Bonibooks paperback series. Cover (above) and slipcase (below). 1931 copy of H.E. Raabe’s Cannibal Nights.
Paperback books are a significant part of the history of book reprint series. Books bound in something other than cloth (or leather, or some other material) covering heavy boards include a range of media from flimsy paper to heavy card covers. Paperbacks were issued with and without dust jackets, were around long before the 20th century, and dominate 21st-century reprint book publishing.
The choice of paper binding is most likely driven by cost. Publishers’ reprint series are often dominated by an effort to sell more copies of a previously published title by offering it at a lower cost. Lower material costs are obviously part of that equation, and, in general, a paperback will cost less to manufacture than a hardcover book.
Paperback books range from the “dime novels” of the last half of the 19th century to what might be called “quality paperbacks” with more hefty materials, better design, and, often, more literary content. All sorts of variations exist between and beyond these two paperback formats.
The dime novel era produced many paper-bound titles that were, more or less, a version of newspapers or magazines: cheap and disposable. Higher-quality paperbacks existed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and emerge as, it seems, buyers grew willing to pay more for a book they could read and put on the shelf (rather than throw away). These include “chapbooks” and inexpensive bindings that nevertheless were more durable than the dime novels and thus less disposable.
An overview of the dime novel can be found at American Dime Novels 1860-1915 and the Edward T. LeBlanc Memorial Dime Novel Bibliography.
Most devotees of paperback book history start with Penguin Books (1935), stereotypically the first successful 20th-century paperback series. But other paperback series – both successful and not – appear throughout the 20th century. Some, like the English-language Tauchnitz Editions, stretch back to the 19th century. Tauchnitz had a nearly 100-year run, with close to 5000 series titles, yet it remains unknown to many as the books were not sold in the US or UK.
Paperback Revolution does an excellent job of reviewing paperback history from the 1840s onward. Satiche.org.uk includes an array of diverse web resources, including a page on vintage paperback books, including paperback series books. A link on the left, Other Paperback Books Series leads to an alphabetical listing of series and links to details about particular series (including scans and lists of titles). Quality Paperback Series includes both pre-WW2 and post-war series. BookScans has a significant amount of information (and scans) of vintage U.S. paperback series (1939-1979).
The paperback series at this site are below. They range in form, but all meet the rough criteria of a paperback book. Some series consist of all paperbacks; others have a mix of paperbacks and hardcovers. Some are bound in cards or other materials that are flexible. I’ve organized them by year, oldest to newest. Paperback series explode after WW2, and the sites in the previous paragraph are devoted to their documentation.
This list represents only a small number of paperback series and focuses on pre-WW2 series. I’ll expand it as I acquire more and document them. These series are also included on the Publisher & Series page with all series on this site.
Tauchnitz Edition (1842-1943)
Neely’s Booklet Library (1898-1899)
Wakefield Series (1898-1905)
De La More Booklets (1902-1925, “New Issue”: 1935)
Golden Anthologies (1905-1908) (later, 1920s reprint in paperback)
Nelson’s Continental Library (1915-1939)
F.P. Library (1924-1925)
Happy Hour Library (1924-1925)
Pamphlet Poets (1926-1928)
Criterion Miscellany (1929-1936)
Paper Books (1929-1930)
Inner Sanctum Novels (1930)
Continental Books (1932)
Borzoi Books (Paper) (1935)
Gold Medal Books (1935)
Hutchinson’s Pocket Library (1935-1939)
Chevron Books (1936-1937)
Jarrolds’ Jackdaw Library (1936-1945)
Toucan Novels (1937-1950)
Blue Seal Books (1937)
Gold Seal Books (1937)
Red Seal Books (1937)
New Chevron Series (1937-1941)
Queensway Classics (1938)
Sampson Low’s Sixpennies (1938-1939)
Seal Books (1938-1942)
Unicorn Books (1938-1939)
Red Arrow Books (1939-1940)
Evergreen Books (1940-1941)
Guild Books (1941-1955)
Poet of the Month / Poets of the Year (1941-1945)
Searchlight Books (1941-1942)
Vintage Books (1941)
Q Books (1942-1943)
Zephyr Books (1942-1950)
Hour-Glass Library (1945-1947)
Star Editions (1945-1953)
Mermaid Books (1952-1956)