The Franklin Library, affiliated with the Franklin Mint, produced classic books, designed especially for collectors. Many of these publications have become more scarce over the years, but they've remained perennial favorites among many collectors. Why are Franklin Library editions so sought after? What should you know if you're hoping to collect Franklin Library editions?
A Brief History of the Franklin Press
The Franklin Press was established in Philadelphia in 1973, where it remained until closing its doors in 2000. All books were designed and bound by The Sloves Organization, one of the few binderies solely dedicated to fine leather book binding. The Franklin Library offered classic titles assembled into 50-100 volume series. People who subscribed to the series would receive one book per month, so it often took years to accumulate an entire collection.
The books in the Franklin Library series were printed as open editions. That means that there was an unlimited number of copies of each book, and no figures are readily available as to how many of each volume were printed. However, the Franklin Library also frequently contracted with authors and their mass market publishers to gain the rights to the "true" first edition of a book. When the trade editions came out later, they usually specified "First trade edition" on the copyright page and indicated that the Franklin Library had issued the very first edition.
The Franklin Press used three different binding styles: full leather, leather-like cloth, and quarter-bound leather. The last two were used only during the 1970s and 1980s. Full leather editions were available throughout the press' operation. A full leather binding can be differentiated by the satin ribbon page-marker bound into the volume.
Collecting Franklin Library Books
Exclusive illustrations: Many editions feature unique art illustrations by renowned artists. These pieces were used exclusively for the Franklin Library editions and never published again. Though these art pieces may occasionally pop up in exhibitions, the only sure way to enjoy them is to own the editions in which they're found.
Fine bindings: The books in the Franklin Library are often made of leather and include beautiful gilt designs on the cover and spine. These fine touches elevate the books to beautiful objects unto themselves, and they certainly look impressive in a personal library.
True first editions: For many collectors, the allure of the "true" first edition is quite strong. Though Franklin Library books were open editions, they are also often the first edition of many modern classics.
Completist approach: Franklin Library books were all parts of a series. That series of titles is like a collector's checklist, providing a goal and framework for the collection. Moreover, a completed set is frequently more valuable; in this case, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of its parts.
Tips for Collectors of Franklin Library Editions
Sometimes the same title appears in more than one series. When this happens, the title will have a different introduction and binding in each series. Thus single-title collectors may end up with multiple Franklin Library editions of the same book in their library--and each will be unique.
Meanwhile, there are also different types of series. Some were produced as signed limited editions (sometimes called the signed 60), while others are merely first editions. It's important to know the difference: first editions include a signed introduction, with the author's signature at the end of the introduction. These signatures are reprinted, not original. For the signed editions, however, authors signed a separate page, which was then bound into the book. These signatures appear on their own and are genuine.
Some series are also more popular than others. Obviously the signed 60 are quite scarce and more sought after. The 100 Greatest Books of All Time series remains one of the most collectible sets, as the titles are generally quite desirable in their own right. The 25th Anniversary of Great Books of the Western World series is also popular.
To review a large selection of mostly signed books, click here.