Home University Library

aka/ Home University Library of Modern Knowledge

Williams and Norgate (London, UK)
Series dates: 1911-1928

Henry Holt and Co. (New York, US)
Series dates: 1911-1940
Size: 4.25″ x 6.75″

Ryerson Press (Toronto, Canada) [Distribution in Canada]
Series dates: 1920-1928

Burns, Oates & Washbourne Ltd., (London, UK) [Distribution in India]
Series dates: 1920-1928

Thornton Butterworth (London, UK)
Series dates: 1928-1940
Size: 4.25″ x 6.75″

Oxford University Press (London, UK)
Series dates: 1940-1970
Size: 4.25″ x 6.75″

The Home University Library of Modern Knowledge were commissioned books on various topics first published “in 1911 by Williams and Norgate in London and Henry Holt and Company in New York. Ryerson Press distributed the titles in Canada, and Burns, Oates & Washbourne in India. The general editors were H.A.L. Fisher and Gilbert Murray. The idea for the series came from George Herbert Perris who was the assistant editor. In 1928 the series was bought for £10,700 by Thornton Butterworth from Williams and Norgate. Oxford University Press was the under-bidder. Oxford had another chance to buy the series when the offices of Thornton Butterworth were destroyed in The Blitz in 1940. Eyre & Spottiswoode acquired most of the Thornton Butterworth business (when Butterworth shut down in 1940) but Oxford was able to acquire the Home University Library for £4750.” (Source)

Williams & Norgate copies of the Home University Library have a basic, common design. At least one earlier jacket design was used prior to the one shown below. The spine includes the title, author, price (2/6 net), series name, series number, and publisher. A series of rectangles contain the same information as the spine, with the addition of a blurb for the series and a publisher colophon. The front jacket flap begins a listing of titles in the series at the time this particular book was issued (1925). G.E. Moore’s Ethics is a 2nd printing in the series, the first was issued near the beginning of the series in 1912.

Titles up to #117 (first issued in 1925) are listed on the jacket back and rear flap.

The inexpensive plasticized binding had debossed publisher and series colophons in a rectangle on the front of the book.

Unusual is the inclusion of a series catalog in the front, rather than the rear, of the book. I don’t recall seeing any other series with a full catalog in the front of the book. The books are divided into categories: History and Geography, Literature and Art, Philosophy and Religion, and Social Science. This catalog goes up to #115, Biology by Geddes and Thompson, also a title first issued in 1925.

The half-title page follows the 4th page of the series catalog. The half-title page includes the series name, book title, and author. At bottom, the different publishers of the series are listed: Williams & Norgate in the UK, Henry Holt in the US, Ryerson Press in Canada, and Burns, Gates & Washbourne Ltd., in India.

A slightly odd dual title page includes general series information (on the left) with the Holt imprint, and the book information on the right, with the Williams and Norgate imprint.

The copyright page includes the initial month and year of printing, and reprint dates. In this case, September 1912 and February 1925. “Printed in Great Britain by Morrison and Gibb, Ltd., Edinburgh.”

The copy of A.G. Bradley’s fascinating tome Canada was first published by Holt in the US in the Home University Library in 1912, but this copy dates to about 1930, given the price ($1.25 – the price rose to this amount around 1930) and highest serial number title (#134, An Anthology of English Poetry by Campbell – issued around 1930). Jackets are common to the series, with a generic HH colophon pattern in green overprinted with the title information in purple. The series number is on the spine, but not the series name. The series name and details are included on the front of the jacket. A list of titles in the series begins on the front jacket flap.

The listing of the 134 titles in the series continues on the rear flap and rear of the jacket, all in green type.

Bindings are in sturdy black cloth with red typography and decorations.

The half title page includes the series name, serial number of the title (but not the title itself) along with the series editors.

The title page is faced by a command to view the classified series list in the back of the book. The title page includes both the Holt and Williams and Norgate imprint.

No date is included on the copyright page.

The end of the book contains an annotated catalog of titles in the series. Titles go up to #138, The Life of the Cell by Thompson (a 1928 title, not included on the jacket). This title was issued in the UK with the Butterworth imprint.

The classified catalog of titles in the series:


A copy of The English Language by Logan Pearsall Smith is the twelfth printing from 1928, the first year Butterworth offered the series. The jacket is still common to the series but is redesigned from the earlier Williams & Norgate copies.

The English Language book itself is identical to the copy a title from the series dated 1931. E.W. Macbride’s An Introduction to the Study of Heredity (below) is an April 1931, fourth printing (first May 1924). The jacket is the same as the Smith title above except for the addition of silhouette on the front of the jacket.  The spine includes the series name, serial number (110 in this case), title, author, price (2/6) and publisher. Also included is a silhouette of what is probably a university building. That graphic is expanded on the bottom of the front of the jacket. The front of the jacket is headed by the series name. A note that a full catalog of series titles is to be found in the back of the book is at the bottom of the jacket front. The front flap includes five points about the Home University Library: all books are written for the series, physical and bibliographic aspects of the books, the learned authors, the relevance of the series topics, and the relation of individual books to the entirety of the series.


The back of the jacket includes the series editors (as of 1932): H.A.L. Fisher, Gilbert Murray, and Sir J. Arthur Thomson. A laudatory blurb about the series fills the rear jacket flap.


Solid cloth bindings in pale blue are stamped with the series name on the front of the book cover, with the Thornton Butterworth logo on the lower right.


The half-title page with the book title and series name:


Editors of the series are listed facing the title page.


A printing history of the book is included on the copyright page.


A series catalog spans four pages at the end of the book, up to series number 157. Categories in the series include Economics and Business, History and Geography, Literature, Political and Social Science, Religion and Philosophy, and Science.




Oxford began publishing the Home University Library in 1940. The jackets and books were redesigned. A copy of The Elements of English Law by W.M. Geldart was issued in 1943 and is indicative of the series design through the mid-1950s. The jacket spine and front indicate the series name. The series number (#30), author and title along with the Oxford University Press imprint are on the spine of the jacket. The jacket front also includes a small illustration of, presumably, one of the buildings at Oxford University. The font jacket flap blurbs the book and includes the book price, here covered by a price change sticker (indicating 3/6 net.).

The back of the jacket includes a prospectus for the series and its main categories of titles.

Basic gray cloth bindings with black typography.

The half-title page includes the series name, series number, and book title.

A listing of series editors faces the title page.

This title was reprinted in 1943. “Printed in Great Britain.”

Preface to the second revised edition, and beginning of the contents.

“Printed by The Riverside Press, Edinburgh.”



G.J. Warnock’s English Philosophy since 1900, shown below, was first published in the series in 1958 as #234. This is an example of the post-WW2 Oxford imprint of the Home University Library series. This particular book is the 2nd printing from 1959. The series reached at least 252 titles (by 1964).

Jackets are common to the series at this time. At least 5 different jacket/binding variations exist before WW2, and at least one different variation before these plain text jackets with varying background colors was introduced in the mid-1950s. The series is abbreviated on the jacket spine (HUL) and the series number is included. The front jacket flap includes a blurb about the title. The price is on the front flap, in this case, a price change to 8s/6d in the UK.


The rear of the jacket includes a prospectus for the series. Related series titles are listed on the rear jacket flap.


Basic black cloth bindings with silver typography.


The series name and serial number are on the half-title page.


General editors for the series are facing the title page.


The copyright page includes the original copyright date along with first printing and subsequent printings.