New Century Library

T. Nelson & Sons Ltd. (London, UK)
Series dates: 1899-1950
Size: 4″ x 6″

newcentury_logoTitles in Nelson’s New Century Library series were issued in copious numbers beginning in 1899 to celebrate, appropriately, the new century. The books were of good quality (paper and binding) and compact size. The series included sets of particular Victorian authors, including Dickens (15 volumes), Thackeray (14 volumes), Scott (25 volumes), and smaller collections (Austen, Bronte, Kingsley, Lever, Lytton, etc.). The series was, then, marketed to those who wanted a collection of a single author’s works, but also to those who were attracted by the idea of a uniform series of classics. Nelson offered various bindings: cloth, limp leather (typically plasticized leather particles) and real leather (all at different price points). Early on, jackets covered the books; later copies (after about 1910) were boxed, in a glassine (tissue) jacket. Nelson also sold larger boxes containing collected works (Thackeray, Scott) and smaller collected authors in slip cases (Austen, Bronte).

Some sources indicate that the New Century Library was renamed Nelson’s Classics in 1905; this is not accurate. Instead, both series were available from Nelson after 1905 (when Nelson’s Classics were first issued) with many of the same titles. The New Century Library, in general, was a better quality book (and cost more) than books in Nelson’s Classics.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1895 – 1911). “A happy idea” […] Nelson’s new century library. Retrieved from

The vast majority of New Century Library titles were published from 1899 through 1910, with reprints through at least 1950.




A 1900 advertisement for the series highlights the collections of Thackeray and Dickens titles, with a mention of the forthcoming set of Scott’s Waverly novels.






A full page advertisement from 1905 directs attention, repeatedly, to the diminutive size of the volumes, with three binding styles available (cloth at 2/, limp leather at 2/6, and leather at 3/). The major collections (Scott, Dickens, Thackeray) are highlighted.



The series was sold in the U.S. where the compact nature of the books was also a key selling point: “For the true booklover who values compact goodness over bulky display” with accompanying dramatic illustrations. The same three binding styles are available (cloth at $1.50, limp leather at $1.25 and leather at $1.50).

Early dust jackets on New Century Library books were common to all the titles in the series, with no indication of the specific book on the front of the jacket, but only on the spine. This copy of Thackeray’s The Newcomes is dated 1908. The series name was prominent on the jacket front, as were binding characteristics (India Paper, limp leather) and price (2s./6p.). The front flap advertises authors with one book in the series (many with multiple titles in each book).


The back of the jacket advertises the collections of Dickens, Thackeray, and Scott. Smaller sets from Austen, Bronte, Kingsley, Lever and Lytton are advertised on the rear flap.


The limp leather bindings (plasticized and pressed leather particles) are dark green with gold typography and minimal decorations on the spine only. The limp leather on this book remains in excellent shape. A red cloth book mark is bound into the book.


Endpapers are a heavy, dark green paper.


The two-color half-title page includes the series name, and an indication that this title is volume 3 of the Works of William Makepeace Thackeray.


The one illustration in the book faces the title page, and is separated from the title page by a sheet of bound-in tissue.


The two-color title page includes the date of printing.


An undated copy of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was published later than the jacketed copy above, probably 1920s, and has several modifications from the jacketed copy above: the book is in a box, has a glassine paper jacket, and does not have the two-color printed title page. It maintains the binding style, heavy green paper endpapers, and decorations on the book spine from the earlier copy above.

The side of the box includes the author, series number and title, as well as the series name and a place for a price.

An undated copy of Fitzgerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is also most likely from the 1920s (or even later) and differs from the Vanity Fair title above in that it includes the title on the front of the book and lacks the serial number on the side of the box. It also has a redesigned spine and marbled endpapers. I’m guessing that this book is slightly later than the copy of Vanity Fair above.


The side of the box includes the title of the book, the series name and a place to put a price. The pencilled in $3 is probably from a later used book dealer.


A redesigned book cover is the same limp leather of the 1908 copy above. The designs on the spine are different from the earlier copy.


End papers are marbled (or printed to resemble marbled paper).


The half title page includes the title.


The title page has no date and a New York imprint location. Nelson established its offices in New York in the 1850s.


The copyright page is blank.


The last page of the book indicates “Printed in the United States of America.”