Chiltern Library

John Lehmann Ltd. (London, UK)
Series dates: 1947-1953
Size: 5″ x 7.5″

Like Lehmann’s Holiday Library, the Chiltern Library was published for most of the rather short life of the firm, founded in 1946 and dissolved in 1953. The Chiltern Library was not unlike Cresset’s The Cresset Library and Harrap’s Holborn Library, all post WW2 British classics reprint series with scholarly editorship and decent quality book production. All were issued in response to the deficit of books in print during the war, and all more or less ceased publishing new titles in the early 1950s.

The Chiltern Library included more mainstream classics than the Cresset Library and was credited with inspiring new interest in Henry James in the late 1940s and early 1950s (with at least eight James titles eventually included in the series, many revised, definitive editions). The series also included several anthologies created for the series and carefully chosen selections from classics like Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Chiltern Library jackets remained largely unchanged through the early 1950s. Jackets are unique to each title with illustrations related to the title. Early jackets have very large typography on the spine; the series name is indicated on the front of the jacket and front jacket flap, along with a summary of the title and number in the Chiltern Library series. Jackets are designed by Philippe Julian. This is an early title in the series, James’ What Maisie Knew, with a 1947 date in the book. Price is 8/6 net.


The back of this jacket lists the first 12 volumes in the series. The back flap is blank except for a number, the last two digits refer to the series number of the title.


Bindings remain the same through at least 1951, cloth, in this case, blue, but also green, yellow, and brick) with gold decorations on the spine. The series name is included on the base of the spine.


Half title page with the series name and title.


A brief biography of the author faces the title page, which includes the printing date (1947).


The copyright page includes printing information for the title.


Henry James’ Roderick Hudson and an anthology Shelley in Italy are both 1947 printings.


A catalog of the first 24 titles in the Chiltern Library:


A catalog of the first 32 volumes in the Chiltern Library:


36 titles in the series:


James’ Roderick Hudson and The Lesson of the Master, both 1948 titles:


Disraeli’s Coningsby (1948) and James’ The American (1949):


Around 1947 the huge typography on the jacket spines is replaced by a more petite design (see below). This copy of The Conversations of Dr. Johnson is dated 1950. The number of titles has stalled at 36. The price remains the same at 8s/6d.


By 1950, when The Forsaken Garden anthology and Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood are published, the price has risen to 10/6 net. Otherwise, the jacket and book design remain the same, with the same 36 titles listed in the series.


Melville’s White Jacket is among the last titles in the series published in 1952. The price is now 12s/6d. The jacket lacks the list of titles on the back, replaced by two recent Chiltern Library issues and a literary criticism book published by Lehmann.


The binding is the same cloth but the decorations are simpler and the series name is removed from the base of the spine.


The Chiltern Library reached at least 39 titles, the last of which were published in 1952. Lehmann closed down in 1953. A few titles were reprinted through the late 1950s under the Lehmann imprint.