Laurel Series

aka/ The “Laurel” Series

Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., Ltd. (London, UK)
Series dates: 1928-1929
Size: 5.25″ x 7.75″

Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. was formed in 1859 by William Wells Gardner (1821–1880) and an older firm established by William Darton (1755–1819) in the 1780s which specialized in juvenile literature. Joseph William Darton (1844–1916) and his son, Frederick Joseph Harvey Dalton (1878–1936) carried on the tradition of publishing juvenile books. Frederick became director of the firm in 1904. Frederick was “instrumental in their publication of John Masefield’s Martin Hyde (1906), as well as editing the company’s children’s magazines, The Prize and, more notably, Chatterbox from 1901 to 1931. Under his editorship Chatterbox developed a style more suited to early 20th-century boys’ interests, with contributions from Masefield.” (source). The publisher colophon (stylized G & D Co. above) is found on the jacket and in the book from the Laurel Series title shown below.

Though the first half of the 20th century, Wells Gardner, Darton and Co. published many juvenile books but also branched out into fiction, biography, history, etc. The firm was sold in 1928, and Dalton left the company. In the 1940s the firm was fined for publishing “obscene” literature in a paperback series. The books, by Darcy Glinto (aka, Harold Ernest Kelly, founder of Everybody’s Books [1943] and Robin Hood Press [1946]) were Road Floozie and Lady, Don’t Turn Over. In the 1950s the firm’s focus turned to home crafts, puppetry, theatre, travel, car repair and treatises on bell-ringing technique with a smattering of the traditional religious works and juvenile fiction. The firm was insolvent in 1984.

The “Laurel” Series (why the quotes?) was one of several reprint series initiated by Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Ltd. around the time (1928) the firm was sold and Frederick Darton ended his involvement as Director. Advertisements for books in the series are found in 1928 and 1929 only. The firm had issued earlier juvenile or young adult series, including the Chatterbox Library. The jacket for The King’s Cockade by Hubert Rendel (below) advertises The Fathers’ and Sons’ Library, The Modern World Series in addition to the “Laurel” Series.

Jackets are unique to each title in the Laurel Series. The jacket spines are illustrated, using prime space visible to book buyers (common with popular literature series in the first 3 decades of the 20th century). The publisher name is also on the spine, as well as what is probably a publisher’s colophon (in blue). The front of the jacket contains the title, author, illustration and series names.

The front jacket flap advertises The Fathers’ and Sons’ Library: “Volumes which demonstrate that the making of the so-called boy’s book can be a literary accomplishment. The Authors have assumed that the desire to get away from the dull business of everyday life belongs to no age in particular.” Titles include authors John Masefield, John Barnett, Harold Bindloss and Archibald Marshall.

The lower part of the front jacket flap includes a sketch of one of the lions from the “lion gate” of Mycenae in Greece. “The design right across the jackets of the volumes in the “LAUREL” Series is from the Lion Gate at Mycanae.” The reference is to the scroll design in the red band along the bottom of the jacket (further explained on the rear jacket flap). The publisher colophon is included at the bottom of the front jacket flap.

The rear of the jacket lists 21 titles in the Series. One can “write for a list giving the character of the subject matter of each of the above volumes in the ‘Laurel’ Series.” The rear jacket flap lists “Some Volumes by Well-Known Authors” published by the firm, and The Modern World Series (listing four titles). The series name (and scroll design) is repeated along the back of the jacket and rear flap. The publisher colophon is included at the bottom of the rear jacket flap.

At the bottom of the rear jacket flap the explanation of the design at the base of the entire jacket continues from the front jacket flap: “This ‘scroll’ design is at the gateway to the ‘Treasury of Atreus’ at Mycenae (in Greece), and its date is about 1350 B.C. – much the same as the reign of Amenhotep IV in Egypt (see ‘Abdulla’ in this series).” This rather seems as the publisher was filling empty space on the jacket.

There are 21 series titles listed on the back of the jacket. They are almost all (and probably all) back catalog titles from Wells Gardner, Darton. Only a few are dated. I added a few publication month/years from online sources (Books in Print, etc.). At least six more titles are listed on sites such as, for a total of at least 27 titles in the series.

“Includes Stories of everyday life, school yarns, adventure tales, historical stories.”

The Lost Reynolds. By William Rainey.
The Secret Valley. By Mrs. Hobart Hampden.
At The King’s Right Hand. By E.M. Field.
The Mystery Of The Islands. By Mrs. E.G. Mulliken.
Abdulla: The Mystery Of An Ancient Papyrus. By William Rainey, R.I.
Held To Ransom. By V.M. Methley. (1928)
The Cruise Of The Kingfisher. By H. De Vere Stacpoole. (April 1928)
The Peppery Old Colonel. By O.M. Pilleau. (March 1928)
The Giant Of The Treasure Caves. By Mrs. E.G. Mulliken. (April 1928)
Dickie And Dorrie At School. By E. Everett Green. (March 1928)
The King’s Scout. By M. Smith-Masters. (March 1928)
Afloat On The Dogger Bank. By H. C. Moore.
The Mystery Of Coxfolly. By Phoebe Allen.
Tangled Trails. By C.F. Argyll Saxby.
The Boy From Green Ginger Land. By E. Vaughan Smith.
The Boy Tramp. By Thomas Cobb.
Basil The Page. By G. I. Whitham.
Princess Ooma. By Mrs. Hobart Hampden.
Louisa. By Mrs. Hobart Hampden. (1928)
The Knights Of Compassion. By M. Smith-Masters.
Castle Dangerous Of Canada. By E. M. Field.

Additional titles (most likely added after the above 21):

The Golden Astrolabe. By William A. Bryce and H. de Vere Stacpoole.
Without Fear and Without Reproach: The Adventures of the Famous Knight Bayard. By F.J. Harvey Darton
With Wellington At Waterloo. By Harold Avery.
Baby Sahib. By A.A. Methley
Honour & Arms: Tales From Froissart. By Mary Macleod

Bindings are in red cloth with gold typography on the spine and debossed type on the front cover of the book:

This book was a prize from the Edinburgh Merchant Company Schools, Daniel Stewart’s College school, session for 1932-1933. The prize was for Art. The name of the lucky kid is scratched out. “Prize books” are a significant part of the UK book market in the first part of the 20th century. Many that I have found seem to be unread.

The half-title page:

An illustration faces the title page. The book is illustrated by Chas. Sheldon.

The stylized G&D Co. colophon is printed on the copyright page. There is no year of publication in the book. “Printed in Great Britain by Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., Ltd.”