Universal Library

Grosset & Dunlap (New York, US)
Series dates: 1931-1972
Size: 5.5″ x 8″

universallib_logoA 1931 edition of Publishers Weekly (vol. 119) announced that “Grosset & Dunlap have branched off from their famous Novels of Distinction to the publication of a deluxe series of outstanding classics, to be known as The Universal Library, each volume being offered at $1.” The series had at least 26 titles, and the name would remain in use through at least 1972 for hardcover titles. The Paperback Universal Library was first issued at some time in the 1950s.

The Novels of Distinction contained modern literary fiction and the Universal Library consisted of 19th-century classics. Taken together, the two series were direct competition for the Modern Library (which combined modern literary fiction and classics in one series). The price of $1 (the Modern Library was .95 cents) but for a full-size book gave the Grosset & Dunlap series a leg-up at least on the price per pound of the books.

Universal Library books had unique, full-color jackets for each title. This copy of Cellini’s Autobiography is undated (like most Grosset & Dunlap books) but probably was issued relatively close to the 1931 start of the series (given the short list of titles available in the series, on the jacket back). The series name is included on the jacket spine and front. A description of the book fills the front jacket flap.


The Novels of Distinction are listed on the rear jacket flap. This series began in 1928. The back of the jacket lists 15 titles, and fills in the rest of the space with a gentleman filling his shelves with books – but not, unfortunately, the rather distinctively designed Universal Library books.


The distinctive, Art Nouveau bindings are printed in silver and green with a plant design, all over black cloth.


Heavy green endpapers lead to the half-title page with the series name.


The title page decorations continue the Art Nouveau style of the front of the book.


There is no date on the copyright page. On some copies, a date is included but it is typically the date of copyright and not printing. Curiously, another title page (half-half-title? quarter title?) follows the copyright page.


A second copy from the Universal Library, this one Anatole France’s The Red Lily is also undated but indicates 11 more titles than the Cellini copy above: 26 titles in all. The 11 new titles are simply added above the same order list of the first 15, suggesting this book was published after the Cellini, possibly later 1931 or 1932.