Special Collections

The Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books

Robert K. Haas, Inc., Publishers (formerly Little Leather Library Corporation)

Return to: 20th Century U. S. Imprints in the Smith Collection

The portion of this website in front of you brings together in preliminary fashion a variety of lists and descriptions for United States Miniature Books published during the Twentieth Century. This page describes titles held by the University of Iowa Libraries for the press or publisher described below.

A question about the Little Leather Library was posed on the SHARP-L listserv in April 2005. It yielded the following responses and references:

Gordon B. Neavill, Wayne State University , wrote: “I posted the following message about the Little Leather Library on Ex-Libris in 1995: ‘The Little Leather Library was founded around 1915 and sold millions of volumes before ceasing operations in 1923. It was a significant example of mass-marketing. Initially the books were sold through Woolworth’s, then by mail order. You could buy 30 of the little volumes boxed for $2.98, C.O.D.

‘The series was conceived by Albert Boni, who sold his interest and then went on to start the Modern Library. His partners in the venture, Harry Scherman and Max Sackheim, used what they learned about mail-order selling of books to start the Book-of-the-Month Club. Woolworth’s sold a million copies a year, and 35-40 million volumes were sold by mail. They aren’t too hard to find and aren’t worth very much–a couple of dollars a volume would be about right. A boxed set of 30 volumes might sell from $50 to $100. A historically significant venture in publishing, and so successful in its brief heyday that the books have little value today.’

Joan Rubin, The University of Rochester, wrote: “This is the Little Leather Library, a series of miniature editions of classics that Charles and Albert Boni and the admen Maxwell Sackheim and Harry Scherman (later the founder of the Book-of-the-Month Club) founded in 1916. Scherman convinced Whitman’s Chocolates to include a volume in each candy box. Later Woolworth’s sold them at ten cents apiece. The story is that they switched to synthetic bindings as leather prices rose but the new bindings made the books smell bad in hot weather. By 1920 the Little Leather Library had marketed over twenty-five million volumes, many of them by mail.” Jonathan Rose, Drew University, added: “There’s also some discussion of the Little Leather Library in Rebecca Rego Barry, ‘The Neo-Classics: (Re)Publishing the Great Books in the United States in the 1990s’, Book History 6 (2003): 251-275.”

Solveig Robinson, Pacific Lutheran University wrote: “The Little Leather Library was founded by Charles and Albert Boni (proprietors of the Washington Square Bookshop) and Harry Scherman (best known as the founder of the Book-of-the-Month Club) in 1916 or so. The line included 60-plus titles, all in the public domain, and after early efforts to sell them through Woolworth’s, they were successfully marketed through direct mail. A 30-volume set cost $2.98 in 1920.”
“For more details, see chapter 5 of Janice Radway’s A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire ([University of North Carolina Press,] 1977).”

Radway appears to be the source of Rubin’s comments and has a much more complete account beginning page 127-129 and 158-163. Scherman was a successful advertising manager who in 1916 persuaded the Whitman Candy Company of Philadelphia to market a “Library Package uniting a large box of candy with a small, leather-bound book.” The book was one of 15Shakespearean plays, which were “collected in a series called the Little Leather Library” that had been conceived by Charles and Albert Boni. This initial marketing was successful, and the series quickly grew to 60 titles. Within a year the new company sold Woolworth’s a million copies of the books, and in 1920 began to market the books directly by mail: a 30-volume set was available for $2.98. Before Scherman moved on to found the Book-of the Month Club in 1926, between 30 and 40 million copies of the books were sold.

Patrick Buckridge, Griffith University ( Australia ), wrote: “The Little Leather Library is also discussed by Joan Shelley Rubin in The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1992).”

Cecile Cottenet, Universite de Provence ( France ), wrote: “There are a few lines on the Little Leather Library in Tom Dardis, Firebrand, the Life of Horace Liveright (1995), pp 46-49. Apparently the collection influenced the creation of Boni & Liveright’s Modern Library.”

Little Leather Library Corporation

New York

For a 58 volume set, circa 1920, fully cataloged in InfoHawk, see “Little Leather Library. The Redcroft Edition.”

4″x3″ and bound in green and brown embossed letterette:
W.S. Gilbert. Bab Ballads.

4″x3″ and bound in limp leatherette:
Robert Browning. Poems. 154pp. Gift of Carol Kapell in memory of Pauline B.
Deems.
Alfred Lord Tennyson. Idylls of he King. 128pp. Gift of Carol Kapell in memory of Pauline B.
Deems.

4″x3″ and bound in green, pebbly, limp leatherette, author/title and decorations embossed, the gift of Janet Schneider in honor of her father, Kenneth C. Potter (1910-1997), an Iowan:
Fifty Best Poems of America. Incribed to Potter by county superintendent for perfect attendance during the 1922-1923 school year.
Henry Drummond. Greatest Thing in the World.
Thomas Babington Macaulay. Lays of Ancient Rome.
Robert Louis Stevenson. Will O’ The Mill.

4″x3″ and bound in red, smooth, limp leatherette with author/title and decorations stenciled or dyed in yellow:
Elizabeth Barrett Browing. Sonnets from the Portuguese.
Robert Browning. Pippa Passes.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Ancient Mariner.
Alexandre Dumas. Comtesse DeSaint Geran.
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Essays.
Edward Fitz Gerald. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
W.S. Gilbert. Bab Ballads.
Rudyard Kipling. Barrack Room Ballads.
Charles Lamb. Dream Children.
Thomas Babington Macaulay. Lays of Ancient Rome.
Maurice Maeterlinck. Pelleas and Melisande.
William Morris. A Dream of John Ball.
Olive Schreiner. Dreams.
William Shakespeare. Comedy of Errors.
—-. Sonnets.
George Bernard Shaw. Socialism for Millionaires.
Robert Louis Stevenson. Will O’ The Mill.
—-. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Ivan Turgenev. Mumu.
Walt Whitman. Memories of Abraham Lincoln.
Oscar Wilde. Ballad of Reading Gaol. 2 copies.
—-. The Happy Prince.
W.B. Yeats. Land of Heart’s Desire.

Robert K. Haas, Inc., Publishers

formerly Little Leather Library Corporation

New York, NY

4″ x 3 1/8″. Bound in limp red leatherette
covers and blind stamped. This group is the gift of Carol Kapell in memory
of Pauline B. Deems.
Robert Browning. Poems. 94pp.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Courtship of Miles Standish.
85pp.
Robert Louis Stevenson. A Child’s Garden of Verses. 96pp.
Henry Thoreau. Friendship and Other Essays. 92pp.
George Washington. Speeches and Letters of George Washington.
127pp.

4″x3″ and bound in red, pebbly, limp leatherette, author/title and decorations embossed, the gift of Janet Schneider in honor of her father, Kenneth C. Potter (1910-1997), an Iowan:

Fifty Best Poems of America.
Fifty Best Poems of England.

Robert Browning. Poems.
Robert Burns.  Poems.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Ancient Mariner.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes.
Henry Drummond. Greatest Thing in the World.
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Essays.
Edward Fitz Gerald. The Rubiyat of Omar Khayham.
Edward Everett Hale. Man Without a Country.
Rudyard Kipling. Barrack Room Ballads. 2 copies.
Abraham Lincoln. Speeches and Addresses.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Courtship of Miles Standish.
Thomas Babington Macaulay. Lays of Ancient Rome.
Guy de Maupassant. Short Stories.
Edgar Allan Poe. The Gold Bug.
Olive Schreiner. Dreams.
William Shakespeare. The Tempest.
—-. Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Robert Louis Stevenson. A Child’s Garden of Verses.
—-. Will O’ The Mill.
—-. Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde.
Alfred Tennyson. The Coming of Arthur.
—-. Enoch Arden.
Henry Thoreau. Friendship and Other Essays.
George Washington. Speeches and Addresses of George Washington.
Oscar Wilde. Salome.
—-. The Happy Prince.
—-. Ballad of Reading Gaol.