Compass Books

Publisher: The Viking Press

Years: 1956-1975

Related Series: Compass History of Art, Explorer Books, Studio Handbooks

Note: there is a sizable gap in the list below from C427 to the mid-500s. Titles from before and after this span had been assigned ISBN numbers that incorporated their series numbers (e.g., C422, The Apple & Square in the Eye, had the ISBN 0-670-00422-7), but a search for similar ISBNs for this range turns up no titles. It's possible that titles with those numbers did appear but came from one of the presses that Viking had earlier acquired -- either Studio Books (1959) or Grossman Publishers (1968). Some of the Studio & Grossman titles do appear as Compass Books with ISBNs that match their Compass series number though, so it's possible there was just a gap in the numbering. After searching and thinking extensively on this, I've yet again resigned myself to live with the mystery.  

More Information

Compass Books: New Viking Paperbound Reprint Series, 168 Publishers Weekly 2540 (Dec. 31, 1955): 

Viking Press will publish in late March the first five titles in a new paperbound reprint series to be known as Compass Books. This series, which will be unrelated to the Viking Paperbound Portables, will consist of individual books by leading authors taken from Viking's hardcover back list, and not otherwise available in low-priced editions. In this respect it will be similar to Knopf's Vintage Books and Harcourt, Brace's Harvest Books lines. Fiction and nonfiction, most of it by contemporary authors, will be included on the Compass Books' list. Some of the titles will be special works that have been highly regarded by a moderately large group of readers, but that have never, in their higher-priced editions, "reached the huge new public that has been found waiting for the 'quality paperbacks,'" according to Viking. 

Compass Books will be printed on the same quality paper as is used for the Paperbound Portables. They will have a newly-designed format "offering the utmost ease of reading."

Compass Books, Viking reports, "will be promoted and advertised as enthusiastically as the Paperbound Portables have been, and there will be a circular for the trade."

The first five titles in the series to be released in March will be: "The Long Valley" by John Steinbeck ($1.25); "A Candle for St. Jude" by Rumer Godden ($.95); "The Challenge of Man's Future" by Harrison Brown ($1.25); "Exile's Return" by Malcolm Cowley ($1.25); and "Erasmus of Rotterdam" by Stefan Zweig ($.95).  

Charles A. Madison, BOOK PUBLISHING IN AMERICA 477 (1966):

In the 1950's, with quality paperbacks rapidly rising in popularity, Viking began to issue paperback editions of a number of Portable Library volumes. Both editions sold steadily and well. In 1956 the firm launched Compass Books, paperback reprints of older books, mostly from its own sizable backlist. This series has also sold well. 

Viking and Penguin: Big U.S. Move from U.K. , Worldwide PB Distribution for Americans, PW, Nov. 17, 1975, at 14, 16:

Compass, Viking's paperback line, which Guinzburg feels is not vigorous in its editorial policy and does not have a strong sales distribution setup, will be merged with Penguin. All Viking paperbacks, with the exception of Viking Portables, will in future be published under the Penguin imprint. 

Robert Dahlin, Penguin Books Is Taking Wing, and Looks to Become a Competitive American Bird, PW, Dec. 6, 1976, at 45 (mentioning the status of the Viking Compass and Viking Portable Library titles).