New Century Library

T. Nelson & Sons Ltd. (London, UK)
Series dates: 1899-1950
Size: 4″ x 6″

newcentury_logoTitles in Nelson’s New Century Library series were issued in copious numbers beginning in 1899 to celebrate, as the series name indicates, the new century. The books were of good quality (paper and binding) and compact size. The series included boxed sets of particular Victorian authors, including Dickens (15 volumes), Thackeray (14 volumes), Scott (25 volumes), and smaller collections (Austen, Bronte, Kingsley, Lever, Lytton, etc.). The books could also be bought individually. The series was, then, marketed to those who wanted a collection of a single author’s works, but also to those who were attracted by the idea of a uniform series of classics by different authors. Nelson offered various bindings: cloth, limp leather (typically plasticized leather particles) and real leather (all at different price points). Early on, jackets covered the books; later copies (after about 1910) were often boxed, in a glassine (tissue) jacket. Copies with jackets were also issued in this era. Nelson also sold larger boxes containing collected works (Thackeray, Scott) and smaller collected authors in slipcases (Austen, Bronte). It is possible that boxed copies did not have jackets.

Some sources indicate that the New Century Library was renamed Nelson’s Classics in 1905; this is not accurate. Instead, both series were available from Nelson after 1905 (when Nelson’s Classics were first issued) with many of the same titles. The New Century Library, in general, was a better quality book (and cost more) than books in the Nelson’s Classics series.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1895 – 1911). “A happy idea” […] Nelson’s new century library. Retrieved from

The vast majority of New Century Library titles were published from 1899 through 1910, with reprints through at least 1950.




A 1900 advertisement for the series highlights the collections of Thackeray and Dickens titles, with a mention of the forthcoming set of Scott’s Waverly novels.






A full-page advertisement from 1905 directs attention, repeatedly, to the diminutive size of the volumes, with three binding styles available (cloth at 2/, limp leather at 2/6, and leather at 3/). The major collections (Scott, Dickens, Thackeray) are highlighted.



The series was sold in the U.S. where the compact nature of the books was also a key selling point: “For the true booklover who values compact goodness over bulky display” with accompanying dramatic illustrations. The same three binding styles are available (cloth at $1.50, limp leather at $1.25 and leather at $1.50).

Early dust jackets on New Century Library books were common to all the titles in the series, with no indication of the specific book on the front of the jacket, but only on the spine. This copy of Thackeray’s The Newcomes is dated 1908. The series name was prominent on the jacket front, as were binding characteristics (India Paper, limp leather) and price (2s./6p.). The front flap advertises authors with one book in the series (many with multiple titles in each book). Boxed sets may have been issued without jackets.


The back of the jacket advertises the collections of Dickens, Thackeray, and Scott. Smaller sets from Austen, Bronte, Kingsley, Lever, and Lytton are advertised on the rear flap.


The limp leather bindings (plasticized and pressed leather particles) are dark green with gold typography and minimal decorations on the spine only. The limp leather on this book remains in excellent shape. A red cloth bookmark is bound into the book.


Endpapers are a heavy, dark green paper.


The two-color half-title page includes the series name and an indication that this title is volume 3 of the Works of William Makepeace Thackeray.


The one illustration in the book faces the title page and is separated from the title page by a sheet of bound-in tissue.


The two-color title page includes the date of printing.


The New Century Library jackets were updated (possibly around 1920), and possibly issued only on individually sold books (vs. those sold as a set in a box). This copy of Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman is undated, but probably from the 1920-1923 era (several advertisements indicate 6/- net per volume of the series around that time). The jackets are unique to each title, with a rather small but intricate illustration in the lower corner of the front of the jacket. The spine contains the price (here reduced to 3/6) and the front jacket flap lists titles by the author.

The rear of the jacket includes another illustration and the series name. The listing of titles by author continues on the rear flap.

The bindings are leatherette, dark blue, with gold typography and decorations.

The heavy endpapers are black in this particular title:

The two-color half-title page was used from the start of the series and seems to have been replaced with a single color page sometime in the mid to later 1920s. This title is part of The Works of Sir Walter Scott, volume 20.

The title page in two colors. No date is included (earlier copies included the date under the publisher’s imprint).

The copyright page is blank.

An undated copy of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was published later than the jacketed copy above, probably late 1920s or early 1930s, and has several modifications from the jacketed copies above: the book is in a box, has a glassine paper jacket, and does not have the two-color printed title page. It maintains the binding style, heavy green paper endpapers, and decorations on the book spine from the earlier copy above.

The side of the box includes the author, series number, and title, as well as the series name and a place for a price.

An undated copy of Fitzgerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is also most likely from around 1930s and differs from the boxed Vanity Fair above in that it includes the title on the front of the book and lacks the serial number on the side of the box. It also has a redesigned spine and marbled endpapers. I’m guessing that this book was printed later than the copy of Vanity Fair above.


The side of the box includes the title of the book, the series name and a place to put a price. The penciled in $3 is probably from a later used book dealer.


A redesigned book cover is the same limp leather of the 1908 copy above. The designs on the spine are different from the earlier copy.


End papers are marbled (or printed to resemble marbled paper).


The half title page includes the title.


The title page has no date and a New York imprint location. Nelson established its offices in New York in the 1850s.


The copyright page is blank.


The last page of the book indicates “Printed in the United States of America.”