Modern Library Dust Jackets and Bindings: 1917-1939

The Modern Library Series was established in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright (New York). The series highlighted 'modern' (and mostly European) authors, in comparison to Everyman's Library, which emphasized 'classic' authors. In 1925 the Modern Library was sold to Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer, and the series eventually became the cornerstone of Random House publishers.

This page contains details and images of the cache of old Modern Library books pictured above, as I found them. The books were owned by the same person, and I paid about $4 for each of them. These books encompass an amazing sample of nearly all the Modern Library binding and dust jacket variants from 1917 through the 1930s, including at least one Boni and Liveright copy in DJ from each of the first four years of the Modern Library: 1917, 1918, 1919, and 1920. A few are first editions. Most Modern Library 1st editions published after 1925 indicate "First Modern Library Edition": a list of Modern Library titles that don't state a first edition can be found at Scot Kamins Modern Library Collecting WWW Site.

It is unusual to find pre-1930 Modern Library editions in their dust jackets. It is very unusual to find Boni & Liveright editions in dust jackets: I found two copies with dust jackets in the 5 years prior to acquiring the eleven in this collection.

I originally put this page together to share with Modern Library collectors on the MODLIB email discussion group. I added some details about some of the authors of the books, as well as a few images from books not in the original cache to make this page into a basic overview of the major Modern Library bindings and dust jackets from the beginning of the Modern Library (1917) to 1939, when the larger (and very common) Blumenthal binding was introduced (used until 1967):

A Brief Digression on the Modern Library compared to Everyman's Library

The Modern Library was undoubtedly inspired by the success of Everyman's Library (20 million books sold between 1906 and 1924), which predates it by more than a decade.

Everyman's Library was established by Dent & Sons in 1906 to take advantage of the many Victorian classics (Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Dickens, Huxley, etc.) falling out of copyright. Everyman's Library was to have an expansive (1000 volume) collection of copyright-free classics in nicely bound yet inexpensive editions. Dent wrote of Everyman's as a nationalist enterprise, as similar series existed in France (Biblitheque Nationale) and Germany (the Reclam collection), but not England. As such, it was really a collection of established classics, many in new scholarly translations, or back in print after many years of being unavailable.

Copyright-free texts obviously made for fewer hassles and less expense for Dent. However, this excluded many modern authors and many American authors...but not all. Dent and his editor Ernest Rhys did include American authors: Everyman's was among the first series to reprint Melville, who was largely unread and unknown in Europe.

Everyman's Library also included American authors such as Hawthorne, Alcott, Emerson, Cooper, Thoreau, Stowe, Motley, Holmes, Irving, Parkman, Poe, and others, including some who are now largely forgotten, including Florence Converse and George Curtis - author of the not quite immortal Prue and I (#418).

American authors Hawthorne and Emerson are among the first 12 titles in Everyman's Library.

Conversely, the first 12 Modern Library authors (Wilde, Strindberg, Kipling, Stevenson, Wells, Ibsen, France, Maupassant, Nietzsche, Dostoyevski, Maeterlinck, Shopenhauer) do not include a single American author!

The 'Modern' Library was just that - a collection of mostly 'Modern' authors (and what was 'Modern' obviously flowed from Europe), certainly more 'trendy' and 'cutting-edge' than the titles in Everyman's. Such a series was certainly in keeping with the edgy bohemian image Horace Liveright shaped for Boni & Liveright's publishing efforts.

Most of the Modern Library's initial titles were not in Everyman's (except for Dostoyevsky's Poor People). Dutton bound and sold Everyman's Library in the US. Dutton bought 20% - usually 2000 copies - of every printing Dent produced. When the Modern Library began in 1917, Everyman's had over 700 different titles, many in multiple printings: Dutton sold a large number of Everyman's editions in the US. The books were the same as the British copies, but the dust jackets had Dutton (rather than Dent) on the spine thru the 20s. Dutton also had some unique American Everyman's titles that were not published in Britain (of more modern authors... possibly to compete with the Modern Library).

Of course, the Modern Library would begin to add titles by American authors in the 1920s, and also titles that were not 'modern.' Everyman's Library began to add titles that were 'modern' in the 1930s.

But it seems fair to say, in a nutshell, that the difference between Everyman's and the Modern Library was one of 'classic' titles vs 'modern' least back when the Modern Library was first published in 1917.

Last updated: 11/14/06


Most of the books in the above photo are detailed below. Send any comments or corrections to me (John Krygier) at

First up: TWO mid 1930s Modern Library editions. These binding types and dust jackets are the most common for the 1929-39 era of the Modern Library. The books are approximately 6.5" x 4.5" - as are all Modern Library books prior to 1939.

163.1: Misc: An Anthology of American Negro Literature
200.1: Mann: Magic Mountain

Next: SEVEN mid to late 1920s Modern Library editions, more or less representing the major binding and DJ types from the first 5 years after Cerf and Klopfer took over the Modern Library from B&L.

63.1: James: Daisy Miller: An International Episode
44.1: Misc: Irish Fairy and Folk Tales

30.2: Beebe: Jungle Peace

147.1: Sterne: Tristram Shandy

25.2: Cabell: Beyond Life
75.1: George: A Bed of Roses
29.1: Hecht: Erik Dorn

Finally: ELEVEN Boni and Liveright Modern Library editions. I organized them into 4 groupings, based on the different prices printed on the DJ spines: 95 cents, 85 cents, 70 cents, and 60 cents (oldest last). Many of the earlier DJs have 'official' price increases imposed over the original price printed on the DJ spines, clearly revealing the numerous changes in ML prices from 1917 to 1920. The differences between Boni and Liveright DJs and the early Cerf and Klopfer DJs is primarily on the spine (different logo, price) but the front of the B&L DJs also have thicker lines surrounding the red bars, and different typography.

48.1: Gorky: Creatures that Once Were Men
17.1: Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge
69.1: Ibanez: The Cabin
87.1: Misc: Best American Humorous Short Stories

71.1: Atherton: Rezanov
11.1: Maeterlinck: A Miracle of St. Antony
8.1: Maupassant: Mademoiselle Fifi
14.1: Meredith: Diana of the Crossways
37.1: Misc: Evolution in Modern Thought

26.1: Gilbert: Mikado and other Plays

6.1: Ibsen: Plays: A Doll's House, Ghosts, an Enemy of the People

This page may all seem a bit nutty, but it was really fun sorting through this great bunch of old Modern Library books.