Grayson Books

Grayson & Grayson (London, UK)
Series dates: 1935
Size: 5.75″ x 8.75″

James Eveleigh Nash, a Constable & Co. literary advisor at the turn of the century, established his own firm Eveleigh Nash in London in 1902. His authors included Morley Roberts, Algernon Blackwood, Hilaire Belloc, O. Henry and Joseph Conrad. Sir Henry Grayson became a shareholder and director of the firm in 1921, and the firm became Nash & Grayson. Nash & Grayson soon after began publishing two popular series of reprinted, copyright fiction: Nash’s Great Novel Library and Nash’s Famous Fiction Library. Nash retired in 1929 and was bought out by Grayson, who changed the name of the firm to Grayson & Grayson. That firm was merged with Purnell & Sons just prior to World War II. (Eveleigh Nash, British Literary Publishing Houses, 1881-1965. Vol. 112, 1991)

The 12 titles in the Grayson Books series were issued after Nash had left the firm, under the Grayson and Grayson imprint. All were short works, original to the series, limited to 285 (250 sold to the public) books, all signed by the author and all printed in 1935. John Hackney was the series editor. The books were advertised as a “collectible” series from the start, and given their limited numbers and author’s inscriptions a few, by authors such as Graham Green, have become very valuable.

Keith Rix supplied me with a prospectus brochure describing the Grayson Books series:

Arthur Calder-Marshall’s A Pink Doll was published in 1935, as were all the 12 titles in the series. Calder-Marshall published a dozen novels in the 1930s and 1940s and wrote movie novelizations in the 1960s. The series jackets are common to the series. with the author and title printed in red ink over a common jacket design.

The common cover illustration is a bit odd: pan (playing, quite unsurprisingly, a pan flute) stands aside a bust, books with a quill pen, while on the other side of the jacket a typewriter and building with a radio tower zaps the ground. Keith Rix, who supplied the series prospectus (above) suggests that the jacket is the work of what Rix refers to as “the somewhat eccentric Wilfred Lewis Hanchant.” More on Hanchant below.

The series name is included at the top of the jacket, and the series editor, John Hackney, is somewhat oddly set on the perpendicular, top left of the jacket front. The front jacket flap includes the series name again, with an indication of the limited edition information and the price of 10/6 each.

The Twelve and only titles in the series are listed on the back jacket flap. The rear of the jacket contains the 12 authors in the series. The titles are numbered on the jacket, but the series number is not indicated on the books or dust jackets.

1. THE DUET by H. E. Bates
2. AT HOME by L. A. Pavey
4. VARIATION ON A THEME by John Collier
5. MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE by John Hampson
7. MAIDEN’S FURY by H. A. Manhood
8. AT BAY by James Hanley
9. A PINK DOLL by Arthur Calder-Marshall
10. THERE’S A BIRDIE IN THE CAGE by Sean O’Faolain.
11. THE BEAR FELL FREE by Graham Greene
12. MAKE THYSELF MANY by T. F. Powys

The books are bound in cloth with varying colors and each title has a unique design on the book cover. The series name is not indicated on the bookbinding.

Endpapers include the GG monogram with crossed lightning bolts and a stylized flower design, vaguely reminiscent of the jacket design.

The half-title page.

The limited, signed edition with the book’s number (this one, #104 of the 284 books printed and signed.

A pleasantly light title page includes the series name, editor, imprint, and date of printing (1935).

Nothing is printed on the reverse of the title page.

The books were printed by the Garden City Press in Letchworth, which was the printing plant of J.M. Dent & Sons.

Keith Rix sent me quite a bit of background information on Wilfred Lewis Hanchant, an unusual chap responsible for the jacket designs for the Grayson Books series. A slightly edited version of what Rix sent me follows:

I am writing a biography of the somewhat eccentric Wilfred Lewis Hanchant. Hanchant was not always acknowledged by the many writers he assisted and what he actually did is sometimes a matter of conjecture. Seven of the contributors to this series were recruited by him for his Charles’ Wain, so I think he might have had a part in recruiting the authors, and he was a great authority on printing, so I think he may have had something to do with the choice of type-face which the publishers seem to have made a selling-point.

Hanchant was, by training, an architect but at school he had excelled in drawing. When he moved to London in his twenties from the north of England he went into interior design and his letterheads described him as a lighting consultant. He won a number of awards for lighting designs. However, at the same time he became an expert on Victoriana and was responsible for the 1920’s and 1930’s revival of Victorian music hall in London. He edited a number of books (search for his name in Abe books and you will find them – he also published under the pseudonym William Juniper). For 18 months he edited a magazine Arts and Crafts but took the readers for a ride with a spoof article about ‘fistula work’ and when found out got his marching orders. He was involved in BBC radio from the 1930’s to the 1950’s and his last broadcast was on American poets. He put on exhibitions of paintings for DH Lawrence and Aleister Crowley (who accused his wife of trying to seduce Hanchant) and he often did research for people with little or no acknowledgment in their publications. H.E. Bates described him as a pink-bearded ex-embalmer. With this colourful life behind him (and that’s only a fraction of it) he left London in his mid-fifties and became the curator (and de facto librarian) of the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, Wisbech being a small market town 100 miles from London.

I am fairly certain that he designed the cover for the Grayson books as the style and format is similar to the cover of an earlier book and that cover includes his name.

In 1935 Hanchant was also involved in another short story project. This was a series of twelve books published by Grayson & Grayson under the series title ‘Grayson Books’ and under the editorship of John Hackney. The publishers were taking advantage of what they described as “a noticeable revival of interest in the short story, more especially in the school generally referred to as “Tchekov”” after probably the greatest short story writer in history, Anton Chekov or Tchekov. All but two were in this category. The authors were all “firmly established in contemporary literature” and seven had contributed to Hanchant’s Charles’ Wain. These were H.E. Bates, L.A. Pavey, Rhys Davies, James Hanley, Séan O’Fáolain and T.F. Powys. The newcomers were John Collier, Patrick Kirwan, H.A. Manhood, Arthur Calder-Marshall and Grahame Greene. The print run of each was limited to 285 of which 250 numbered copies were offered for sale to the public. All were signed by the author. Although Hanchant’s name does not appear in the books, when the publishers advertised the series, they referred to how “the decorations are by W.L. Hanchant”. The decorations were the jacket design which was common to the series, the unique design on each book cover and the GG monogram with crossed lightning bolts and a stylized flower design on the endpapers. The author and title were printed in different colours and different type faces over the common jacket design and somewhat oddly, as one commentator has been observed,[i] ‘Edited by John Hackney’ appears perpendicularly at the top right of the jacket front.