World’s Classics

Grant Richards (London, UK)
Series dates: 1901-1905

Oxford University Press (London, UK)
Series dates: 1905-date
Size: 4″ x 6″

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Oxford’s World’s Classics series is among a handful of series that sold many millions of books over much of the 20th century. It is also one of the smallest format series, at a diminutive 4″ x 6″ in size. London publisher Grant Richards initiated the series in 1901.

 

 

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An article in the Review of Reviews, volume 24, 1901, reviews the new World’s Classics series and other publications from Grant Richards. The image above is from the article, and the rest of the article is here as a PDF.

In a July 3, 1903 copy of T.P.’s Weekly Grant Richards described the goals of the newly issued World’s Classics series:

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In 1905, when unable to continue the costly effort involved in publishing a significant reprint series, Richards sold the series to the Oxford University Press at the time under the leadership of Henry Frowde. At the Oxford University Press, the series expanded to 900 titles by 1979 and several sub-series (World’s Classics Galaxy Editions, Double/Omnibus volumes) were issued. The series was redesigned and reissued in paperback and some hardcover editions in the 1980s.


The World’s Classics: A Library within a Library: overview of a largely complete collection of World’s Classics titles.

A complete list of titles in the series with bibliographic details and sub-series can be found in “The World’s Classics” and “Oxford World’s Classics”: A Guide to the Clothbound Editions (and Their Variants). 2010. Compiled by J. Godsey, Geoffrey Milburn and Nicholas Murray. (pdf here; archived here).


The earliest copies of the World’s Classics, published by Grant Richards from 1901-1905, have elaborate book spine decorations and probably were issued with dust jackets. See images of some of the World’s Classics titles from this era (without jackets) at The World’s Classics: A Library within a Library.

Early Oxford copies of the series have textual jackets, common to the series up to about 1917. The following image is taken from The World’s Classics: A Library within a Library:

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Around 1915, illustrated jackets appear. Typically outlined with a decorative border, the jackets show images of the author or illustrate scenes from the book. This jacket design lasts until around 1929.

Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution is a 1929 2nd printing in the World’s Classics (first, 1928). Jacket spines include the series number. The front of the jacket has the decorative frame, common to many titles at the time, with the author/title in one box and an illustration in another. The series name is not included on the jacket spine nor front. A list of recent and forthcoming titles in the series is included, with the series name, on the front jacket flap. A price (2/ net) is included on the jacket flap.

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Recent and forthcoming titles are included on the rear jacket flap, and a list of popular titles is included on the back of the jacket.

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The jacket points to a complete list (as of 1929) of titles at the rear of the book (see below).

Bindings are rather elegant green cloth with a subtle debossed design and gold lettering. The series name is not included on the book cover.

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The series name heads the half-title page along with the book’s series number and the title of the book.

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Information about the Oxford University Press faces the title page which includes a series logo.

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Basic biographical information and printing information in the series are included on copyright page along with printing information.

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A catalog (dated November 1929) is included in the back of this particular title.

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A common globe design with extensive surrounding decorations is used from about 1926-1937. A copy of Macaulay’s Selected Speeches was first published in the series in 1935. The book’s serial number is on the top of the jacket spine. The series name is at the base of the front jacket cover, the author and title at the top. A brief description of the book is included on the front jacket flap.

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The reverse of the jacket includes related titles in the series:

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The book’s binding is blue cloth with gold stamping and a different design from the 1929 title above.

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A non illustrated common jacket design is also used in this era, from about 1935 to 1950.

Post-WW2 copies of the World’s Classics include common, textual jackets and illustrated jackets.

A copy of West African Explorers edited by C. Howard is a “double volume” in the series, published for the first time in 1951. The jacket design is used on numerous titles published after WW2.

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A variation on the text jacket design is this 1961 fourth reprinting (first in series, 1950) of Five Pre-Shakespearean Comedies.

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Illustrated jackets are used for a significant number of titles from the 1950s onward. This is a first printing in series 1965 edition of selections from Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

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Additional illustrated jackets, all 1957 printings: Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms and Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux.

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