Catalogue of books from Mudie's Circulating Library


Publishing boomed through the Victorian period, but away from the cheap populist market, books could be expensive luxury items. Catering for the aspirational and self-improvement market was George Mudie (1818–1890). In 1842, Mudie charged students at the University of London an annual subscription to borrow books. This proved successful, and he expanded, founding Mudie’s Lending Library and Mudie’s Subscription Library to enable members of the public to do the same. Over the ensuing years he expanded into other cities such as York, Birmingham and Manchester.

This catalogue was issued from Mudie’s branch in Barton Arcade in Manchester in 1878. Built in 1871, the arcade is still a shopping destination today. Individual volumes and collections were available for purchase, described as 'well adapted for Drawing-Room Tables and Gentlemen’s Libraries, and for Wedding and Birthday presents, and School Prizes'.

The selection reflects Mudie’s tastes – he eschewed anything he thought immoral or unsuitable – and those of his middle-class customers. Their prices show why even affluent families would choose Mudie’s lending services rather than buy a book themselves: Alice in Wonderland, for example, is 7s 6d, equivalent to a week’s rent on a three-bedroomed terraced townhouse, while a 30-volume Dickens collection costs 357s (17 guineas, or £17 17s) – equivalent to a year’s rent.  

Mudie’s libraries continued into the 1900s, but the advent of free public libraries increasingly made paid-for book borrowing unattractive. 

Full title:
Birthday presents and bridal gifts: Catalogue of books of the best authors, in ornamental bindings, on sale at Mudie's Select Library, London…
estimated April 1878, New Oxford Street, London
Mudie's Select Library
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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