Sorting out The Ruby Series

Routledge One Shilling Gift Books for Boys and Girls

In my Price and Provenance series, I have referred to several undated editions of books published by Routledge and Sons, including several by Jane Austen. In this post, I am looking at the final blooming of The Ruby Series of books for juveniles.

The Ruby series started in the mid-1870s in some elegant binding styles. I discussed my copy of Mansfield Park from The Ruby Series of 1876 in Price and Provenance 2. Here is the binding as Figure 1.

Figure 1 The Ruby series from 1876.

In the 1890s, The Ruby Series re-emerged in a typical and cheaper late 19th century binding. An example is shown below as Figure 2 a. It is interesting to note that the 1892 Augusta Evans Wilson Series used the same binding (Figure 2b).

The decline of a family business.

At the very end of the 19th century, George Routledge and Sons underwent a great upheaval. The founder, George Routledge, had died in 1888, having already handed the business over to his two oldest sons, Robert and Edmond Routledge. However, both of the brothers died unexpectedly in 1899, leaving the firm leaderless. The third son of George Routledge’s first marriage, William Routledge, had died in 1885, three years before his father.

There was a fourth son, George Bell Routledge (1864-1934), who was the son of George Routledge and his second wife and was therefore the half-brother of Robert and Edmond Routledge. He had never been involved in the family publishing business. Instead, he had become a “gentleman” living off private income, and by 1898 he had moved from London to Cumberland, where he lived out his life in rural isolation for the next 35 years.

Robert and Edmond Routledge each had four sons working in the family firm in 1891, with Robert’s four sons described as publishers, and Edmond’s four somewhat younger sons described as publisher’s clerks. By 1901, not one of these eight third generation Routledges was still working in publishing. It is said that the deaths of Edmond and Robert Routledge in 1899 led to the near collapse of Routledge into bankrupcy. The New York office of Routledge was closed, and an arrangement for co-publishing with the New York firm of E P Dutton was agreed. George Routledge and Sons Limited was re-stuctured by an outside consortium in 1902, which appointed William Swan Sonnenschein as the managing director. George Routledge and Sons Limited continued to issue cheap reprints for another decade, until it was further revived by its merger with Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co in 1912. Certainly the quality of Routledge’s books had declined by the first decade of the 20th century.

The Ruby Series in the 20th Century

A cheaper Ruby Series was relaunched around the time of the 1902 restructuring of George Routledge and Sons Limited. A new uniform cloth binding was designed, and at least 53 titles were available for one shilling in 1904. In figure 3, you can see four of my Routledge Ruby Series books from the early 20th century.

Although these bindings may look identical at first glance, closer inspection reveals some small differences, other than the base colours. The title text at the top of the board is in white letters with black shadowing for the three left hand books, while the Leila or The Island on the right hand side book is in plain black letters. The spines, which are shown in Figure 4 below, have three with the title in gilt, but the Mansfield Park title is in plain black. Also, the two Jane Austen books have the author’s name on the spine, where the other two books have no author identified on the spine.

Figure 4. Spines of the four Ruby Series books

The title pages of the four books are shown in Figure 5 below. They also show a range of differences in appearance and expression of the address of the publisher. None of the title pages is dated.

All four of the books give the publisher as London| George Routledge and Sons Limited, which confirms that they all date from after 1890. Three of them have the Routledge colophon, which dates as 1903 or later. The Emma and Leila or The Island both express the publisher’s address as “Broadway House , Ludgate Hill”, whereas Mansfield Park has “Carter Lane, Ludgate Hill” as the address and The Basket of Flowers has “Broadway, Ludgate Hill”. None of the four books gives an address for a New York office. There are no inscribed dates in the books from previous owners, but the Leila or The Island has, bound in following the text, 32 pages of publisher’s advertisements for Routledge’s Juvenile Catalogue that are clearly dated 1904, and which also have E P Dutton and Co identified as the New York publishing partner. The title page for the advertisements is shown below as figure 6.

Figure 6. Routledge’s Juvenile Catalogue 1904

From all of the above information I would suggest that the best estimate of dates would be certainly 1904 for the Leila or The Island, probably 1904 for Emma, and a slightly later date of 1907 or 1908 for Mansfield Park, due to the use of “Carter Lane” in the address line. Examination of the first text pages of the four books is also instructive. They are shown in Figure 7 below.

Three of the four books have the standard chapter heading decorations seen in other Routledge books that had been reprinted from stereotype plates made in the 1880s that will be familiar to readers of some my other Price and Provenance posts. These three books also have standard illuminated first letters for each chapter, and an ornament to mark each chapter end.

The Basket of Flowers is different. It is a much higher quality production than the other three books, with better printing on higher quality paper and has many illustrations, both as full page illustrations and as vignettes. An example of this is shown below as figure 8.

The form of the address, “Broadway, Ludgate Hill”, the absence of the Routledge colophon and the higher quality of the paper and printing all lead me to place the publication date of The Basket of Flowers to 1900-1902.

The other useful information in the publisher’s advertisement block in Leila or The Island is a very full listing of the titles available in The Ruby Series in 1904. These two pages are shown below as figure 9.

Figure 9. The Ruby Series advertised in 1904

It is interesting to compare this list with an earlier advertisement from 1892 (Figure 10), which was on the front paste-down of the Inez shown in Figure 2b above. The list has 43 titles, most of which are also on the 1904 list shown in Figure 9 above.

Figure 10. 1892 advertisement listing of The Ruby Series

June 1st Update…

Today, I received in the mail a copy of Ben Hur by Lew Wallace, number 53 (and last) on the list of the Ruby Series shown in Figure 9 above. The purple binding and the title page are shown below as Figure 11.

The book title on the top board, which really is purple in colour, is in shadowed white text, like three of the four examples shown in Figure 3 above. The titles on the spine are in gilt and include the author’s name. The paper quality is rather poor, and the pages are quite heavily darkened throughout the book. There are four pages of advertisements for “George Routledge and Sons’ List of Novels” bound into the back of the book.

The title page is dated, and is given as 1902, with the publisher’s address as “Broadway, Ludgate Hill.” These observations help to confirm in my mind the earlier date range of 1900-1902 that I ascribed to The Basket of Flowers above. The higher quality of The Basket of Flowers leads me to favour 1900 or even 1898, rather than 1902.

I plan to continue to examine these types of series of cheap reprints published by Routledge through the period of the late 19th and early 20th century. These include a large number of series other than The Ruby Series, such as The Wilson Series, (see Price and Provenance 7), The Pansy Series, The Bessie Books, The Mildred Books, The Elsie Books, The Flag and Anchor Series and The Broadway Booklets, as well as the Every Boy’s Library, which runs to more than 70 volumes. Plenty more books to find!

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