Publishers' Series

Publishers' series, a marketing gimmick by which selected titles were issued in uniform editions, were popular with readers and profitable for the larger publishing houses during the nineteenth century. Libraries and individuals could acquire relatively inexpensive editions of texts that had already been selected by publishers as significant. Publishers profited because titles issued in a series remained in print longer than others, and the inclusion of series lists in subsequent volumes was a cheap way to advertise. In the United States Harper & Brothers of New York were pioneers in the area of series publishing. Almost every one of their series had the word "library" in its title, reinforcing the notion that purchasers were not merely buying books but building libraries. Harper's Family Library, advertised as the "cheapest series of popular works ever published," grew over fifteen years to include 187 non-fiction titles. Their School District Library included 212 titles bound in 295 volumes, and was a prescribed purchase by many local school boards. Other series issued by Harper include the Boy's and Girl's Library, the Library of Select Novels, and the Theological Library.

In Boston, Ticknor and Fields Books in Blue and Gold, which commenced publications in 1856 and so called for their characteristic bindings of gold-stamped decoration on bright blue cloth, were an instant success and made it clear to publishers that buyers do judge books by their covers. Imitations of this extremely popular binding style were soon adopted and marketed by other publishers throughout the country.

Recognizing the importance of publishers' series within the context of publishing history, a new classification, "Publishers' Series," was organized and examples of this genre were pulled from all the literary and topical collections in which they had formerly been dispersed. Arranged by series title or by publisher/series title, the Society's collection includes titles from nine of the Harper libraries, seventy-two editions of fifty-two titles issued in the series Books in Blue and Gold, and many other titles issued in series published by Carey & Lea in Philadelphia, Scribner's, the American Tract Society, and G.P. Putnam's in New York, and Stimson & Clapp, Wells & Lilly, Marsh Capen, Lyon & Webb, and Hilliard & Brown in Boston and Cambridge.

All titles shelved in this classification are cataloged online to full rare book standards. Access is provided by series title as well as by all the usual points. Currently there are 685 records for titles published between 1828 and 1876.

- Doris O'Keefe, Senior Cataloger

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