Among the most popular books we sell at Old Scrolls Book Shop are Modern Library editions, a series of reprints of great literature started in 1917 by publisher Boni & Liveright. The line of books was extremely successful, and was later purchased by Bennett Cerf of Random House fame. Did you know that Modern Library preceded Random House, which was actually a later offshoot of Cerf’s publishing endeavors?
These books are fun to collect and a superb way to build a private library of the world’s great literature, even if you have limited space. The regular editions are compact (approx. 5” x 7”) , attractive and well-made, with enough editions and variations to hold your collecting interest for a long, long time. Most titles are within the price range of just about any collector. Great novels, plays, poetry, history, biography and more can be at your fingertips, in volumes about the size of a mass market paperback but much more attractive and refined. In addition, there are the Modern Library Giants (introduced in 1931), the illustrated editions, pirated editions, and the buckram bound editions, plus numerous other possible areas of concentration to suit your collecting inclinations.
One of our favorite websites is Scot Kamin’s Collecting the Modern Library at www.modernlib.com
His site is chock full of valuable information useful for the beginning collector right on through to the seasoned expert, and I highly recommend it for those interested in learning more about Modern Library.
Also helpful is Henry Toledano’s Modern Library Price Guide. This reference book takes some study time in order to understand his arrangement of information, but it is an essential reference for identifying Modern Library first editions, variations in bindings and dust jackets, and it has interesting information on elusive titles and ephemera.
As Media Editor for Bookthink, I was fortunate to be able to interview both Henry Toledano and Scot Kamin in order to pick their brains on the subject of Modern Library:
TIP: Be on the lookout for the Illustrated Modern Library Edition of Alice in Wonderland (1947) which was illustrated by John Tenniel and colored by Fritz Kredel. “Illustrated Modern Library” was printed on the base of the spine, and it had illustrated boards. Around 3,000 copies were printed; it is considered the scarcest of the Modern Library titles.