The Langham Library of Humour

Cover of "Mr Pickwick Is Sued For Breach Of Promise"
Cover of “Mr Pickwick Is Sued For Breach Of Promise”

When I first began work on Paul Elder & Company, I would stumble upon previously-unknown titles every few months. Twenty years later it’s rare to find a new addition to the list, but this week I received two unusual books in a series called The Langham Library of Humour: Charles Dickens’s Mr Pickwick Is Sued For Breach of Promise (number 1) and Robert Burns’s The Jolly Beggars (number 2). They are slender, fragile items, with attractive covers and color frontispieces.¬†They are marked “San Francisco and New York,” which dates them to the 1906-09 period following the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed Elder’s bookstore and printing shop.

The books bear no resemblance whatsoever to the typical Tomoye press output: heavy floral dingbats and block-letter typography, unusual page size, lack of a colophon and not a tomoye in sight. Clearly these were printed in another shop for sale by Elder. Several years earlier, Elder had published other series with similar outside provenance: the Panel Books, Impression Classics and the Abbey Classics.

Jolly Beggars cover
Cover of “The Jolly Beggars”

These two books appear to have been first published in 1907 by Siegle, Hill & Company at 2 Langham Place in London, which would explain the “Langham Library” moniker. The “G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns” lists The Jolly Beggars as issued “in cream-colored boards, stamped in gold and blind.”

In North America, at least one other publisher issued these same titles with the same cover art: the Musson Book Company Ltd., Toronto. It seems likely that the books were printed in London by Siegle Hill & Co., but issued simultaneously by all three publishers.

The Langham Library of Humour apparently started and ended with these two titles: I have been unable to find mention of any others.

Frontispiece and title page of "Mr Pickwick"
Frontispiece and title page of “Mr Pickwick”
Frontispiece and title page of "Jolly Beggars"
Frontispiece and title page of “Jolly Beggars”
"Mr Pickwick," page 7
“Mr Pickwick,” page 7
"Jolly Beggars," page 9
“Jolly Beggars,” page 9