The Best-Laid Plans
Back in 1929 the wonderful Everyman publishers (Dent) conceived the idea of a weekly literature magazine aimed at the general reader – Everyman him (or her) self. Glancing at the prospectus, what a great thing it would have been, at a mere twopence a week, 12/6 a year including postage. How could it not succeed? Well, I’ve never seen a copy. Have you?
Here’s a little Edwardian flier promoting their (now) 391 volumes, 50 of which had just been added, in these categories: Biography, Classical, Essays & Belles letres, Fiction, For Young People, History, Philosophy and Drama, Romance, and finally, Travel. (This particular update had added nothing to the Science category.) The Library was as comprehensive as a well-stocked bookshop, and make you wonder what publisher covers such a range today.
This was an Everyman bookmark:
You’ll remember the days of Book Tokens – when books were books and, in consequence, Book Tokens were ink-on-paper rather than magnetic card.
Even artists as great as John Nash accepted commissions to design them:
I think this one too was designed by Nash (in the 1940s):
Though a more conventional wrapper, perhaps from the Fifties this time, was:
Those were the days.
Earlier, almost a century earlier, library users knew their place:
Because back in the 19th century they knew only too well that . . . Books Matter.
Here’s the book no one can resist.
Look carefully. Click on the image to reveal the details under your microscope. See the escaped convict hiding behind just the kind of screen you might have in your bedroom, beside a soda siphon and what appears to be a plate piled with green peas (though perhaps my eyes deceive me) and, just as in your own dear home, no doubt, a wash-jug on the floor.
Note the convict’s natty socks. Note also that his poorly daughter, realizing the import of a visit from the constabulary has, in a vain attempt to hide it, thrown her golliwog to the floor. Surely the eagle-eyed policeman will notice – or was it a deliberate attempt to distract his attention? You must read the book to find out.
Double-click the image to read the original promotion. What more need I say?
Here are a few examples from a time when books were good to handle and bookselling more than a trade – the days when booksellers talked to their customers, and publishers sought to build a relationship through insert cards and booklists, and send-for catalogues.
Do you remember the Penguin Club?
A decade or so earlier, readers who returned this postcard to Collins (then at 48 Pall Mall, London SW1) were assured they would receive both catalogues and the newssheet News of Books.
Here’s an example from William Heinemann, the card dating from – I suggested the Thirties, but that expert on such matters, Ralph Spurrier, said No, the card must date before 1920, as it purports to come from William Heinemann himself – and he died in 1920. So . . . from the second decade of the last century:
The only stipulation from Heinemann on the reverse of this beautifully formal postcard is that the reader indicates whether their interest is ‘Art, Education, Works of Fiction, History, Medicine, Memoirs, Poetry, Science, etc.’
More from Everyman.
Here’s an example of their marketing from nearly a century ago:
The Everyman’s Library
This long-running series was a mainstay of the 20th century and was indeed relaunched towards the end of it. Throughout its long life it maintained a catalogue of severely selected literature, braced with a healthy whiff of minor classicism.
Authors listed on the reverse of this bookmark (‘Modern Books in Everyman’s Library’) comprise Arnold Bennett, G K Chesterton, Joseph Conrad, Florence Converse, Sir A Eddington, John Galsworthy, Charles Gore, Henry James, D H Lawrence, Pierre Loti, George Meredith, Hugh Walpole and H G Wells, along with the Golden Book of Modern English Poetry.
That was to get you started.
The encyclopaedia was some decades old by the time this flier was introduced.
The price had risen from 5/6 to 14/- per volume and the text had increased from 7 to 9 million words.
Recommendations from the famous had been replaced by recommendations from not only the BBC but sundry newspapers – though none, may it be noted, from the national dailies other than the Scotsman.
‘You cannot afford to be without a real Encyclopaedia,’ ran the copy, ‘and you can afford Everyman’s.’ So there.
But as if these weren’t sufficient encouragement . . .
This little slip was placed inside many a book (well, certainly many a book published by Dent) to advertise what was then an ambitious and fairly successful series.
The ‘Opinions’ cited overleaf comprised plugs from no less than J B Priestley (‘a most extraordinary production’), Sir Austen Chamberlain (‘the pages open freely and the print is clear’), Sir Josiah Stamp (‘an invaluable work’), Sir Arthur Keith (‘a veritable triumph’) and Viscountess Snowden (‘a never-failing source of information and delight’).
Somehow, I feel Maurice Saatchi might have improved these testimonials just a tad.
Meanwhile, the enormous house of William Collins had launched their
Illustrated Pocket Classics series:
If you couldn’t cope with a full-length book, you could select from an enormous range of cheap magazines – such as these from Cassells:
Among their many competitors – especially for those “Tiny Tots” you might have preferred this (short-lived) magazine:
Couldn’t these ads have been a little more attractive? Well, see below . . .
This lovely little corner-of-the-page bookmark dates from the end of the Victorian era. (The food, rather than the infant, was ‘not farinaceous’; syntax could be imprecise, even then.)
Publishers still occasionally try to have readers contact them directly, but the practice was once far more routine. Jonathan Cape here offer any interested reader the chance to subscribe, for free, to a 4-monthly catalogue. All that was required of the reader was a 2d stamp on the postcard.
Issued in 1940 and lasting who knows how long into the straightened times of the Second World War, this three-fold bookmark given away to borrowers from Cheltenham Public Library was a neat money-raising device. Printed both sides, it incorporated advertisements from 16 local businesses and, on the obverse, a space for the reader to jot down a list of Books Wanted, a seven-inch ruler, and an exhortation: ‘DO NOT Turn Down The Leaves Of Your Book. Use This Bookmark.’
We assume that the firm W S Trenhaile, if it survived the war, did so by concentrating on only one of its two unrelated forms of business.
Meanwhile, back to today . . .
When you think that this edition of Jane Eyre, published around 1900 and therefore nowhere near a first edition but with that all-important art nouveau spine, sells for two or three hundred pounds, while Maria Edgeworth’s “Ormond” published by the same publisher in the same attractive format, also with that art nouveau spine but with a better illustrator (Pegram versus Bacon – yes, who?) struggles to fetch a tenner.
Why? Jane Eyre must have had a larger print run and should therefore be more common, yet it fetches twenty times as much. Are we mad, or is there so much magic in the Bronte name (and especially in this novel) that fans will pay this price to add another version to their collection?
You tell me.
Meanwhile . . . don’t forget to check the new guide to some of the best-value illustrated books ever published! CLICK HERE