The Folio Society issued its first three titles in 1947. In October of that year Tolstoy's Tales went on sale for sixteen shillings, and it was followed in November and December by George du Maurier's Trilby and a translation of Aucassin and Nicolette, establishing a pattern of monthly publication that was retaibed for many years.
In 1971 Folio was purchased by John Letts and Halfdan Lynner, although editorial continuity was ensured by the retention of Brian Rawson, Editorial Director from 1956. In the subsequent decades, the Society developed the technique of publishing series such as the collected novels of Dickens, Trollope, Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell and Conrad, over several years as a means of attracting and retaining members.
Between 1987 and 1991, Folio produced a number of fine editions, printed in letterpress and subsequently it has introduced a series of deluxe, limited edition publications at a substantially higher price, generally in conjunction with The British Library. These are priced on a volume-by-volume basis, but at least one publication per year is made in the £500–£900 range.
In 1994 Folio moved to its current offices at 44 Eagle Street, Holborn. The current chairman and owner of the Society is Lord Gavron.
One of the notable characteristics of Folio publications is their range of formats (in 1951, for example, these included Royal Octavo, Medium Octavo, Crown Octavo and Demy Octavo) and custom sizes are also common. Use of materials also varies greatly, with occasional innovations such as the use of aluminium foil for Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in 1971 and vegetable parchment for Voltaire's The Calas Affair in 1994. Marbled endpaper (often produced by hand by Ann Muir) has become a feature of several volumes in recent years. Moiré silk has also been used sporadically over the years as a binding material, but the most common material is buckram. Goatskin binding is sometimes used, especially for deluxe editions.
Since his first binding design in 1981, David Eccles has gradually established himself as the most prolific of Folio’s designers. Amongst his many projects for Folio has been the series (sometimes known as "Victorian Epics of Exploration") beginning with Richard Burton's The Source of the Nile in 1993 and still in progress in 2007-8.
Amongst the illustrators, many have made an impact on the history of Folio. Charles Keeping is notable for his illustrations to the complete novels of Dickens, as is Francis Mosley, who illustrated the works of both Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad. Paul Cox has contributed comic illustrations for, among others, seventeen volumes of novels by P. G. Wodehouse. A major publication was Paula Rego's Nursery Rhymes where the artist controlled many aspects of the design and illustration, but this was an exceptional case. Some illustrators have been called upon for a small but significant contribution, such as Neil Packer, who contributed striking full-colour illustrations to I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves.
In addition to the monthly volume, Folio usually publishes a small number of extra volumes in support of an ongoing series as well as a small number of additional publications announced irregularly throughout the year. Deluxe editions, often targeted at a segment of the membership, are produced from time to time: these are often facsimiles either of famous books (Johnson's Dictionary and the Kelmscott Chaucer) or of notable manuscripts (such as the Luttrell Psalter and William Blake's complete illustrations to Edward Young's Night Thoughts).
Long-running series still in publication include those on The English Poets, Victorian Epics of Exploration, Medieval History and Myths & Legends.