The House of Warne

The House of Warne - A. King, A.F. Stuart From my earliest days as a student, I have been a collector of one of F. Warne & Co.'s less prized series of books, their cheap reprint series "The Chandos Classics". I first came across this particular publishing history when I analyzed my own collection for a paper in library school, so I gave most of it short shrift as I scoured it for references to my own particular subject. Now, decades later, I have time to sit back and enjoy the clear and concise account of the history of the firm, and the contributions of some of its most notable authors and illustrators, amongst them Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, Randolph Caldecott, and L. Leslie Booth. The history was written as a centenary project (1965), so does not include the years between the mid-60s and 1983, when the company was acquired by Penguin.

I think I liked the insights into publishing and bookselling practice just as much as I liked the analysis of the children's book illustrators; for instance, it never would have occurred to me that one of the great boons of the coming of the paper book-jacket was that the "travellers" (the salesmen) could sell on the basis of the jacket alone, and therefore did not have to carry around great boxes of actual books. The authors obviously had talked to and solicited anecdotes from staff and retired staff, and while there was nothing particularly shocking there, other than the occasional careful adjective that raises the reader's eyebrow, it did give a human touch to what was, in later years, a rather dutiful roll-call of who worked at what for how long. The information about women staff was predictably depressing; they appear to have been employed solely in secretarial roles, except at the bindery where to my surprise they outnumbered the men.

The volume also contains brief accounts of subsidiary companies, of the American office, and of the various agents that were used in foreign countries (including Canada). Canadian bibliographers interested in R.J. Saunders will find some information here.

At the end of the day, other than a few sales figures, there's nothing much on the Chandos Classics here, but it will sit on my shelf happily beside them.