Sifting out ‘Rubbish’ in the Literature of the Twenties and Thirties: Chatto & Windus and the Phoenix Library

  • Andrew Nash


Launched in 1928, the Phoenix Library was perhaps the most distinctive of a number of series of cheap reprints of contemporary literature that began to appear from the mid-1920s. Like its main competitors, the New Adelphi Library, begun by Martin Secker in 1925, and the Travellers Library launched by Jonathan Cape in 1926, the Phoenix Library was not a series of out of copyright classics like Dent’s Everyman’s Library but consisted mainly of reprints of works by contemporary authors which had not before been available in a smaller format and at a cheaper price. Publishers historically have always exploited the price elasticity of British books by issuing works at a variety of prices over a carefully spaced duration of time. In the inter-war period the main market for books — especially for literary fiction, biography and related genres — was still the libraries and books would in the first instance appear at a high price, usually 7s. 6d. for fiction. Once a work had been on the market for around two or three years and initial sales had slackened the price would be cut, usually to 3s. 6d. or 5s. What began to happen around the mid-1920s, however, was that publishers came to market these price cuts more aggressively, using uniform bindings and dust jackets and branded names to market cheap reprints as a series.


Literary Culture Individual Author Cheap Price Literary Fiction Limited Edition 
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Selected bibliography

  1. Chatto & Windus Advertisement Books, University of Reading Library.Google Scholar
  2. Chatto & Windus Letter Books, University of Reading Library.Google Scholar
  3. Howard, Michael S. (1971) Jonathan Cape, Publisher. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  4. Leavis, Q. D. (1932) Fiction and the Reading Market. London: Chatto & Windus.Google Scholar
  5. McAleer, Joseph (1992) Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, 1914–1950. Oxford: Clarendon.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Nash, Andrew (2007) ‘Literary Culture and Literary Publishing in Inter-war Britain: A View from Chatto & Windus’, in Simon Eliot, Andrew Nash and Ian Willison (eds), Literary Cultures and the Material Book. London: British Library, pp. 323–42.Google Scholar
  7. Nash, Andrew and Knowlson, James (2002) ‘Charles Prentice and T.F. Powys: a publisher’s influence’, Powys Journal, 12: 35–66.Google Scholar
  8. Willison, Ian (1996) ‘Introduction’, in Ian Willison, Warwick Gould and Warren Chernaik (eds), Modernist Writers and the Marketplace. London: Macmillan, p. xiv.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Andrew Nash 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Nash

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