Paper Books & Bonibooks
Publisher: Paper Books -- Charles Boni (1929-1930); Bonibooks -- Albert & Charles Boni (1930-1931)
Charles Boni published the Paper Books series as part of a monthly subscription service that started in September 1929. Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey had been issued as a test format for the series in May 1929 and was later given to subscribers as a bonus. Each monthly issue was published on the 25th of the month (except December, when it was published on the 26th).
A new P A P E R B O O K is published and mailed to subscribers on the 25th of each month. The first book in the series was published in September 1929. In May, T H E B R I D G E O F S A N L U I S R E Y by Thornton Wilder was set up and printed as an example of the format.
Subscription prices for P A P E R B O O K S : one year, for Continental United States of America $5.00; elsewhere $6.00
S I N G L E C O P I E S, 50 cents each mailed postpaid to any address.
The image above, taken from the final Paper Book, Crime and Destiny by Johannes Lange, released on November 25, 1930, indicates that Albert & Charles Boni had already released the first 21 Bonibooks titles in a format "similar to Paper Books" by November 1930. Unlike the Paper Books, the Bonibooks were not available by subscription, instead appearing in stores for purchase. The Bonibooks typically contained a numbered list of titles at the back, and the latest titles in 1931 contain 49 total Bonibooks. All but the final 3 Paper Books were reprinted as Bonibooks from 1930-1931. Based on the list of published titles, the Boni Brothers were beginning to venture into publishing mystery titles toward the end of the paperback Bonibooks run. The final paperback Bonibook was Freeman Wills Crofts's The Ponson Case (1931).
Around 1933, it appears that Albert & Charles Boni decided to revive the Bonibooks imprint by publishing hardcover titles. The front flap of a hardcover Bonibooks edition of Sherwood Anderson's Tar: A Midwest Childhood lists 11/15 titles that had earlier been issued in paperback format:
Albert and Charles Boni are expanding their now famous series of Bonibooks, and in addition to their paper bindings are issuing them in cloth. It is the aim of the publishers to include in the new series only books of solid and enduring value, by authors who have some valid claim to permanence, if not greatness; they hope to make the Bonibooks imprint synonymous with literary and intrinsic excellence. It is with this end in view that they take pride in opening the series with the following titles:
The hardcover titles went up to at least #51 (see The Life of Jesus (Boni 1935)), if not higher.
John Tebbell, 3 HISTORY OF BOOK PUBLISHING IN AMERICA 212 (1978):
The most ambitious attempt to combine softcover publishing and the book club was the Paper Books program launched by Chares Boni in September 1929. The original announcement was made a little earlier (the first books were shipped in September), on May 2, 1929. In it, Boni noted that the book clubs were still under attack by Macrae and Frederick Stokes, among other publishers, but for himself he believes that the idea was a "modern, economical and satisfactory means of book distribution. The chief objection seemed to be to the procedure of the book clubs to the present, and to some of the pretentions, rather than to the book club idea itself."
Boni's idea was to provide subscribers with 12 new books a year, of "fine" literary quality, bound in paper and well printed, for $5 or forty-two cents a book. Rockwell Kent was engaged to do the cover designs, and the best type designers and printers were to be obtained. The editorial board included Horace Kallen, philosopher and lecture at the New School of Social Research; Everett Dean Martin, director of the People's Institute and author of The Meaning of a Liberal Education; Louis Untermeyer, the poet and critic; Padraic Colum, the well-known Irish writer, whom Boni described as a "mystic and romanticist"; and Lincoln Colcord, journalist and short-story writer. The club was to be located initially at the offices of Albert & Charles Boni, Inc., 66 Fifth Avenue.
In his announcement, Boni pointed out that he was the first publisher to enter the book club field directly as an executive. He meant to be in full administrative control, while at the same time retaining his association with the Boni publishing firm. With the Paper Books going out under his imprint, he argued, he would be assuming the risks, as in any other publishing venture, which he thought would meet some of the objections to book clubs advanced by Mcrae and Stokes. He also described as a "correcting influence" the fact that his club would be free of the "pretentiousness" of other book club claims to furnish "the best new books" and "all the important books." The only claim he would make, Boni said, would be to provide subscribers with "an interesting and inexpensive monthly service, that good current books will be furnished, and that high literary standards will be maintained."
Some great scans and helpful information are available at:
A Checklist of the Boni Books (Ultramarine 1994) -- I bought this on Google Play, but it’s not clear where the numbering scheme came from (the lists I’ve seen are different from what this checklist has.)