When checking out, the proprietor asked if we were “collectors.” Our eyes lit up and met his, he recognizes our keen eye for books, I thought. He walked us over to a glass case and said, “… because I have a first edition of a Dorothy Sayers over here if you’d like to see it.” We nodded and followed him over to the case. He handed the book to my mother who carefully thumbed through it, landing on the title page with the price carefully laid inside. $700. A little out of our price range. She handed the beautiful back to him and thanked him, telling him as much. At that point I felt a little less like a “real” collector, and a little more like a garage-saler. As he walked us back to the cash register (where we proceeded to spend almost $200 on our purchases), he told us that when he bought the book, it was worth $1200.
My perspective shifted again, to see this proprietor, a clear lover of books, and a businessman trying to perpetuate the importance of collecting and preserving these rare titles (and at the same time trying to do the same for Independent bookstores). Now, I know he didn’t spend $1200 on the Dorothy Sayers (probably only $300), but he lost a potential $500 in the few short months he owned the book. No doubt the value will go up again, but it can’t be easy for a small bookstore in this market, when NO ONE is spending $700 for a first edition Dorothy Sayers.
I don’t recall the publisher or edition of the Dorothy Sayers titles that my mom found, but they reminded me of the Everyman’s Library (a collection of titles that I have a fondness for).
Everyman’s Library was the brain trust of J.M. Dent, a bookbinder, and Ernest Rhys, poet and editor. Originally published under J.M. Dent, it began in 1906 with James Boswell’s Life of Johnson and ceased production of new titles around 1976/78. Dent’s “goal was to create a 1,000 volume library of world literature that was affordable for, and that appealed to, every kind of person, from students to the working classes to the cultural elite.” (Wikipedia) His design sense was influenced by popular designers/artists of his time: William Morris and Eric Ravilious. The illustrations and end papers reflect these design sensibilities. (and are one of the reasons I so love these editions).
By 2002, Everyman’s Library had been bought, transfered, and divided among a number of publishers, but is still in existence and publishing new classics. Today it is published by Random House in the UK, & Knopf in the US. Everyman’s Classics (paperbacks) are published under the Hatchette Livre / J.M. Dent moniker in the UK, and Charles E. Tuttle in the US.
There were three basic eras of the early publications from Everyman’s Library:
- The Flat-back Era, 1906-1928
- The Shields Era, 1928-1934
- The Ravilious Era, 1935-1953
EverymansLibraryCollecting.com is a great collecting site, with loads of information, regarding early to mid-century titles, designs, and ephemera. I defer to them when juggling the confusing combinations of text block, cover design, and dust jacket combinations.
Today, however, it is a little less confusing and more recent titles are equally valuable. Some of the titles that have been published since the early 1990s are considered collectibles. All titles, no matter when they were published should be listed as “First Thus” editions. Most were produced with lower print runs and may even be classified as “rare.” As always, when looking for collectibles, the ones that are signed by the author are most valuable.
- Buying and Selling Everyman’s Library – A Primer article by Craig Stark
- Dictionary Catalogue of the First 505 Volumes of Everyman’s Library by Isabella Mitchell Cooper (online book made available through archive.org)
- Everyman’s Library – first 1000 volumes list by author and volume number database by kashda.com
- Everyman’s Library A Complete Serial List New Series (since 1991) database by Sevenroads.org
- Collecting Everyman’s Library by Jeffrey Anderson
- Official Everyman’s Library Web site (Knopf)
- Listing of Early (J.M. Dent) Everyman’s Library titles for sale at Abebooks.com
- Listing of (Knopf) Everyman’s Library titles for sale at Abebooks.com