J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Alternative names
Dates:
Active 1889
Active 1960
Britons
English

History notes:

J.M. Dent & Sons, book publishers of London, England, was founded in 1888 by Joseph Malaby Dent (1859-1926). The company achieved success by selling cheap editions of the classics to the working class. Dent's first major production, the Temple Shakespeare series, was established in 1894, followed in 1906 by Everyman's Library, a series of 1000 volumes. Eventually, Dent's publishing activities expanded to include textbooks, children's books, educational books, self-help books, and travel guides. Dent remained in the forefront of the publishing field by expanding sales to foreign markets, including Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. Author files also include correspondence regarding illustrations used in Dent publications, correspondence with illustrators, rough drafts of manuscripts, synopses of manuscripts, and photographs of selected authors and illustrators. Note that files are incomplete, since many items of significant commercial value were sold piecemeal in the 1980s and some files from later years are held by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, which took over the Dent firm in 1986.

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files C). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966210

J.M. Dent & Sons, book publishers of London, England, was founded in 1888 by Joseph Malaby Dent (1859-1926). The company achieved success by selling cheap editions of the classics to the working class. Dent's first major production, the Temple Shakespeare series, was established in 1894, followed in 1906 by Everyman's Library, a series of 1000 volumes. Eventually, Dent's publishing activities expanded to include textbooks, children's books, educational books, self-help books, and travel guides. Dent remained in the forefront of the publishing field by expanding sales to foreign markets, including Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966227

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files N-R). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966211

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files Gl-K). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966184

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files S-Te). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966190

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files Bi-By). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966205

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files A-Be). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966186

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (book series). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966212

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files Th-Y). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966201

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (company files). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966214

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files D-Gi). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966198

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (editor files). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966224

From the description of J.M. Dent & Sons records, 1834-1986 (author files L-M). (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 31966207

Founded in London in 1888, J.M. Dent and Sons published the Medieval towns, Temple pocket Shakespeare, Temple classics, the Collection Gallia, and Wayfarer's library series, among others. The firm is most recognized for creating the Everyman's library, a collection of over one thousand great books economically priced. Dent & Sons ceased publishing in the 1980s.

From the description of The J.M. Dent publisher's archive at the Rare Book Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 1897-1986. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 135434456

Biography

Joseph Malaby Dent was born in Darlington in 1849. He was the tenth of the twelve children of George Dent, a good Christian house-painter but an indifferent business man. He was much addicted to church music and young Joseph was brought up in a pleasant, if erratic, household. After being apprenticed to a printer he switched to book-binding, and at the age of 19, went to live in London where one of his elder brothers arranged for him to finish his apprenticeship with Hipkins, a binder in Bucklersbury.

In 1872, Dent set up his own binding shop, and with true Victorian drive and fortitude, built up a large business binding for the Book Trade. Finding a shortage of books of an improving nature suitable for binding, he set himself up as a publisher, and in 1890, instituted The Temple Library with the two volumes of Lamb's Elia essays.

Dent, largely self-educated, had firm ideas of what books were proper to publish and, indeed, how they should appear: neat and legible, printed on decent paper and handsomely presented in firm, bevelled cloth boards, in coveniently small format, in fact all that was sound and sensible, but attractive as well. He also created large paper editions of great beauty.

The Chiswick Press printed, Herbert Railton illustrated, and Augustine Birrell edited The Temple Library, named after the residence in London of the first authors published in the series, Lamb and Goldsmith, and a name that has been linked forever since with the company.

Dent pursued this policy of offering finely produced classics throughout the 1890s, and even with the special Large Paper issues, remained remarkably reasonable in his prices. He employed many of the artists of the day including: Rackham, Dulac, J.D. Batten, R. Anning Bell, Beardsley, Walter Crane, the families Charles, Thomas & William Heath Robinson & the brothers Brock. For editorial work, he employed Richard Garnett, George Saintsbury, Austin Dobson, Edmund Gosse, Israel and his sister Emma Gollancz, and, the name associated, for so many years with the company, Ernest Rhys.

Between 1894 & 1896, accompanied by fanfares, the 40 volume Temple Shakespeare appeared. The edition was edited by Israel Gollancz. This was a true Pocket edition, 4 × 5.5 inches, and the first of the Temple collected editions which followed in similar format. The 30 volume Temple Bible, 1901-03, was the same size, but the 48 volume Temple Scott, the 32 volume The Temple Dickens, the 10 volume The Temple Jane Austen, and the 12 volume Temple Brontë all measured 32 × 6 inches. Dent also published the fine Temple Dramatists series which was still being added to, and published, in the same format into the 1930s.

While these pocket editions were being produced, Dent also published the fine ten volume edition of Hazlitt, edited by G.C. Crump, Garnett's 10 volume edition of Peacock, a fine library edition of the Brontës, Saintsbury's 12 volume Henry Fielding, the 12 volume collection of Maria Edgeworth's novels, and other sets.

They were also publishing illustrated books, including the elegant Haddon Hall Library of books relating to sport and other country pursuits, childrens' books, and the brilliant Mediaeval Towns series.

Not content with all this, Dent started the Temple Classics with Israel Gollancz as General Editor and with the same format as the Scott and Dickens editions in 1896. This was to contain the most important works of world literature with new translations, but no introductions and minimal notes by an authority. Some three hundred titles were issued over the years and the series continued until the 1950s.

Following the immense success of the Classics, Dent felt encouraged to extend his list, and in February 1906, the first fifty volumes of the Everyman's Library were published.

Dent used many printers over the years including: Turnbull & Spears, the highly superior Edinburgh firm, Ballantyne, Constable, Colston, Riverside, Richard Clay, the Unwin Brothers & William Bredon from south of the border.

Many forms of illustrations were employed in Dent's books including: wood-engraving, etching, halftones, line blocks and photogravure. When three-colour printing was invented, J.M. Dent's son John became an expert, and was responsible for such editions as the Temple Dickens . The Temple Classics are notable for the wood-engraved borders to their title-pages.

The cloth, and in some cases, full vellum bindings were always executed with great panache and some bore exquisite designs by such as Reginald Knowles and Henry Granville Bell.

After the huge success of the Everyman's Library, the print demands were so extraordinary and the flow of money so large, that Dent moved his bindery to Letchworth, a new Garden City close to London, and started his own printing works there - The Temple Press.

After Everyman there was a rather down-market Traveler's Library which ran for some years and some handsome general publishing, but the real sting had gone.

Dent died in 1926.

From the guide to the File Copies of Books Printed by J.M. Dent & Sons, 1890-1925, (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.)

Joseph Malaby Dent (1849-1926), founder of J.M. Dent & Sons, was born in Darlington, England, the tenth child of George Dent, a housepainter. Dent received an elementary education at a local grammar school that emphasized reading and writing skills. According to J.M. Dent's Memoirs, When I was about ten or eleven years old ... I formed the habit of reading which has never since been broken. By the time he was thirteen, Dent was apprenticed to a printer; shortly thereafter, he turned to bookbinding. In 1867, he moved to London, where he set up his own bookbinding shop. Dent quickly gained a reputation for fine craftsmanship; he often noted that his fine leather bindings put to shame the unattractive Victorian typography of the sheets they bound.

In 1888, Dent founded the firm of J.M. Dent and Company (the name was changed to J.M. Dent & Sons in 1909) and began publishing at 69 Great Eastern Street, London. Dent's first production, Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia, was edited by Augustine Birrell and illustrated by Herbert Railton, followed in 1889 by Goldsmith's Poems and Plays . Works by Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Geoffrey Chaucer, Daniel Defoe, Maria Edgeworth, Henry Fielding, Samuel Johnson, Lord Tennyson, and W. B. Yeats followed between 1889 and 1894. These early editions were produced in limited quantities on handmade paper and enjoyed some commercial success.

In 1893, the bookseller Frederick Evans suggested that Dent publish a series of pocket volumes of William Shakespeare's works. Recognizing the potential demand for cheap editions of the classics, Dent established the Temple Shakespeare series in 1894 and appointed Israel Gollancz chief editor. The series eventually included forty volumes that were sold for one shilling a volume. Over the next four decades, the series sold over five million copies, the largest sale made in Shakespeare since the plays were written, Dent claimed.

Dent also published titles under the Mediaeval Towns series, the Temple Dramatists series, the Lyric Poets series, and the Temple Biographies. By 1895, Dent had published about three hundred volumes and paid off all his debts. Then, in January 1897, he moved the administrative offices of J.M. Dent & Co. to 29-30 Bedford Street, London, leaving 69 Great Eastern Street to function exclusively as Dent's bindery.

In 1904, with years of experience publishing the classics at popular prices, Dent began to plan for Everyman's Library, a series of one thousand classics that would be sold at an affordable price (one shilling a volume). Dent hired Ernest Percival Rhys to function as the chief editor of Everyman's Library, and he built the Temple Press, a suburban plant that employed over four hundred workers, to produce the books. Production began in 1906 and 152 titles were issued by the end of that year. Public demand for books in Everyman's Library was high.

Within a few years of its triumphant launch, however, the momentum of Everyman's Library was broken by two unforeseeable obstacles. When the series began, copyright protection expired 42 years after publication or seven years after the death of an author, whichever came later. That allowed Dent to publish the works of Victorian writers such as Dickens, Tennyson, Ruskin, Huxley, and George Eliot, whose copyrights conveniently expired around the turn of the century. The Copyright Act of 1911, however, extended protection to fifty years after an author's death. As a result, Robert Browning's work up to 1869 was published in Everyman's Library by 1911, but the new law postponed publication of the final two Browning volumes until 1944.

The impact of World War I was even more devastating to Dent. Volume 700 of Everyman's Library had been reached in 1914, but within a few years the publication of additional volumes came to a halt. Wartime inflation and shortages of supplies forced the price of each volume up to two shillings, sixpence by 1920. In 1921, new titles began to appear again, but only in a slow trickle.

Dent responded to the setbacks of the 1910s by expanding book sales to international markets. In 1914, Dent established a French subsidiary, J.M. Dent & Fils; they distributed Everyman books in France, translated the classics into French, and published various French titles in the Collection Gallia series. Dent expanded international distribution to North America by setting up a Canadian subsidiary in 1913 and by allowing E. P. Dutton & Co. to distribute Everyman titles throughout the United States. In addition, Dent hired agents to sell Everyman titles in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and most of continental Europe.

Everyman's Library finally reached volume 1,000 on its golden jubilee, with the publication of Aristotle's Metaphysics on 29 March 1956. In 1960, Everyman Paperbacks were introduced. By 1975, 1,239 titles had been published in Everyman's Library, with total sales in excess of 60 million.

Of course, the Dent firm had publishing activities besides Everyman's Library. In the fall of 1904, Dent inaugurated the Temple Classics Magazine to supplement the Temple Classics series, but it only lasted five issues. He tried again with Everyman, a penny literary weekly designed to foster a taste for books among the proletariat. The first issue, for 12 October 1912, sold 150,000 copies on the strength of contributions by G. K. Chesterton, Alfred Russel Wallace, Norman Angell, and Saintsbury. Unfortunately, circulation slowly fell off, and publication ceased in 1920.

In 1925, the Dent firm began publishing the Bookmark as a three-penny quarterly devoted mainly to publicizing the firm's new books. Everyman was revived as a two-penny weekly on 31 January 1929 but again it was a financial failure, and Sir Robert Donald bought it in January 1932. When Everyman closed down again in 1935, the Dent company renamed its house journal the Bookmark and Everyman and continued to publish it until 1938.

In 1913, Everyman's Library was supplemented by the Wayfarer's Library, a series of books devoted to modern literature. The company continued to publish works by important contemporary authors, among them Ogden Nash and Dylan Thomas. The company also expanded its activities in educational publishing with the Kings' Treasuries of Literature series, begun in 1920. The firm ventured into science texts in 1928, history in 1931, and geography in 1931.

J.M. Dent, his sons Hugh and Jack, and Jack's son F. J. Martin Dent, constituted the board of directors in the 1920s. Hugh joined the company in 1909 and functioned as an editor for Everyman's Library; Jack joined the company in 1915 and supervised the Temple Press; Martin came in 1924 and directed the production department. After J.M. Dent's death on 9 May 1926, the board was expanded to include W. G. Taylor, who had been secretary of the firm since 1916. Hugh R. Dent served as chairman from 1926 to 1938, followed by Taylor from 1938 to 1963; Taylor was also managing director from 1934 to 1955. Taylor's two posts were taken over by F. J. Martin Dent.

J.M. Dent & Sons was purchased by Weidenfeld and Nicholson in January 1988, and the Dent staff was moved to Weidenfeld's offices at 91 Clapham Street, London.

(Adapted from information in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Hugh Dent's The House of Dent, 1888-1938 (London, 1928), and J.M. Dent's The Memoirs of J.M. Dent (London, 1928)

From the guide to the J.M. Dent & Sons Records, 1834-1986, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Rare Book Literary and Historical Papers.)

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Subjects:

  • Authors and publishers
  • Publishers and Publishing
  • Book industries and trade
  • Serial publication of books
  • Illustration of books

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