Cresset Library

The Cresset Press Ltd. (London, UK)
Series dates: 1935-1936, 1946-1961
Size: 5.25″ x 7.5″ (1935-1936); 5.25″ x 8″ (1946-1961)

Chanticleer Press (New York, US)
Series dates: 1949-1950
Size: 5.25″ x 8″

Revised 5/27/2023

Originating in 1927 and specializing in expensive, illustrated limited-edition books, the Cresset Press began publishing more broadly in the mid-1930s as the demand for expensive, limited editions waned.

The Cresset Library series was initially a series of new short fiction by contemporary authors with six titles published in 1935 and 1936. All but the last consist of short stories, and all were written for the series (thus true first editions). The inital five books in the series are announced in an advertisement (below, left) in the Times Literary Supplement, (November 16, 1935), and a review of the five titles appears in the same (below, right) on November 23, 1935 (right mouse click to enlarge).

#1. More Joy in Heaven by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1935)
#2. To Blush Unseen by Valentine Dobree (1935)
#3. The Laburnum Tree by James Laver (1935)
#4. The Beginning by Mervyne Lagden (1935)
#5. The Basement Room by Graham Green (1935)
#6. Icara by Madeleine Masson (1936)

cresset_logoaJames Laver‘s The Laburnum Tree is shown below.  As the series prospectus on the front jacket flap notes, the series books are a convenient pocket size (if you have large pockets) and good for travelers and weekend visitors “who don’t have the time to read a full-length novel.”

The jackets are common to the series, modernist in design, and quite innovative for the time, almost suggestive of the post-WW2 New Classics Series designed by Alan Lustig. Printed on silver paper, the only place the series name is mentioned on the jacket or book itself is in the paragraph on the front jacket flap.

The author and title are included on the spine and front of the jacket. The initial five titles in the series are listed. Warner’s More Joy in Heaven, Greene’s The Basement Room, Dobree’s To Blush Unseen, and The Beginning by Mervyne Lagden. At least one more title (Madeleine Masson, Icara, published in 1936). The price noted on the jacket flap is 3/6 net.


The back of the jacket advertises two H.G. Wells titles also published by the Cresset Press.


A basic red, cloth binding with black stamping.


Half-title page.


The title page:


Copyright page, indicating first published in 1935.


cresset_logoIn 1946, the series was revived, focused on a sometimes quirky list of reprints. According to one source, the Cresset Library “was a uniquely imaginative series of punctiliously edited reprints” (“Obituary: Mr. Dennis Cohen – Publisher and connoisseur,” The Times, 26 February 1970). In 1949 an agreement with the Chanticleer Press in New York saw the series published and sold in the U.S. Like many other post-war series, the Cresset Library fades in the 1950s, with the last title published in 1961. Reprints appear through the 1960s. A paperback series published by the Cresset Press in the 1980s also carries the name.

The Cresset Press reimagined the Cresset Library series after the war, as a carefully edited collection of important but sometimes ignored classics. The series was edited by John Hayward. A few titles are common to other series; other titles are rare to find in reprint series. Each book includes a new introduction by a notable author or literary critic. At least 21 titles were eventually included in the series. A list of series titles is below (based on the list at the Pages of Pages blog with a few added reprint dates and organization by year of publicatoin). The last title is A Memoir of Thomas Bewick, written by Himself and published in 1961. This title is illustrated on the Pages of Pages blog. The last reprint was in 1964.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick
With an introduction by Montgomery Belgion. 1946. 577pp.

George Crabbe, The Life of George Crabbe By His Son
With an introduction by Edmund Blunden. 1947. 286pp.

*Celia Fiennes, The Journeys of Celia Fiennes
Edited from the original MS and with an introduction and notes by Christopher Morris. Preface by G. M. Trevelyan. 1947. 376pp. Reprint 1949.

James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
With an introduction by Andre Gide. 1947. 230pp. Reprint 1962, 1964.

*Sheridan Le Fanu, Uncle Silas
With an introduction by Elizabeth Bowen. 1947. 480pp. Reprint 1957.

Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne
Edited and with an introduction by James Fisher. Illustrated by Clair Oldham. 1947. 296pp. Reprint 1960.

*George Borrow, The Romany Rye
With an introduction by Walter Starkie. 1948. 414pp.

Eugène Fromentin, Dominique
Translated by Sir Edward Marsh. 1948. 250pp.

*Leigh Hunt, The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt
Edited and with an introduction and notes by J.E. Morpurgo. 1948. 512pp. Reprint 1949.

*R.E. Raspe, Singular Travels, Campaigns and Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Edited and with an introduction by John Carswell. Illustrated by Leslie Wood. 1948. 178pp. Reprint 1949.

*John Aubrey, Brief Lives
Selected, edited, and with an introduction and notes by Anthony Powell. 1949. 397pp.

*James Cook, The Voyages of Captain Cook
Edited and with an introduction by Christopher Lloyd. 1949. 384pp.

James Morier, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan
With an introduction by Richard Jennings. 1949. 459pp.

*Jonathan Swift, Selected Prose Works of Jonathan Swift
Edited and with an introduction by John Hayward. 1949. 483pp.

*Samuel L. Clemens, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
With an introduction by T. S. Eliot. 1950. 291pp.

*Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an Opium Eater and Autobiography
Edited and with an introduction by Edward Sackville-West. 1950. 339pp.

*Ivan Turgenev, A Sportsman’s Notebook
Translated by Charles and Natasha Hepburn. 1950. 397pp. Reprint 1959, 1960.

*Ivan Turgenev, On The Eve
Translated by Moura Budberg. 1950. 218pp.

Robert Southey, Letters From England
Edited and with an introduction by Jack Simmons. 1951. 494pp.

*Alfred de Vigny, The Military Necessity (Servitude et Grandeur militaires)
Translated and with an introduction by Humphrey Hare. 1953. 209pp.

Thomas Bewick, A Memoir of Thomas Bewick written by Himself
Edited and with an introduction by Montagu Weckley. With wood engravings by Thomas Bewick. 1961. 204pp.

*Issued in the US by Chanticleer Press

The dust jackets share a common design, an abstract mottled background (printed in different colors) with the author/title and series logo. This copy of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas is dated 1947 and is among the first group of titles issued. The price is 8/6 net, as indicated on the otherwise blank front jacket flap.


The back of the jacket indicates the first six titles in the series. Forthcoming titles are also listed. One title in the forthcoming list is obscured by a black overprint.


Bindings maintained the same design throughout the life of the series. Solid, blue cloth binding with gold decorations.


Series name and editor are noted on a page prefacing the half-title page.


The half-title page.


The title page includes the date of printing, in classy Roman numerals.


The copyright page also includes the date, in Arabic numerals.


A copy of The Life of George Crabbe by his Son, also dated 1947, was published after the initial six titles in the series. Besides the jacket color variation, the list of titles has been revised. The titles are given series numbers, and available titles, eleven at this time, are indicated:


An agreement with the Chanticleer Press (New York) in 1949 to publish the series in the U.S. resulted in hand-modified copies of the U.K. editions made available in the U.S. This copy of Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is dated 1947, and the list of titles in the series is the same as The Life of George Crabbe title published the same year. The front jacket flap adds a rather extensive description of the book (drawn, it seems, from the introduction). This addition is part of all the UK books issued later in 1947. The jacket is price clipped, so it is unclear if the price was in UK or US units.


The title page of the book reveals that some poor secretary glued a piece of paper printed with “Chanticleer Press New York” over the Cresset Press imprint on titles published in the U.S.


That poor secretary also stamped “Printed in Great Britain” on the copyright page.


A 1948 copy of the Singular Travels, Campaigns, and Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the same as the late 1947 UK copies, except that the price has risen to 9/6 net.


Evidence of the Cresset Press’s history of limited edition, illustrated classics can be found in the inclusion of illustrations in the Cresset Library books, such as the woodcuts by Leslie Wood in this title.


A copy of de Quincey’s The Opium Eater was published in 1950. This seems to be a copy sold in the U.S., given the $1.00 stamped at the top of the front jacket flap.


The binding differs from the earlier copies in the series: a rather coarse green cloth binding with simpler black stamping and no designs on the cover. It is not clear if this was a cheaper binding used near the end of the series (bound in the UK) or if this is a U.S. binding by the Chanticleer Press. The price of $1 suggests this book was sold as a remainder.