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Nelson's Continental Library (NCL)

Thomas Nelson and Sons, rue Saint-Jacques, Paris, France

The Best Novels are included in this Collection immediately after their publication in Great Britain or the United States.

During the First World War English-speaking people living in France no longer had access to books from the German publisher Tauchnitz, which published new novels in paperback in the English language on the Continent before they were published in a cheaper edition in the U.K. Thomas Nelson may have tried to fill this gap during the War by publishing English language novels in Paris in their Continental Library Series. The books were all printed in Scotland and shipped to France for sale with the following statement on front cover: Must not be taken into Great Britain, British Colonies, or U.S.A.. They were printed with plain lettering on thin card covers in the Tauchnitz style, but were sold with a decorated paper dust jacket, which Tauchnitz did not do. There are at least 94 titles in the series: the last may have been Midwinter by John Buchan, perhaps published in 1921. Buchan was a Director of Thomas Nelson and Sons.

These are rare books even without their dust jacket, and rarely survive with their jacket. I have only four of the seven novels in this series that feature a dust jacket designed by Edmund Blampied, and I have not seen the jacket of the other three titles as they are known only from correspondence in the publisher's archive. Blampied usually designed the whole jacket including the lettering and price, at least for the early titles, presumably so that they were simple to print. The hand-drawn lettering can seem rather amateur and the jacket doesn't always fit the book. Changes in price were achieved using stickers. Paper was very expensive immediately after the war so the price went up.

Photo of dust jacket

Front panel and spine of dust jacket (click to enlarge).

None of the titles is dated, so the year of publication is estimated. According to letters seen in the Nelson Archive at Edinburgh University, Blampied submitted a design for The Reef of Stars (No. 38, not seen) in January 1917. There is no information on Guy and Pauline (No. 28) or The Little Lady of the Big House (No. 29) because a file of letters between 25th November 1916 and 10th January 1917 is missing from the archive, so it presumed that they were commissioned during that period. Nelson's acknowledged receiving the design for The Vermilion Box (No. 39) on 12th April 1917 and for William, by the Grace of God (No. 41, not seen) on 8th June 1917.

The first design that Blampied submitted for The Secret Bread (No. 70, not seen) was not suitable:

We thank you for the sketch for wrapper of Secret Bread which is very striking and effective if we could reproduce and print it satisfactorily but unfortunately these dark covers are always difficult to reproduce and in present conditions with inferior paper results are sometimes deplorable. In any case, we prefer bright wrappers. We are sorry therefore we must trouble you to send us another sketch.

The figures in the second rough sketch were considered to be too small, but they accepted a design on 28th June 1918. Nelson's were particular about what they wanted.

Blampied's final commission for this series of books was given in October 1918 to design the wrapper of Impossible People (No. 72). He submitted a sketch which was approved on 28th October 1918. The final design was acknowledged in an undated postcard, probably sent in November 1918. It is likely that Impossible People was published at the end of 1918, but it might have been issued in early 1919.

You can find more information about Blampied's work for Thomas Nelson and Sons here:

Andrew Hall (1999). Edmund Blampied's illustrations for books published by Thomas Nelson and Sons. Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiaise 27 (3): 410-425.

Reprints of this article are available. Two titles have been found since it was published.

An excellent French web site has a list of many titles in Nelson's Continental Library, with images if they are available, here.

Click on the thumbnail to see a large image; click on the link to see details of each book and an image, if available.

— 1917 —

Small image of dust jacket   NCL-17.1Guy and Pauline by Compton Mackenzie, Nelson's Continental Library No. 28 (dj of novel)

Small image of dust jacket   NCL-17.2Little Lady of the Big House by Jack London, Nelson's Continental Library No. 29 (dj of novel)

Small image of dust jacket   NCL-17.3: The Reef of Stars by H. de Vere Stacpoole, Nelson's Continental Library No. 38 (dj of novel)

Small image of dust jacket   NCL-17.4The Vermillion Box by E.F. Benson, Nelson's Continental Library No. 39 (dj of novel)

Small image of dust jacket   NCL-17.5: William, by the Grace of God by Marjorie Bowen, Nelson's Continental Library No. 41 (dj of novel)

— 1918 —

Small image of dust jacket   NCL-18.1: Secret Bread by F. Tennyson Jesse, Nelson's Continental Library No. 70 (dj of novel)

Small image of dust jacket   NCL-18.2Impossible People by Mrs George Wemyss, Nelson's Continental Library No. 72 (dj of novel)