Collecting Modern Library

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There is something special about the hardcover Modern Library series, selected and edited by Bennett Cerf, Donald S. Klopper, and Robert K. Haas; printed from 1925 to the present (though not in the same form today) by Random House. "The Modern Library was founded in 1917 by Boni and Liveright, one of the most important publishing houses of the early 1920s... to provide American readers with inexpensive reprints of European modernist titles, plus the work of a few contemporary 1925 the rest of Horace Liveright's business wasn't doing well (he had bought out Albert Boni a few years earlier). Needing the money, Liveright sold the Modern Library to one of his employees, a twenty-seven-year-old vice-president who wanted to go into business for himself. The new publisher was Bennett Cerf. Cerf and his friend Donald  Klopfer set up the Modern Library, Inc.

on August 1, 1925." (quote from Random House website)  The titles are nearly endless, very attractive, and still readily available from secondary sources today; and affordable too,  for example, in 1931 you could get #76 The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams for $1.65; in 1952, a second edition of Isak Dinesen's Out Of Africa (#22)cost $2.45. Today's prices vary from $3.50 to whatever the market will bear; a far cry from the exhorbitant prices on the Easton and Heritage series, which are later editions, without the history of the Modern Library, and are far more expensive.. There is a great website on collecting Modern Library editions at I am not permitted to link to sites outside of eBay, but I am sure you can find it. There are several guides to collecting Modern Library editions; Henry Toledano's Modern Library Price Guide 1917 - 2000, privately printed in 1999 and A Descriptive Bibliography of the Modern Library 1917-1970 by George M. Andes, that are very informative.

These books measure about 5 x7", have covers in colors from blue to green to gray to red, and title bars on the front and spine in contrasting colors, surrounded with gold accent lines; simple and elegant.


The Modern Library logo, "the torchbearer emblem that Cerf and Klopfer commissioned in 1925 from Lucian Bernhard...The Promethean bearer of enlightenment (known informally around the old Modern Library offices as the 'dame running away from  Bennett Cerf')..." (quoted from the Random House web site on Modern Library) is displayed on the title bar, the cover papers and flyleaves. There is always an intoduction written by a person knowledgeable about the particular book; who can add to the pleasure of reading it without being pedantic. The paper is of a good quality; nothing fancy; and rarely do I find one of these books that isn't in at least good condition.The dust jackets, when they are still attached, are very artistic, and tie in nicely to the title.The inside of the dust jackets list available titles, with their corresponding numbers.


As with any type of book collection, there are more valuable items, such as the first twelve titles printed in 1917 that are very hard to find, and others that are easier to find. A quick search of AddAll rare book finding site turned up quite a few of the 1917 books, not of the first titles, but from 1917 in very good or less condition for prices spanning from $20 to $150. The price is determined by the condition of the book- the better the condition, the higher the price, whether the dust jacket is present, and on many fine points such as which version of the dust jacket, whether the book is signed, etc. The details on the finer details of book collections are addressed in many readily available books.

Modern Library Books are still the best value around; they have stood the test of time

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