A new Burns Library exhibit, The Everyman’s Library: Volumes from the Collections of the John J. Burns Library is now on display in the Margaret E. Ford Tower through December 31, 2014. The Everyman’s Library (EML) was first conceived in 1905 by the publisher Joseph Malaby Dent and editor Ernest Rhys. The goal of EML was to create a collection of 1,000 volumes of classic literature that would appeal to every type of person, from students, scholars and professionals to the everyday working man. They would be divided into different categories, originally thirteen in total and have corresponding design attributes. The key to this endeavor was to make the books affordable, and they were originally available for the very low price of one shilling. The name “Everyman” comes from the medieval play of the same name in which the character Knowledge says the following to the character Everyman:
Everyman, I will go with thee
and be thy guide,
In thy most need to go
by thy side.
The library began publication in February 1906 and four years later 500 volumes had already been published. Through two world wars and a depression, the series finally published volume 1,000 in 1956. In 1988 the publishing company J.M. Dent was sold and eventually the Everyman series was re-launched in the early 1990s. Though very different from the early editions of 1906, you can still buy Everyman’s Library books through Alfred A. Knopf in the United States and Random House abroad.
This exhibit has two purposes; first to show the changing styles of EML throughout the many decades it was in print, and second to show the variety of collections at the Burns Library that contain volumes of the series.
EML went through four distinct styles from 1906-1968. Style I lasted from 1906-1928 and is perhaps the most recognizable. It contained a gilt floral decorative spine, as well as ornamental title pages and paste-downs. Style II from 1928-1934 kept the title pages and paste-downs but had a less ornamental gilt spine. Style III from 1935-1953 was the simplest design yet, featuring no floral design work, and only the title at the top of the spine, and “Everyman’s Library” at the bottom. The title pages featured an ornamental device for each of the categories and the paste-downs were a repeating pattern of swirls. Both were designed by Eric Ravillious. Style IV from 1953-1968 represents the biggest change. These editions are slightly larger than the previous ones and feature all new designs for the binding, paste-downs, and title pages. The binding is similar to the previous style in that it contains the title at the top of the spine, but “Everyman’s Library” has been replaced by an overlapping, cursive “E” and “L”. The paste-down was the same overlapping “E” and “L” found on the spine, but in a repeating pattern. The title pages were the simplest yet. They had no distinguishing feature other than a printer’s device of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor.
From the Irish collection to the Liturgy and Life Collection, the personal libraries of authors Rex Stout and Flann O’Brien, copies of the EML can be found in all of the major collections in the Burns Library.
The Everyman’s Library: Volumes from the Collections of the John J. Burns Library is on display in the Ford Tower at the Burns Library through December 31, 2014. The exhibit is open whenever the Burns Library is open. Check the BC Libraries hours page for the Burns Library’s open hours.
Andrew Isidoro, Library Assistant, Burns Library