From 1916 to 1923, the Little Leather Library was a hot name in American publishing. First conceived in New York City by brothers and bookshop owners Charles and Albert Boni, the firm came to reality with the help of Max Sackheim and Harry Scherman, two advertising executives the brothers approached. Scherman later went on to found the Book-of-the-Month Club in 1926. Much in the way that Victorian yellowbacks sought to put classic literature in more British hands by making them affordable, the Little Leather Library took an innovative approach to the mass-marketing of the classics in the United States.
With the First World War well underway, the economic climate of the time was changing rapidly, and manufacturers, publishers and consumers were struggling to find viable solutions. The Boni Brothers, inspired by a promotion they saw in which a free small book was given with a purchase, set out to produce small, affordable copies of classic stories old enough to be in public domain, and free of copyright and royalties. Their first prototype, a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, was met with interest, and production began. Out of fiscal necessity, the books were not much to look at; the volumes measured approximately 3" by 4" and consisted of text within a simple, drab embossed cover. They were originally included in packages of Whitman’s Chocolates, then sold for a dime (ten cents) a volume at Woolworth’s department store.
Advertised in popular national magazines and soon available via mail order, the books took off and became quite popular. Production costs continued to be problematic however, and as a result, only the first volumes in the collection were actually bound in genuine leather. Despite the name “Little Leather Library”, the vast majority of the volumes were instead bound in a synthetic leatherette material.
In addition to several books of the Bible, the corporation published 101 titles in total, mostly from iconic names in fiction such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and many more. The original titles, while still largely affordable, have become quite sought after by collectors of literature and literary history. The first volumes in real leather are of particular interest.