A New Departure in Book Collecting: Grosset & Dunlap’s “Novels of Distinction”

In book collecting, reprinted titles are usually considered a step down from true first editions, but when collecting famous literature, they are often the only reasonable choice because of scarcity or expensive prices on first editions.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Grosset & Dunlap "Novel of Distinction")

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Grosset & Dunlap “Novel of Distinction”)

One attractive and affordable collecting niche is Grosset & Dunlap’s “Novels of Distinction” literature series from the early 1900’s, which consisted of at least 120 titles. Grosset & Dunlap is a well-known publishing house that produced reprints almost exclusively, and still exists today as part of The Penguin Group of publishers. We love some of the early Grosset & Dunlap books, particularly their “Novels of Distinction” series, and here’s why: They selected highly acclaimed works by respected authors, used quality materials and paper, and manufactured solid, attractive books and illustrated dust jackets. The reprint edition in this series was often more attractive than the original first edition.

Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis (Grosset & Dunlap "Novels of Distinction" edition)

Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis (Grosset & Dunlap “Novels of Distinction” edition)

Elmery Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis (Grosset & Dunlap "Novels of Distinction" edition

Elmery Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis (Grosset & Dunlap “Novels of Distinction” edition

Books in this series had especially high quality cloth bindings, sometimes with decorated endpapers.  Here’s how to recognize them:

"Novels of Distinction" listed on front inside flap of dust jacket

“Novels of Distinction” listed on front inside flap of dust jacket

The front and/or rear inside flap of dust jacket  listed all the currently available titles in the series.

A bio of the author with a photo appeared on the rear panel of the dust jacket.

Bio and photo of Ernest Hemingway, with review of the book on rear DJ panel

Bio and photo of Ernest Hemingway, with review of the book on rear DJ panel

A special logo was blind-stamped on the front board.

Grosset & Dunlap's special "Novels of Distinction" logo

Grosset & Dunlap’s special “Novels of Distinction” logo

The same logo almost always appeared on the spine of the dustjacket:

"Novels of Distinction" logo on DJ spine

“Novels of Distinction” logo on DJ spine

Sometimes a few paragraphs about the series appeared on the front inside flap, with the list of books then appearing on the rear inside flap:

Front inside flap from "Nocturne" by Frank Swinnerton

Front inside flap from “Nocturne” by Frank Swinnerton

From the front flap of “Nocturne”:

A New Departure in Bookmaking

 Haven’t you often wished that the more distinctive novels of the day could be secured in popular priced editions that sacrifice none of the taste and quality of the original higher priced printings?

That very end has now been achieved in the new departure of Grosset & Dunlap—the reprinting in deluxe editions of a group of novels appealing to that growing body of readers with refined and sophisticated taste.

Ask your bookseller to show you these latest issues of the NOVELS OF DISTINCTION.”

Occasionally they had decorated endpapers:

Decorated endpapers from "Jeremy" by Hugh Walpole

Decorated endpapers from “Jeremy” by Hugh Walpole

Decorated endpapers from "Dark Laughter" by Sherwood Anderson

Decorated endpapers from “Dark Laughter” by Sherwood Anderson

They are fun to collect, because they are handsome books, good literature, and can be challenging to locate; yet they are still inexpensive and relatively “undiscovered” as collectible material.

The first Grosset & Dunlap “Novel of Distinction” appears to have been The Perennial Bachelor by Ann Parrish (1926), as it tops the list on the inside flap of early Novels of Distinction titles (before they went to alphabetizing them). It is an historical romance of Lord Nelson and the beautiful Lady Hamilton, who was the inspiration of his great naval victories for England, culminating the Battle of Trafalgar in which Nelson died, leaving Lady Hamilton and his daughter as a legacy to his country.

Below are a few highlights from a list of the series titles taken from the front flap of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, which was published by Grosset & Dunlap as a Novel of Distinction in 1929:

  •  The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder)
  • Early Autumn (Louis Bromfield)
  • Brief Candles (Aldous Huxley)
  • Bright Metal (T. S. Stribling)
  • The Haunted Bookshop (Christopher Morley)
  • The Moon and Sixpence (W. Somerset Maugham)
  • The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)
  • The Professor’s House (Willa Cather)
  • Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham)
  • Marching On (James Boyd)
  • The Way Things Are (E. M. Delafield)

…and over a hundred more, by authors such as Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Ford Madox Ford, H. G. Wells, and other great writers.  The full collection would make an impressive literature library.  These are great books at moderate prices, when compared to the first editions of any of these titles.

Some Grosset & Dunlap "Novels of Distinction"

Some Grosset & Dunlap “Novels of Distinction”

I am unsure in what year the series ended, or of the last published title in the series.  I have made inquiries with the Grosset & Dunlap division of The Penguin Group to see if they have any historical data, but have not yet received any pertinent information.  The earliest publication date we have seen in these books as they pass through our store is 1911 (which I think in this case was the copyright date of the original first edition); most seem to have been published in the 1920s.  The latest publication date we have seen is 1931.

The Battle of the Horizons, by Sylvia Thompson

The Battle of the Horizons, by Sylvia Thompson (1928)

Grosset & Dunlap was purchased by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in 1982 and today is part of the British publishing conglomerate, Pearson PLC through its American subsidiary Penguin Group (USA). Since the 1940s, Grosset has published the Illustrated Junior Library, a collection of hardcover editions of Little Women, Tom Sawyer, and more than twenty other classics. Today, through the Penguin Group (USA) they publish approximately 170 titles a year.  Perhaps best known to collectors for their Photoplay Editions (books on which early films or photo plays were based and containing scenes from them), they also published popular children’s series books such as The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift among others.

If any of my readers have more information about the “Novels of Distinction” series of literature published by G&D, please contact me or share with readers in the comments section.

To view books available for sale in this series at Old Scrolls Book Shop, click here:   NOVELS OF DISTINCTION


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Do you buy old classics? I have a library of books I need to get rid of.

    • Hello Don,
      We buy quality used books (excellent condition, with original dust jackets), mostly older titles. E-mail us at info@oldscrolls.com with a list of your titles or bring them into the store if you are nearby.
      Best Regards,
      Catherine Petruccione
      Old Scrolls Book Shop

  2. Those decorated endpapers would make for excellent T-shirt designs.

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