British Modern Library Editions
of the 1930's

During the 1930's, Modern Library sold a limited number of specially bound and jacketed regular and giant editions in Great Britain. Not many titles were published, and those that were published didn't sell all that well. By the time World War II started in Europe, the experiment was dead.


John Wolansky submitted the following images of the British ML Humphrey Clinker. The binding is identical to the Toledano type 7 copies (balloon cloth boards, ≈6 5/8" tall X ≈4 3/8" wide, used extensively 1931-1939):
The exchange rate at the time was about $4 to the British Pound. So at 3 shillings 6 pence/copy, the price of the British edition was around 70 cents American — quite a bargain compared to the 95 cents/copy the American edition was selling for.

The only difference within the book block itself is the title page, which is tipped in to replace the American title page. Note the identification in the bottom panel of Hamish Hamilton as the publisher:

John also submitted the British Moby Dick dust jacket from 1934 on the Herman Melville page. He says "Herman Melville's Moby Dick has a red balloon cloth cover also identical to the Toledano 7 cover and has a red topstain. The book appears to be a typical US edition with the only difference being the tipped in title page in color. Hamilton Hamish is no longer listed as the publisher although the London street address is unchanged...The list on the rear of the dust has grown to 26 titles and seeming to take a cue from the US counterparts, several titles have changed numbers and several titles have been replaced."
This image of a British Gibbon pair was spotted on eBay in July of 2006. It probably dates from around 1935 judging from the jacket style and the fact that it's complete in two volumes. The books, bound in dark covers, were "Published by Penguin Books Limited, London for The Modern Library."

Benjamin Clark sent in these images of Jane Eyre. Here are the comments he included: " Found a Hamish Hamilton imprint Jane Eyre in DJ! Jane is No.17 according to the spine and title list on the back of the dj. Verso of dj is blank. Dust jacket looks the same as the others, but has a 21 title list. There are several differences between this 21 title list and the 26 title list on the Moby Dick on Modernlib. Green type 7 binding w/ green top stain. Has an Oxford bookseller’s stamp on the inside front cover. Title page is the same brown ink, tipped in as the other HH editions. There is still no sign of Wisdom of Confucius on any list I’ve found."

A Bit of British Giant History (courtesy of Barry Neavill)

Allen Lane, who launched the paperback revolution in the English-speaking world when he founded Penguin Books in 1935, sold a number of Giants in Britain between 1934 and 1936 priced at five shillings.  Lane only sold titles that were not copyrighted in the UK. He ordered printed sheets from New York with a special imprint for Lane on the title page—either Bodley Head in the earliest copies or Penguin Books London in the later copies. (Some may have just used Modern Library). The books were bound and jacketed in England.  British Giants distributed by Lane included the following:

  • Plutarch's Lives
  • War and Peace
  • Anna Karenina
  • Carlyle's French Revolution
  • Bulfinch's Mythology
  • Les Miserables
  • Boswell's Life of Johnson
  • Keats and Shelley
  • Scott's Ivanhoe etc.
  • Don Quixote
  • Darwin
  • 12 Restoration Plays
  • Jane Austen
  • Gibbon's Decline and Fall (2 vols.)

Beginning in 1936 Hamish Hamilton (Cerf's favorite British publisher) arranged to bring out a number of regular ML titles and several Giants under the imprint Hamish Hamilton (The Modern Library). He imported books in balloon cloth with his own title page from New York and had new and very striking jackets designed in England. 

He ran into copyright problems with a number of titles on his original list of 25 titles that were announced to the trade in August 1936. It turned out that many of the titles he thought were ok in terms of copyright were not, and he couldn't sell them after all (he even had the jackets printed when the copyright problems emerged).  Cerf and Klopfer preferred dealing with Hamilton, but Lane wasn't out of the picture altogether. He continued to sell a few Giants, and for a time seems to have secured copies of the 2-volume Gibbon from an American wholesaler after Cerf and Klopfer stopped selling to him. Lane could be difficult to deal with and paid his bills very slowly, and at this point Cerf and Klopfer had authorized Hamilton to sell the ML Gibbon. The British ML's never really caught on, and Hamilton's attempts to sell the ML in Britain came to an end with the outbreak of WWII.