Contemporary Series

The Four Seas Co. (Boston, US)
Series dates: 1915-1928
Size: 5″ x 7.5″

As documented in American Literary Publishing Houses, 1900-1980, (vol. 46, 1986): 

“On graduating from Harvard in 1910, Edmund Randolph Brown founded the Four Seas Company at 313 Norwood Street in Sharon, Massachusetts. Brown derived the name of the firm from a statement by Confucius: “All men between the four seas are brothers.” By 1922 the firm had moved to 188 Dartmouth Street in Boston; later it moved to 454 Stewart Street. The Four Seas Company is important as the first or early publisher of several prominent American authors. The firm published Stephen Vincent Benet’s first book, Five Men and Pompey (1915), and William Faulkner’s first book, The Marble Faun (1924). In 1930 Four Seas, which had merged with other firms including John W. Luce and Company, Chapman and Grimes, and the Poet Lore Company, became Bruce Humphries, Incorporated. Brown left Bruce Humphries in 1965 to form the Branden Press, taking with him much of the Four Seas list as well as the Poet Lore titles. In 1971 Branden acquired what remained of the Bruce Humphries firm.”

The Branden Press still exists (

The Contemporary Series was published between 1915 and 1928. The series consisted of “Books of belles-lettres – poetry, plays, and essays – by contemporary authors, issued in an attractive format, and available at a popular price.”

The series was advertised in the March 1916 issue of The Poetry Journal (itself published by the Four Seas Co.). The initial six titles are listed along with the price of .60 cents per volume.

William Earl Hill’s The Voice of Seven Thunders is a book of poems published in the series in 1924. Hill was a minor U.S. poet from Nebraska who incorporated natural and scientific themes in his work.

Books in the series were bound in cardboard boards with a jacket-like covering glued at the spine, with another, plainer jacket over the entire production. The outer jacket is common to the series, varying only in the author, title and description of the book, included on the front of the jacket. The spine includes the publisher, and the series name is centered on the front of the jacket. The series is described on the front jacket flap. The designer of the inner jacket cover is also noted (Ruth Fuller Stevens).

A list of titles in the Contemporary Series fills the rear of the jacket. I dripped some ice water on the jacket (it was a hot day) and did not notice, thus the damp spot on the scan below. The list is interesting in that it indicates books that are no longer in print.

At least 26 titles were issued. Three more were announced but not published. Titles include:

The Tragedy, Gilbert Moyle (play in one act)
The English Tongue, Lewis Worthington Smith (poems)
Five Men and Pompey, Stephen Vincent Benet (dramatic portraits)

Images, Old and New, Richard Aldington (poems)
Laodice and Danae, George Bottomley (play in one act)
Horizons, Robert Alden Sanborn (poems)

Common Men and Women, Harold Grammans (rhythmus)
** The Homecoming & The Peacemakers, Paul Eldridge
** Judgment, Amelia J. Burr
** The Long Way, Gilbert Moyle [issued by Four Seas in 1915, announced to be reissued in the Contemporary Series in 1917, but not published in the series]

The Marsh Maiden, Felix Gould (and other plays)

Omar and the Rabbi, Frederick LeRoy Sargent (play in one act)
The Smile of Mona Lisa, Jacinto Benavente (play in one act)
The Lamp of Heaven, Mrs. L. Worthington Smith (play in one act)

The Death of Titian, Hugo von Hofmannsthal
The Wind over the Water, Philip Merivale (play in one act)

Knut at Roeskilde, Philip Merivale (play in one act)
Star Songs and Atom Dances, William Earl Hill (poems)

The Voice of Seven Thunders, William Earl Hill (poems)
The Looms of Orchil, Louis H. Victory (poems)
The Skeleton in the Closet, Clarence Darrow (an essay)
* The Call of the Nirvana: A Drama in Five Acts, Rudolf Broda
* The Sorceress: A Drama in Five Acts, Victorien Sardou

* Two Roads: A Symbolic Story in Five Scenes, Rudolf Broda
* Gold Amid the Grey: A Book of Poems. Louis H. Victory

* In the House of the High Priest: A Drama in One Act, Claude Houghton
* A Family Affair: A Comedy, Leonard M Passano

* Silver Bugles of the Moon, Anna Barney
* Lamps and Trumpets: A Book of Poems, Louis H. Victory

* Titles not listed on the jacket for The Voice of the Seven Thunders (above)
** Titles announced but not issued

Under the outer dust jacket is another jacket, glued to the spine of the book and covering the cardboard covers. The inner jacket was designed by Ruth Fuller Stevens, according to the outer jacket. These inner jackets were unique to each title. They also have a printed spine (author, title, publisher). The entire jacket is printed in gold ink on a semi-translucent paper. The jacket flaps are blank.

The rear of the inner jacket and back flap are blank.

The half-title page:

A catalog arranged differently but with the same titles as the list on the back of the outer jacket, faces the title page.

The copyright for the book is its initial printing year, 1924. The publisher’s imprint is included at the bottom of the page.

The dedication and the first page of the text: