Halcyon House Illustrated Library

Halcyon House (imprint of Doubleday, Garden City, NY)
Series dates: 1950
Size: 5.5″ x 8″

Halcyon House was an imprint of Blue Ribbon Books used on more expensive reprints (more than the $1 Blue Ribbon Books). In 1939 Blue Ribbon Books and its Halcyon House imprint were sold to Doubleday.

In 1910 Doubleday established its own printing plant in Garden City, Long Island. In 1923 Garden City Publishing Company was established by Nelson Doubleday with a focus on reprints, including the Lambskin Library, Star Dollar Books, and the Sun Dial Library. Nelson Doubleday was a clever marketer of books and was largely responsible for a Doubleday’s development of book clubs (including the Literary Guild, Junior Literary Guild, One Dollar Book Club, and Book League of America). Doubleday established additional series including Outdoor Books, and Heyday House. Doubleday acquired Windward House and Blue Ribbon Books, and included reprint divisions such as De Luxe Editions, Triangle Books, the New Home Library and Halcyon House – all from the late 1920s through the late 1930s.

Halcyon House saw an upswing in reprints around 1940, then again after WW2 in 1948. Few titles seem to have been issued after 1950. The Halcyon House Illustrated Library was first issued in February 1950, with 27 classic literary titles, all illustrated. It is likely that this series was the last gasp of Halcyon House. Other publishers have used the Halcyon House imprint since the 1950s, with different locations, and it is not clear if there is any relation between the Doubleday Halcyon House and these later imprints.

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The idea behind the Halcyon House Illustrated Library was to reprint out-of-copyright illustrated fiction. In the evolution of reprints of a particular title, a publisher could reprint a copyright-free book and add new illustrations; eventually, as the illustrated texts went out of copyright or could be acquired cheaply, and reprints of the illustrated books could squeeze a bit more profit out of musty old classics.

This undated but likely 1950 copy of Anatole France’s Thais has a unique jacket for the title, and indicates the illustrator – Raphael Freida (spelled incorrectly as “Frieda” on the jacket). Freida (1877-1942) has a bit of a cult following and is best known for his illustrations for The Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau. The illustrations for Thais were first published in 1931 as part of the Illustrated Editions series.

A summary of the book is included on the front jacket flap.

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One of the Freida illustrations from Thais.

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The rear of the jacket describes the series, lauds the titles included in it as well as the famous illustrators represented. A list of the first 27 titles is included on the rear flap. This was the entire run of the titles in the series.

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The bindings are boards with a pattern that repeats over the front and back of the book (akin to the Zodiac Books series). Several different patterns were used on the boards. These designs were also used on the earlier Hartsdale House editions of these books.

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The paper is coarse and cheap. The title page:

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One illustration from the book faces the title page. No date is included in the book.

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The copyright page:

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A copy of Boccaccio’s Pleasant Questions of Love illustrated by Alexander King was published around the same time as Thais, (1950) and was also originally an Illustrated Editions series book. The plates were purchased by Hartsdale House in the mid 1940s and used for their reprint series. In 1948 Garden City Publishing Co. (Doubleday) began distributing the series for Hartsdale House, and was apparently also printing and selling them as Halcyon House Illustrated Editions.

The decorated binding, different from Thais (above), borrowed from the earlier Hartsdale House editions: