A volume of The Lakeside Classics series has been published annually since 1903 as a holiday gift to employees, customers and friends of RR Donnelley. According to company folklore, in 1902, T.E. Donnelley, son of the founder and president of RR Donnelley & Sons Company, received a set of straight-razors as a Christmas gift. Its special appeal was that the blades were a product directly associated with the donor’s cutlery business, not the type of frivolous and gaudy item that was the common business gift at the time. T.E. thought it would be a fine thing if his company could provide something of a similar nature. The project took root and by Christmas, 1903, the first Lakeside Classic, "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin", had been selected, designed, edited, printed, and was ready to ship.
The basic format of the Lakeside Classics has remained the same for more than 100 years, testifying to the sound design of the first volume. Each 25 years the cover material is changed and type style adjusted to keep pace with current developments in fine book making. Production methods are updated as book manufacturing improvements are introduced. Current editions use electronic page composition, digital scanning and state-of-the-art computer-to-plate technologies. The small, pocketbook size, format was intended for convenience. The book was bound in a plain dark-green cloth cover. It was stamped, in real gold that also adorned the top-edge, with the R. R. Donnelley Indianhead logo that had been created by Chicagoan Joseph Leyendecker.
Many of the early volumes consisted of the speeches and writings of noted Americans. With the publication in 1911 of "The Autobiography of Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard", the series took its present character: first-person narratives of American history, usually taken from books long out of print and not easily obtainable. Through the 1980s, the volumes emphasized history on the North American continent, including titles on the Civil War, the American Old West, early exploration and everyday frontier life. During the 1990s, as the company extended its business internationally, the series was expanded to include narratives by Americans with experiences beyond our borders.
While not edited with the historian or serious student in mind, the Classics have benefited from of a line of distinguished historians and university professors and directors of well-known historical societies who have served as editors.
The Lakeside Classics are never sold by the company, but some find their way into the rare book market. A few volumes have become so extremely rare that collectors who own a complete set usually consider themselves most fortunate.
The Digital Edition
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