Great Lives

Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd. (London, UK)
Series dates: 1933-1965
Size: 4.75″ x 7.5″


First issued in 1933, Duckworth’s Great Lives series included brief commissioned biographies. The majority of titles were published or reprinted from 1933-1939, 1946-1949, and 1957-1963. Jackets were redesigned around 1936, and again 1946. The series issued some titles as paperbacks starting in the late 1950s. The last reprints occur around 1965.

This copy of Anne Fremantle’s George Eliot is dated 1933, the first year of the series. It is #8 in the series. The jackets (until about 1936) have a common design with a Pegasus on a pillar. The series name is indicated on the front of the jacket. On some copies, a circular price sticker is placed over the circular series name on the front of the jacket. The series number and name is included on the jacket spine. A list of the first six titles in the series is included on the front jacket flap, with a series prospectus. The price is 2/6 for this “cheap edition.”


The back of the jacket includes series titles up to #11, with an additional 15 titles “to be published shortly.”


Basic red cloth binding with gold type.


The simple half-title page.


A list of the published and soon to be published titles faces the title page.


The copyright page includes the date of publication and printer information.


A redesign of the Great Lives jackets around 1936 replaced the Pegasus with a more stoic jacket front including a portrait of the subject of the biography. The jacket below, from McCallum’s biography of Asquith, is most likely from 1936 (based on the latest title in the series on the jacket), and is, as is evident, a canceled jacket on the reverse of a post-WW2 Great Lives jacket (see below).


The spine of the late 1930s / early 1940s jackets remains similar to the earlier jacket spines. The portrait, making each jacket unique to each title. A list of series titles, numbering up to 74, Boase’s St. Francis of Assisi (first issued in 1936). The list of titles is continued from the rear of the jacket. The price is 2/-.


The rear of the flap begins the list of 74 titles in the series at the time. The rear flap advertises a volume of Galsworthy’s plays.


The Asquith jacket was reused for 1947, 2nd printing of Brahms by Ralph Hill. The initial printing (and first edition) was 1941. The entire jacket has been redesigned: a textured background fills the jacket spine and front; the series name and serial number are on the spine. The series name and portrait are on the front of the jackets, which continue to be unique to each title. A few blurbs are included on the front jacket flap.


The rear of the jacket explains that “The entire stock of this famous series of short biographies was lost in 1940 by enemy action and the volumes cannot be immediately replaced.” A list of 13 available volumes follows. “Volumes to be reprinted will have a portrait frontispiece facing the title page, and a new wrapper design by John Piper.” The price is 4/6. This jacket is an example of the redesigned jacket by Piper. The fact that Duckworth was printing the new jackets on the reverse of old jackets suggests that the jackets were stored apart from the books themselves, and were not destroyed with the books.


The late 1940s jacket design maintained the simple cloth binding style used since the series began in 1933.


The same minimalist half-title page was also maintained from earlier editions:


An illustration facing the title page is new to these late 1940s editions, but the title page remains the same as in earlier editions.


Copyright page: