Ebony Library

John Lane | The Bodley Head (London, UK)
Series dates: 1925-1945

Dodd, Mead & Co. (New York, US)
Series dates: 1925-1945
Size: 6.5″ x 9.5″

The Ebony Library consisted of a series of large, heavy and unwieldy illustrated classics aimed at the gift-book market, although they are also good for holding open large doors or, given the entire series, constructing a staircase. The series seems to have originated with John Lane in the UK. Dodd, Mead sold the books in the US. In both cases, the series name does not seem to have been included on the books themselves, but only on boxes or, possibly, jackets (although I have not seen the latter). I have seen copies of the same titles with the same illustrators with a black jacket that is similar to the printing on the Ebony Library boxes, but missing information stating the book was part of the Ebony Library. There are no entries in WorldCat with the series name Ebony Library. In part, this is because the series name is not on the book, but also, possibly, because libraries were not purchasing such large, illustrated novels.

The boxes are black and red, and the low-contrast colors have faded, in this case, over time. An illustration based on one of the book’s illustrations is placed on the front of the box, with the title (Nicholas Nickleby), author (Dickens) and illustrator (Brock) in elaborate script. The overall design is ponderous, like the books, meant to look fancy for middle-brow customers.

The image on the left (below) shows the book in its box with the (now crumbling) acetate dust jacket. The image on the right is the spine of the box, which shares the same typography and graphics, but in red on black rather than gold on black.

The rear of the box includes information about the Ebony Library, of which this book is a part. These are “unusually handsome books” with “copious illustrations” that are “uniform in general appearance.” There are 34 titles as of 1931. More may have been published, but I have not seen a later list of titles. Titles include:

Don Quixote (illus. by W. Heath Robinson, 1925)
Anatole France, Penguin Island (illus. by Frank C. Papé, 1925)
Lord Byron, Don Juan (illus. by John Austen, 1926)
Anatole France, At the Sign of the Reine Pedauque (illus. by Frank C. Papé, 1926)
Anatole France, Thais (illus. by Frank C. Papé, 1926)
Voltaire, Zadig and Other Romances (illus. by Wilfrid S Jackson, 1926)
The Book of Ecclesiasticus (illus. by Violet Brunton, 1927)
Anatole France, The Gods are Athirst (illus. by John Austin, 1927)
Anatole France, Golden Tales of Anatole France (illus. by  L.A. Patterson, 1927)
Anatole France, The Revolt of the Angels (illus. by Frank C. Papé, 1927)
Richard Garnet, The Twilight of the Gods (illus. by Henry Keen, 1927)
Norman Douglas, South Wind (illus. by Valenti Angelo, 1928)
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (illus. by John Austen, 1928)
Anatole France, The Well of St. Clare (illus. by Frank C. Papé, 1928)
Count de Gramont, Memoirs (illus. by Wilfred Jones, 1928)
Lawrence Stern, Tristram Shandy (illus. by John Austen, 1928)
A.C. Swinburne, Selected Poems (illus. by Harry Clarke, 1928)
Oscar Wilde, The House of Pomegranates (illus. by Ben Kutcher, 1928)
Voltaire, Candide and Other Romances (illus. by  Norman Tealby, 1928)
William Congreve, The Way of the World and Love for Love (illus. by John Kettelwell, 1929)
Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders (illus. by John Austen, 1929)
Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews (illus. by Norman Tealby, 1929)
Anatole France, Mother of Pearl (illus. by Frank C. Papé, 1929)
Lawrence Stern, A Sentimental Journey (illus. by Valenti Angelo, 1929)
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (illus. by Henry Keen, 1929)
Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers (illus. by C E Brock, 1930)
Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (illus. by Gerald Spencer Pryse, 1930)
Anatole France, The Red Lily (illus. by Donia Nachshen, 1930)
Thomas de Quincy, The Confessions of an Engish Opium-Eater (illus. by Sonia Woolf, 1930)
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (illus. by S.G. Hulme Beaman, 1930)
John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil (illus. by Henry Keen, 1930)
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (illus. by C.E. Brock, 1931)
Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (illus. by Zhenya Gay, 1931)
Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey (illus. by E. Blampied, 1931)

The book cover with the same illustrations as on the box, with the crumbling acetate jacket.

The illustrated endpapers, which repeat in the back of the book.

The half-title page.

An illustration faces the title page, which is also illustrated. The date (1931) is included on the title page.

The copyright page indicates “Published in the USA, 1931.”