Seal Books

Modern Age Books (New York, US)
Series dates: 1938-1942
Size: 5.25″ x 7.5″

Richard S. Childs, an economist by training, founded Modern Age Books in 1937. Literary Guild founder Samuel Craig was Modern Age Books general manager and the managing editor was a former Macmillan employee, Louis Birk.

Initially, the books were placed into one of three series, sorted by price-point: Blue Seal Books, Gold Seal Books, and Red Seal Books. The Blue and Gold Seal Books were new titles, the Red Seal Books reprints. The Blue and Gold Seal Books were available in paperback and hardcover, the Red Seal Books only in paperback. By 1938 titles were appearing with the name “A Seal Book” or “Seal Books” as the initial three series approach was discontinued.

As Modern Age Books struggled, they issued four clothbound titles under the Starling Press imprint in 1939, but discontinued this effort, with no more books published, in 1940.

The New Inquisition, by Konrad Heiden
In Blood and Ink, by Maury Maverick
Peace, It’s Wonderful, by William Saroyan
Secret Armies: The New Technique of Nazi Warfare, by John Spivak

In 1941 the end was near for Modern Age Books. Their list had reached 47 clothbound titles and 73 paperbound titles, but the paperbound titles were canceled in 1942 before the entire enterprise was ended in October of 1942.

See the entry for the Red Seal Books for more background on Modern Age Books.

Despite what was by all accounts a well-orchestrated effort, Modern Age Books was struggling not long after the debut of its three series (Gold, Blue, and Red Seal Books) in 1937. By 1938 the three series were gone, with a single line of books – Seal Books – combining titles from the three series as well as additional titles. The jackets and books were redesigned: still modern but more subtle and Penguinesque in style.

The new geometric design is evident on this 1938 edition of W.R. Burnett’s Little Caesar. The contrasting rectangles on the jacket spine and front include the title, author, series number (#34, at the base of the spine), price (upper right corner of the front of the jacket) and an indication of “unabridged edition.” The front jacket flap describes the book, includes the publisher imprint and price (.25 cents).

The back of the jacket repeats the mantra of cheap books of high quality due to large printings that had been used since Modern Age Books appeared in 1937. The viewer is directed to turn over the jacket for a list of titles published by Modern Age Books. The rear jacket flap is an order form, including 40 titles (some leftovers from the earlier series, available in both paperback and hardcover, and designated with a “c” after the series number).

The rear of the dust jacket includes a listing of Seal Books as of 1938. This collapses the three series titles and non-series titles into one category – Seal Books. The books are categorized into two big categories: “New Books, Never Before Published” and “Modern Age Reprints.” The books are further subdivided into Fiction, Short Stories, For Mystery Fans, a “Modern World Series” (with only one title), Current Affairs, Biography, Cookbooks, Guide Books, “A Diversity” (uncategorizable titles?), and For Boys and Girls. The reprints are categorized as Fiction, Short Stories, For Mystery Fans, Biography and Travel. The books are all numbered – the Modern Age Books series number used on all books since 1937, and titles available in hardcover have an appended “c” (for cloth, no doubt).

The spine and front of the book cover mimic the jacket design; the rear of the book contains a simple “A Seal Book” colophon.

The half-title page:

The title page:

The copyright page includes the original year of printing (1929) and publisher (Dial Press) as well as an indication of the 1938 Modern Age reprinting of the title.

The tradition of including a series prospectus in the rear of the book continues, although this version is edited to remove the Red, Gold, and Blue Seal series and adds a mention of the new Modern World Series edited by Louis M. Hacker. The latter series only included one title, The United States: A Graphic History, by Louis Hacker. No more titles followed in that series.

The catalog of titles is expanded to include the same titles listed on the reverse of the dust jacket: