes, 1866-1892)
Reference Library (9 volumes, 1866-1890)
Philosophical Library (9 volumes, 1876-1898)
Economics and Finance Library (3 volumes, 1881-1891)
(Information above from the sources cited at the beginning of this entry)
“One significant consequence of Bohn’s Standard Library and his subsequent series was the reduction in the average cost of all titles published in England. Between 1828 and 1853 the average price of a book declined from sixteen shillings to eight shillings, four and a halfpence.” (“H. G. Bohn,” p. 60)
“Bohn retired in 1864. As his sons were not interested in publishing careers, he sold his stock of new books to Bell and Daldy for forty thousand pounds; Chatto and Windus purchased his copyrights for twenty thousand pounds. Bell and Daldy moved into Bohn’s York Street offices.” (“H. G. Bohn,” p. 60)
George Bell founded his publishing firm in 1839, with a specialization in educational titles. His early education spurred his interest in bookselling and publishing, and he retained a focus on betterment through education (and the books that served this purpose) throughout his life. By 1856 Bell “was becoming personally overextended and therefore entered into a partnership with Frederick R. Daldy… Bell and Daldy cemented their union with a new title-page symbol, the bell and anchor. The anchor derived from the anchor symbol used by the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, whom Daldy fancied as an ancestor” (“George Bell & Sons,” p. 25).
“Bell and his partner Daldy were casting about for further investment opportunities when the extensive properties of Henry Bohn came on the market in 1864. Bohn’s “Libraries” of more than six hundred works, including copyrights, plates, and stock, represented a more ambitious expansion than the partners had originally envisaged. Daldy was apparently more sanguine about investing than was the cautious Bell. In this case, Daldy’s flair for financial juggling proved itself as he persuaded the Clowes printing company and the stationers Spalding and Hodge to lend part of the thirty-five thousand pounds the acquisitions entailed. Soon Bell and Daldy presided over a much larger company with an expanded staff, which included Spalding’s son, Howard, as an apprentice. To accommodate their expanding business Bell and Daldy took over Bohn’s two houses in York Street, Covent Garden, plus a third house in the neighborhood. Bohn, however, was reluctant to accept the fact of his retirement: although he had sold his business, he still occupied the main office in York Street until, exasperated, Bell broke into the office one morning in 1867 and took possession of the desk. Bohn then retired with reasonably good grace. With sales of the Bohn Libraries standing at over one hundred thousand volumes a year, Bell and Daldy no longer needed the retail side of the business. In 1867 they abandoned the Fleet Street address and henceforth concentrated on publishing from York Street. (“George Bell & Sons,” p. 26).
“The Bohn Libraries continued to sell so well that Bell was encouraged to expand the series with new editions of well-known classics of English, American, and European authors. American readers were especially enthusiastic about the series: in New York the firm of Scribner and Welford acted as Bell’s agents until Edward Bell shifted the business to Macmillan in 1871.” (“George Bell & Sons,” p. 28).
George Bell’s son Edward entered the business in 1867, focusing on developing the firm’s various Library series. Daldy left the firm in 1872 and the firm was renamed George Bell & Sons, Ltd.
An entry in the Spectator, April 4, 1914, announced the new Bohn’s Popular Library, first issued almost 50 years after Bell & Sons began publishing the various Bohn’s Library series. The Popular Library was a selection of titles from the older series, with a cut in price, to revive (I’m assuming) dropping sales in the existing series. For lists of titles in the various Bohn’s Library series see Publishing History.
The series was distributed in the US (but not published, it seems) by Scribner and Welford (before 1871), Macmillan (after 1871), and Harcourt Brace (after the mid-1920s).
The copy of Coleridge’s Table Talk and Omniana was first issued in Bohn’s Popular Library in 1923. This is the 94th title in the series. There were either one or two additional titles issued in the series. One online library catalog (here) lists the Select Letters of Jonathan Swift (370 pages, ed. W.D. Taylor) as #96 in the series. No other source I can find indicates that this title is #96, or if it is, what title #95 might be. See a list of titles in the series at the end of this entry.
A few variations on the jacket design below can be found on Bohn’s Popular Library titles over its nearly 20-year existence. The jacket design is common to all titles in the series. The series name, series number, title, cost (2s. net) and publisher is on the jacket spine. The front of the jacket is framed and contains the series name, serial number, title, author, publisher colophon, and publisher. The front jacket flap lists the first 49 titles in the series.
The back of the jacket promotes Bohn’s Libraries – the collective term used for the various series issued by Bohn and subsequently Bell & Sons. “First in 1847. Foremost To-Day” is the catch-phrase. Several reviews of the Popular Library series follow. The rear jacket flap lists volumes 50-94 in the series.
The binding in brick plasticized cloth is solid with gold typography (including the series name, but not the publisher) and decorations on the spine and a debossed publisher colophon on the front.
There is no half-title page in this particular book. An elaborate frame surrounds a note about Bohn’s Libraries and this particular title in the Popular Library series. The same frame (with a rightward facing bell) surrounds the book’s title, author, editor, London imprint, and date (1923)
“Printed in Great Britain. Chiswick Press: Charles Whittingham and Griggs (Printers), LTD. Tooks Court, Chancery Lane, London.”
The same printer information is included on the last page of the book.
The copy of Homer’s Odyssey shown below is #85 in the series, dated 1923. The jacket and binding are different from the copy of Table Talk, above, also dated 1923. I don’t know for sure, but this seems to be a later, updated design.
It is also possible that this is a much later jacket, placed over a book that was left in stock after the series was more or less discontinued in the early 1930s. At that point, there may have been only a limited number of titles left, and thus the series and its other titles would not need to be advertised on or in the book (the jacket flaps and back are blank on this jacket). This situation would explain the price drop (from 2s. on Table Talk to 1s./6d. on the sticker on the jacket spine).
The jacket spine is simpler than the version shown above and lacks the series number (unless it is hidden under the price sticker). The decorative border on the front of the jacket is thicker with a larger pattern and lacks the series number and publisher’s colophon (the bell). The front jacket flap is blank. All in all, a more minimalist jacket with no series advertising.
The blank rear jacket flap and jacket back:
The book’s spine is similar in design to the copy of Table Talk above. The book cover lacks the debossed publisher colophon but does have the debossed frame.
This book, unlike the copy of Table Talk above, has a half-title page.
The title page and facing page follow the same design as the copy of Table Talk above. From the half-title page, and certainly the title page onward, this book could have been printed in 1923 and left over after the series was discontinued in the early 1930s.
The same printer as the copy of Table Talk (above) is indicated: “Printed in Great Britain. Chiswick Press: Charles Whittingham and Griggs (Printers) Ltd., Tooks Court, Chancery Lane, London.”
The printer indication is repeated on the last page in the book, with what may be a printer’s colophon.
A list of titles in George Bell & Sons Bohn’s Popular Library is below. The first 94 titles are straightforward, but there are either one or two additional titles for a total of 95 or 96 titles. The list, as found on the Table Talk title above, has a few odd spellings (eg., #58) and at least one typo (in #67). I have left the odd spellings as is but noted the typo.