The Lakeside Classics series was started in 1903 by Thomas E. Donnelley, then president of RR Donnelley & Sons Company and son of the founder. T.E. believed that a simple book, dignified and well designed, would be an appropriate representation of how RR Donnelley blends technology and craftsmanship to create lasting value.
In the introduction to the first Lakeside Classic, he wrote, "If, in a modest way this volume conveys the idea that machine-made books are not a crime against art, and that books may be plain but good, and good though not costly, its mission has been accomplished."
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.
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.
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