Olympia Press

In June, at Christie’s (New York), the Library acquired the collection of Olympia Press publications consigned by the Press’s bibliographer, Patrick Kearney. The work of many years, the Kearney collection brought together virtually the entire output of the Press, more than 400 volumes, published between the firm’s first imprint in 1953 and its last in 1974. Included are books issued in the firm’s several series, such as the Traveller’s Companion Series (Paris and New York), Ophelia Press, (Paris and New York), Collection Merlin, Ophir Books, Atlantic Library, Far-Out Books, Le Grande Séverine, Othello Books, and Odyssey Library.

Put “Olympia Press” into Google Book Search and back come thousands of citations. These range from appearances in such conventional works as Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature or the Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives to less expected locales such as Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary.

This range of attention reflects that particular double character of the Olympia Press. In 1965, the New York Times noted

“Mr. [Maurice] Giordias began the Olympia Press on a shoestring in 1953. He catered to English speaking tourists, with high priced, highly spiced books in plain covers, stamped ‘not to be introduced into the United States or the United Kingdom.’ Olympia, however, always published more serious books as well. Its current list has such title as ‘The Ordeal of the Rod,’ ‘The Bedroom Philosophers,’ and ‘Lust’ with Lawrence Durell’s ‘The Black Book,’ Valdimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita,’ J.P. Donleavy’s ‘The Ginger Man’ and novels by Samuel Beckett.”

Illustrated above are the cover and first pages of the firm’s 1962 promotional price-list. The provocative red and black design raises questions.

What is censorship? Its history is that of a constant dialogue between the enforcer, the observant, and the violator. The terms of the dialogue change regularly with time and circumstance. Each side is bound by a sense of order. The enforcer and observant appeal to some sense of local, political order, while the violator usually appeals to some larger sense of order, such as that stemming from one’s sense of nature or of humanity.

It would be easy to push aside past known cases of censorship, as simply relics of a former age. On the other hand, if one is to understand the workings and character of the modern political state, then one must try to understand censorship. It is entirely possible that censorship is as definitive of the modern state as the doctrine of military power or the doctrine of copyright.

If we are to know what censorship meant for those who enacted, enforced, observed, and violated it, we need to see and know what was regarded as offending. A scholarly, disinterested motive to know the past is the basis on which the decision to make this purchase was made.

Cataloguing the collection — book by book — is partially completed and continues through the fall. The purchase also included “approximately 34 folders and envelopes containing typescripts, correspondence from Maurice Girodias (signed), Marco Vassi, and others, pamphlets, leaflets, photocopies of journal articles, and additional miscellaneous items relating to the publishing history of the Olympia Press.” These additional materials are in two parts: one gathered as Manuscripts Collection number C1262; the other as (Ex) Item … (in process, oversize).

“A Mappe of the Man of Sin” featured in British Printed Images to 1700

Princeton’s unique copy of the seventeenth century English engraving “A Mappe of the Man of Sin” is “Print of the Month” for August 2008 on the website British Printed Images to 1700, a digital library of prints and book illustrations from early modern Britain.

The 3,151 word article together with 22 footnotes explains this complicated engraving scene-by-scene and detail-by-detail.

The engraving is also described in Malcolm Jones, “Engraved Works Recorded in the Stationers’ Registers, 1562-1656,” Walpole Society, 64 (2002), p. 1-68 ff., number 176, p. 32 and fig 24.

Below is a detail from A Mappe of the Man of Sin: Wherein is Most Liuely Delineated the Rising Raigning and Ruine of the Kingdome of Antichrist [London, 1622]. Rare Book Division. Call number: (Ex) BT985 .W5e. Purchased from the London bookseller Bernard Quaritch in 1988.

‘Abby-lubber Preest’ • Click on the detail below to see entire original. Dimensions of original: 443 mm x 545 mm.

Hodder and Stoughton dustjackets — The rest of the story

Year in and year out, during summer, students help prepare finding aids, inventory lists, and the like, all aimed at item level control of collections, especially for collections of ephemera. This year was no exception.

One major project was the checklisting leaf-by-leaf of the contents of the Hodder and Stoughton dustjackets, previously announced in this web log.

Elizabeth Sarah Quirk Goodman (Harvard ‘08) prepared a 100 page listing, giving thousands of details about the more than 1100 jackets in the collection.

She also wrote the following reflections on the project —

Regarding the bound volumes

“The bound volumes look as if they were a running collection, in which the publisher’s staff pasted jackets for books by the same author on adjacent pages and left room for more jackets. The estimates must have been difficult to make, however: the authors are not in any particular order, and sometimes they reappear later or there are blank spaces on the pages. Nearly all of the jackets have yellow as the background color, and those in volume 1 are listed as H&S yellow jacket books. The spines are always yellow, and usually the cover art has yellow as a background or at least a yellow frame around another picture. The cover art, for the most part, varies: complete and colorful illustrations, or illustrations of people with no scenery but the yellow background, or illustrations with only three or four different colors in them. The colors used are usually true hues that all stand out from one another and catch the eye.

Most of the books have captions or catchy slogans on them. They may be thoughts from the book (“Determined to forget”) or lines of poetry, or dialogue supplied for the cover art (such as “The river is being watched,” when the cover art features a man whispering to another man). Sometimes they are more directly about the book (such as “The most romantic couple ever shipwrecked”), or statements advertising the quality of the book. As far as advertising the quality of the book goes, the idea seems to be to inspire author loyalty, to assure new readers or remind experienced ones that the author writes books they should want to read. Therefore, many of the books include the author’s name in a slogan about the author, such as “Switch off the wireless—it’s an Oppenheim”. Some make claims about the author, such as “Everybody likes her”. I have called these slogans “author’s epithets,” and put into that column anything that is more about the author than the particular book. I find that the captions make the book seem like something I would want to read once for a cheap thrill and then discard, because they point out one piece of mystery or romantic angst and one presumes the entire book is about that. The epithets are a bit better, and they may come from the authors themselves: one author, Seldon Truss, wrote a book titled Escort to Danger, and a lot of his books feature the slogan “Let Seldon Truss be your escort to danger”. Perhaps the problem is not the abundance of advertisement so much as its large fonts getting in the way of the rest of the book; more books nowadays have small-text reviews on the front, and perhaps an award stamp, which are easily enough ignored. But at least some of the books probably should not be judged by these covers, since they are the lesser-known books by authors such as L. M. Montgomery.

The first covers in the front of volume 1, which cost 9 pence, are only the front covers. Often they don’t have the author’s full name displayed, only the last name, and even that may be the enlarged part of a catchy slogan about the author. However, the later books in the back of volume 1 and all of volume 2, which cost 2 shillings (10 pence) or more, nearly always feature the spine as well. The spine lists the author, title, price, and H&S. The full dust jackets are quite interesting: in the first part of volume 2 they belong to the “H&S Half-a-crown library”, and the back cover is a simplified version of the front cover. No title or author appears, but the cover art appears in approximate mirror image, as a penciled sketch on a white background with one solid color in some places, and often the caption appears at the bottom. … The two full dust jackets in the inverted part of volume 2, which are not labeled in the same series, have colorless pencil sketches on the back that provide some sort of continuation of the front cover art. One has a man in a spotlight onstage at the front, and the back has an audience and the beam of light for the spotlight; the other has two people sitting and talking on the front, and one person hiding (perhaps eavesdropping) on the back. This art comes across better on a flattened cover, and it would work well when seen on the back of an open book.

Regarding the boxes of loose leaves

The three boxes proved much more difficult to sort out. Box 2 has covers mounted on light sheets of paper, but the sheets cannot possibly all come from the same wrapper book, because not only do they have different numbering styles but they also come in different sizes. Still, I was able to sort most of the leaves and half-leaves out into three wrapper books and put the rest in a folder together, numbering them. I used “M” before the number to show that it was not a page number that had already been written in. Many of the covers in this box were less garish than the usual yellowjackets, which were on perhaps half of the leaves. A lot of the covers had white backgrounds, used more colors for less stark cover art, and were without epithets if not captions. The captions were more often book review quotes such as one might find on covers now, though one caption claimed its book was “transfused with a white flame.”

Box 1 was probably originally a volume much like volumes 1 and 2 (labeled 3), because it has books on brown leaves, some of which are foliated in yellow and some in white. Unfortunately this led to difficulty because some of the leaves had been cut in half and a number appeared only at the corner of the right half, so I had to play a matching game and match unnumbered half-leaves with the numbered ones. This was unexpectedly successful, partly because two covers on one page usually feature the same author, and otherwise because whoever cut or tore the pages in half never did it quite the same way twice; he left a reasonable jigsaw puzzle. Box 3 has the remnants, including some dark brown half-leaves matched up, and a few leaves numbered differently. In these two boxes, one would often see a message such as “This is one of [auth.]’s most famous novels, and this is the edition for your Library” or “This is a completely NEW BOOK now first published”, and these seem to reflect different marketing ploys from the usual captions and epithets. In addition, there are some covers for 1-shilling books in a category one might call “Christian inspiration,” as they seem to have a missionary purpose. These are never yellow jackets, but always have thin white spines. They also didn’t have captions, as the attention was probably meant to be drawn by the titles themselves, such as What If He Came?