Two US series used the name the Modern Readers’ Series. A short-lived reprint series of about a dozen titles published by New Directions in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and a more substantial series published by Macmillan starting in 1921.
Macmillan’s Modern Readers’ Series was published by the US office of Macmillan. The series seems to have been originally issued around 1921-23. I have not seen a title with a jacket in the series from this era. By 1930, the series contained 150 or so titles including many classics and a few more recent copyright fiction titles. It was undoubtedly meant to compete with the Modern Library in the US. The series was edited by Ashley H. Thorndike.
A promotional bookmark (above, left) includes a basic series description and list of titles (click for more detail).
The advertisement, below, was printed on the back of a jacket for Macmillan’s English Men of Letters series, published in 1926. This implies that the series is new for 1926, but it seems as if it was a major redesign of the series and Ashley Thorndike announced as the series editor.
This October 1928 first series printing of Poe’s Selected Poems is bound in half-leather, as indicated on the spine and jacket front. The cost for half-leather binding is $1.25. The leather bindings on these books tend to dry out and crumble. “TMRS” is sometimes indicated on the jacket spine, and in other cases (see below) “MRS” is used as the series abbreviation. A description of the book is included on the front jacket flap. Jacket colors vary and don’t seem to follow any particular pattern.
The back jacket cover and flap include a list of titles in the series. “The best in literature in attractive form and at low price.” The list includes a comment that some titles are not for sale in the British Dominion.
Green leather and cloth with gold stamping are common to the half dozen half-leather copies I have seen.
Also unchanged throughout this particular design phase of the series is the title page and facing page.
A March 1928 third series printing (first 1924, second 1926) is printed in blue and includes a series description instead of book description on the front jacket flap.
A different (seemingly shorter) list of titles is on the back of the jacket, and the rear flap is blank. I suspect this is one of the earlier jackets in the redesigned series.
A jacket for the 2nd volume of Dickens’ David Copperfield (1928 first printing in series) is in green. A previous owner has made sure we all know that this is the 2nd volume of this Dickens title. Including the price on the spine led to some creative excising, as in this case with the removed price circle.
A 1929 first series printing of Addison’s Essays removes “The” from the series logo on the front the jacket. This clothbound edition had a .80 cent price on the jacket spine, in a diamond, which has been removed by a former owner. The jacket color is a brownish red.
The catalog on the back of the jacket indicates a price increase to $1.00 for the clothbound editions. This price increase may have been stamped on the jacket long after it was printed.
Cloth bindings remain the same through this era, blue stamped with gold lettering and design.
A 1936 series printing (first, 1927, second, September 1930) swaps out a series promotion for book description on the front jacket flap. The price has not been removed from this copy of the jacket.
A slightly different catalog is included on the back of the dust jacket.
In 1928 certain titles were issued in a new, larger format with a different jacket and binding design. This is sometimes referred to as the New Modern Readers’ Series. Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (below) was originally printed in October of 1928, then reprinted six times including this copy, in February 1935. The larger format series titles overlapped by nearly a decade the smaller format titles. The back flap of the jacket explains that this “cheap edition” of the book is possible because original edition plates were used. In other words, reuse of the original printing plates resulted in a larger book (than the earlier titles in the series) of a copyright title for the same .90 cent price.
Jackets are either commonly designed, plain text or have illustrations unique to the title. In this case, a text design for Hardy includes the series name on the jacket spine. The price is indicated on the front flap, .90 cents.
The rear jacket flap describes the “new” series which, again, overlapped the previous format by nearly a decade. It seems that by and large, the titles in the smaller and larger format series were different.
Bindings are brick cloth with black stamping. The series name is included on the book spine.
The half-title page includes the series name and editor.
Titles in the larger format series are listed facing the title page. The title page design is carried over from the older, smaller format books.
The copyright page includes the original copyright and printing dates.
A catalog in the back of the book includes brief descriptions of many of the titles in the larger format Modern Readers’ Series.
Along with plain, text jackets, certain titles included illustrations on the jackets. James Stephen’s The Crock of Gold (a 1935 first printing in the series) is shown below. The price remains .90 cents.
The back jacket flap and rear contain the same blurb about the series and list of titles as the Hardy title, above.
Cloth bindings with this Stephens title have decorations related to the title.
Two more titles, Wilkinson’s Contemporary Poetry and Carroll’s As the Earth Turns, both 1935, are shown below.
A handful of titles in the series are reprinted after 1940, but not many and only infrequently. The newest book in WorldCat with the Modern Readers’ Series listed is in 1970. However, the fact that New Directions reused the series name for their post-WW2 series indicates that the Macmillan series was largely defunct at that time.