Published by Rand McNally over three decades, the Windermere series featured classic stories combined with beautiful colour plate illustrations. Launched in the wake of advances in printing technology, Rand McNally created a series boasting high quality colour illustrations at prices that were affordable to young and old.
The first Windermere volume issued was Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. It was published in December 1912 and retailed for about 75 pence - less than half the price of its main competitor, Scribner’s Illustrated Classics. The Windermere edition was a success and Rand McNally continued to issue further volumes over the next three decades. The backbone of the publications were the illustrations and there were a number of artists who contributed, including Hope Dunlap, Paul Bransom and Frank Lloyd Wright’s sister Maginel Wright Enright. However, the majority of the books featured artwork by noted children’s artist Milo Winter.
When collecting the Windermere series, it should be noted that the earliest volumes have the largest number of colour plates and are the most treasured. This is because as the series progressed, and volumes were reprinted, Rand McNally needed to reduce costs in order to maintain their price advantage over Scribner’s. The easiest method was to reduce the number of illustrations.
There were three main variations of the Windermere series. The first, and most collectable, theme includes the 11 titles published between 1912 and 1918. These were issued with a green or gold coarse cloth, had gold lettering, and included a colour label glued on the front. These early editions usually contained between 10 and 16 colour plates. By the 1920s, the series cut back to only including eight colour plates, and these copies can usually be identified by the use of blue cloth with the gold lettering along with the traditional colour pictorial label. This style was used for six new stories that were added to the series as well as any reprints of the previous 11 titles that were made in this timeframe.
The third variation of the Windermere Illustrated series saw a further reduction in the number of illustrations to five for new releases, and reprints of the back catalogue also contained fewer colour plates than the original edition. These books can be identified by their black cloth with silver lettering. While this marked the end of new Windermere titles, it should be noted that in the 1950s Rand McNally reissued 10 Windermere titles in a ultra cheap format aimed for sale at grocery shops. These volumes had no dust jacket and just a single illustration facing the title page.