Cresset Library

The Cresset Press Ltd. (London, UK)
Series dates: 1935-1936, 1946-1961
Size: 5.25″ x 7.5″ (1935-1936); 5.25″ x 8″ (1946-1961)

Chanticleer Press (New York, US)
Series dates: 1949-1950
Size: 5.25″ x 8″

Originating in 1927 and specializing in expensive, illustrated limited edition books, the Cresset Press began publishing more broadly in the mid-1930s as the demand for expensive limited editions waned.

The Cresset Library series was initially a series of new short fiction by contemporary authors published in at least 6 titles in 1935-1936.

cresset_logoAfter WW2, in 1946, the series was revived, focused on a sometimes quirky list of much more historical classics. According to one source, the Cresset Library “was a uniquely imaginative series of punctiliously edited reprints” (“Obituary: Mr. Dennis Cohen – Publisher and connoisseur,” The Times, 26 February 1970). In 1949 an agreement with the Chanticleer Press in New York saw the series published and sold in the U.S. As with many other post-war series, the Cresset Library fades in the 1950s, with the last title published in 1961. Reprints appear through the 1960s. A paperback series published by the Cresset Press in the 1980s also carries the name.

cresset_logoaJames Laver‘s The Laburnum Tree (dated 1935) is one of six titles issued in 1935 and 1936 as the first round of the Cresset Library. As the series prospectus on the front jacket flap notes, the series is a convenient pocket size (if you have large pockets) and good for travelers and week-end visitors “who don’t have the time to read a full-length novel.” The short stories in these six titles are newly published, so the series, at this point, is not reprints and the titles are true first editions.

The jackets are modernist in design and quite innovative for the time, almost suggestive of the post-WW2 New Classics Series designed by Alan Lustig. Printed on silver paper, the only place the series name is mentioned on the jacket or book itself is in the paragraph on the front jacket flap. The jackets are common to the series, with different authors and titles printed on the front of the jacket and spine. The initial five titles in the series are listed. Warner’s More Joy in Heaven, Greene’s The Basement Room, Dobree’s To Blush Unseen, and The Beginning by Mervyne Lagden. At least one more title (Madeleine Masson, Icara, published in 1936). The price, noted on the jacket flap, is 3/6 net.


The back of the jacket advertises two H.G. Wells titles also published by the Cresset Press.


A basic red, cloth binding with black stamping.


Half-title page.


The title page:


Copyright page, indicating first published in 1935.


The Cresset Press reimagined the Cresset Library series after the war, as a carefully edited collection of important but sometimes ignored classics. The series was edited by John Hayward. A few titles are common to other series, other titles are rare to find in reprint series. Each book includes a new introduction by a notable author or literary critic. At least 21 titles were eventually included in the series. A full list of all series titles can be found at the Pages of Pages blog. The last title issued seems to be A Memoir of Thomas Bewick written by Himself published in 1961. This title is illustrated on the Pages of Pages blog. Titles were reprinted until at least 1964.

The dust jackets share a common design, an abstract mottled background (printed in different colors) with the author/title and series logo. This copy of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas is dated 1947 and is among the first group of titles issued. The price is 8/6 net, as indicated on the otherwise blank front jacket flap.


The back of the jacket indicates the first six titles in the series. Forthcoming titles are also listed. One title in the forthcoming list is obscured by a black overprint.


Bindings maintained the same design throughout the life of the series. Solid, blue cloth binding with gold decorations.


Series name and editor is noted on a page prefacing the half-title page.


The half-title page.


The title page includes the date of printing, in classy Roman numerals.


The copyright page also includes the date, in Arabic numerals.


A copy of The Life of George Crabbe by his Son also dated 1947 was published after the initial six titles in the series. Besides the jacket color variation, the list of titles has been revised. The titles are given series numbers and available titles, eleven at this time, are indicated:


An agreement with the Chanticleer Press (New York) in 1949 to publish the series in the U.S. resulted in hand-modified copies of the U.K. editions made available in the U.S. This copy of Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is dated 1947, and the list of titles in the series is the same as The Life of George Crabbe title published the same year. The front jacket flap adds a rather extensive description of the book (drawn, it seems, from the introduction). This addition is part of all the UK books issued later in 1947. The jacket is price clipped, so it is not clear if the price was in UK or US units.


The title page of the book reveals that some poor secretary glued a piece of paper printed with “Chanticleer Press New York” over the Cresset Press imprint on titles published in the U.S.


That poor secretary also stamped “Printed in Great Britain” on the copyright page.


A 1948 copy of the Singular Travels, Campaigns, and Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the same as the late 1947 UK copies, except that the price has risen to 9/6 net.


Evidence of the Cresset Press’s history of limited edition, illustrated classics can be found in the inclusion of illustrations in the Cresset Library books, such as the woodcuts by Leslie Wood in this title.


A copy of de Quincey’s The Opium Eater was published in 1950. This seems to be a copy sold in the U.S. given the $1.00 stamped at the top of the front jacket flap.


The binding is very different from the earlier copies in the series: a rather coarse green cloth binding with simpler black stamping and no designs on the cover. It is not clear if this was a cheaper binding used near the end of the series (bound in the UK) or if this is a U.S. binding by the Chanticleer Press. The price of $1 suggests this book was sold as a remainder.


Some copies of the Cresset Library books show up as late as 1966 as reprints, although no new titles, in the format shown above, were issued beyond about 1953.