Toledano's Modern Library Price Guide

                                                                                     © Scot Kamins

If you want to collect or scout Modern Library books, you must have Henry Toledano's Modern Library Price Guide 1917 - 2000 (2nd Revised Edition 1999, privately printed). It is 192 pages of pure ML gold, and comes in hardback, paperback, and collector configurations.


Misnamed a price guide, this 5.5" X 8.5" reference work is a nearly complete listing of every ML title and major variant in flexible, hardback (standard and giant editions), paperback (except the college editions), and illustrated edition published since the series began in 1917. I say "nearly complete" because there are so many ML variations that it may be impossible to keep up with them all.

Detailed checklist for 1100 titles/variants

Each entry shows the ML number (all ML's published through 1970 had numbers), author, title, dates the entry was available, identifying characteristics of the entry's first ML edition, relative values for the entry in VG/VG condition, and comments such as the name of the editor, preface writer, or illustrator, and new in this edition an indication of dust jacket variations. In all, the guide has over 1100 such entries.

One of the most valuable columns is the one identifying an important first state dust jacket indicator. On the back of each dust jacket printed 1925 through 1963, the Modern Library company listed every title in the series along with its ML number. Each dust jacket also indicated in some way the number of titles printed up to that dj's printing. The Dj1st column shows what that number should be on a dust jacket that properly matches its first edition book.

For example, let's say you've just picked up a VG/VG copy of Gertrude Stein's Three Lives, ML number 211. (Actually, it's 211.1; the number was later reassigned to other titles after Three Lives went out of print.) You know that the book itself is a first edition because the copyright page has the notation First Modern Library Edition, but does the dust jacket match? The difference in value can be substantial; with the correct dust jacket it's worth about $90, otherwise $40, a difference of double the value. For a jacket to match, the number must be within 3 of the column number. The back of the dust jacket says "Which of these 225 outstanding books do you want to read?" So any number up to 228 would qualify for the bigger bucks. Looking up that title in the Guide, you discover that the matching state dust jacket should be 225 - A winner!!! And in this case, it's worth even more - a little "+" symbol after a number in the column means that you can add 10% to the value, which in this case means you've got a $100 book on your shelf.

If no number exists, Toledano says to judge by other criteria such as binding type, other dust jacket clues, and so on. Illustrations abound for each of these criteria.

New in this edition: Dust jacket variations

If you like collecting dust jacket variations, you'll love the new section that Toledano has added to the main listing tables. The columns in that section categorize dust jackets into four periods (five, actually; the ones before 1925 in the Boni-Liveright period were all typographical), with an extra column indicating a 90's reprint. The first, 1925 to 1928, characterize the early Modern Library Inc. typographical period when the dust jacket fronts had no torchbearer logo (x), a small logo (b for small Bernhard design), or a large logo (B for large Bernhard). The second indicates printings between 1928 and 1939, the Balloon cloth era: T is for typographical, P is for pictorial, and D indicates a typographical jacket with fancy design elements. The remaining periods use the same descriptors but refer to later logo and design elements.

Some books show more than one variation in a period. Douglas' South Wind, for example, has three variations in the 1928-1939 period - one with a large Bernhard logo and two pictorials. O'Neil's Long Voyage Home shows four variations in the 1940-1970 period with three pictorials and a typographical. Some long-published titles such as Butler's Way of All Flesh show as many as five distinct dust jackets over their lives - six if you count its Boni-Liveright incarnation.

If you're a real hard-core dust jacket variations collector, you'll want to get the dust jacket color supplement (shown later on this page, $35.00). It has 20 pages of photographs, nine to a page, showing titles with three variations each. The back cover shows an additional 16 photos for eight pairs of variations. Fanatics such as myself won't be able to live without the limited edition configuration; it has 16 more variations on the back cover of its own dust jacket and another dozen on the inside Limitation page. None of these are duplicates, heaven help us and our budgets.

A system for judging values

Toledano assigns a value from A to Z for each ML entry; the farther along in the alphabet the letter assigned to an entry, the greater the dollar (or Pound or Dinar) value for that entry. So an E entry is worth less than an H entry, while an M is worth more than either. Values are based on books in Very Good condition with Very Good dust jackets. (He has separate value listings for ML Firsts and Giant editions without dust jackets as well.)

He uses relative values because dollar values vary greatly depending on shop location, clientele, specialization, and so on. This makes his listings especially valuable to book scouts and dealers around the world who can adjust the currency values as appropriate.

He includes a chart showing the dollar values he assigns to letters. These, of course, are current only for late 1999, and will vary considerably depending on your source.

Guide to Guide Editions

There are several configurations to the Guide:

  • Paperback: $15.00, 2nd at half price (shown above)
  • Hardcover: $35.00 (Stitched binding), 2nd hardback at half price or with paperback at $7.50

  • Limited & Numbered 1 to 100: $65.00 (Limitation 100 copies. Same as hardcover with colored
    Limitation page signed by author + all color dust jacket. Dust jacket and limitation page show dust
    jacket variations for similar titles.)

  • Limited & Lettered A to Z: $135.00 (Dust jacket shown spread open revealing back and spine, also available separately for $7.50) Same as numbered edition, but also includes a color supplement (shown below) and a slip case (not shown). [These are now sold out. You may find one at one of the auction sites. - Ed.]

  • Color supplement only: $35.00 Not lettered or signed (shown with cover spread open revealing back). 20-pages of dust jackets alphabetized by author, showing titles that have three or more different dust jackets.


Data disk only: $15.00 (Databases and text, but no illustrations). E-mail Henry with questions about format and to confirm pricing at

    My conclusion: five stars out of five

The guide has other features not listed here: photographs of all the spines and dust jacket types coded to make identification easy, a table for judging the year a dj was produced, a chart showing the years prices changed, a section on scouting books and another one on repairing books, and on and on. It has most of what anyone could want in a carry-around guide, and its minor flaws can easily be forgiven. And at $17.95 for the carry-around paperback edition, it's one hell of a bargain.

    Ordering information

The Modern Library Price Guide may be tough to find in bookstores. I suggest you order it directly from Toledano. Add postage $4.50 for book rate insured or $7.50 Priority insured. No postage charge for Supplement if bought with one of the books:

Books Etc.
PMB #395
298 4th Ave.
San Francisco CA 94118-2468
(415) 387-7162
[IMPORTANT: After you've acquired your copy of the Guide, go the Guide Extensions page for a list of updates and corrections you should make. Before making a purchase of a purported first printing, check the BookNote for that title to verify all firat edition points. ]
e-Mail questions, comments, and corrections