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.
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 the copyright to remaindered titles, and began to print and publish these titles at a cost well below their original price. This reprint strategy coalesced as Bohn’s Standard Library series of 150 titles first issued in 1846. Bohn’s series was preceded by the European Library series from publisher David Bogue, first issued in 1845. Bohn’s series was immediately successful and spawned numerous additional series (with the year of official publication, if known):
Extra Volumes Uniform with Standard Library (7 volumes, 1846)
Scientific Library (63 volumes, 1847)
Antiquarian Library (40 volumes, 1847)
Classical Library including an Atlas (89 volumes, 1848)
Illustrated Library (76 volumes, 1849)
Shilling Series (1850)
Philosophical (aka/ Philological and Philosophical) Library (19 volumes, 1852)
British Classics (29 volumes, 1853)
Collegiate Series (10 volumes, 1859)
Library of French Memoirs (6 volumes, 1855-1856)
Cheap Series (76 volumes)
Historical Library (13 volumes, 1857)
Ecclesiastical Library (18 volumes, 1859)
School and Collegiate Series (1 volume, 1853)
English Gentleman’s Library (8 volumes, 1849)
Royal Illustrated Series (21 volumes)
“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 partnership with Freder- ick 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 plasticised 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.
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 jacket 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.