Forgive me, reader; it’s been a very long time since my last post. Why? Because every time I find something interesting to write about it gets… complicated, and I get distracted. For example:

A comics class came for a hands-on session, and in addition to the comics the professor picked out, I showed them a sample of related things, from Rudolph Töpffer to artists books. For more about the class, see the amazing Karen Green’s column about it.

Once everyone was busy reading, I took a closer look at our copy of Franz Masereel’s My Book of Hours, 1922. Masereel’s the father of the “novel without words,” and this title (originally published in 1919 as Mon livre d’heures) was one of his best-known works, republished many times in many countries. A series of 167 woodcuts tells the story of an artist who becomes disillusioned with modern society.

In it, I was excited to find this typed note:

“Note: This little volume was contracted for by Liveright. We made an exact copy of the European edition. And after the first signature was sent to the artist for his signature we printed 600 copies.

But before publication date our edition of Petronius was arrested by the Vice Society. We prepaired [sic] to defend Petronius as a classic. But we could not endanger this verdic [sic] by any other books which might be questionable. Therefore we destroyed a complete edition of a volume on Love by Andre Tredon.

And because of one page in this little volume (16th) from end) Liveright ordered me to destroy the entire edition. This I did saving out 3 copies, one for Liveright one for Tom Smith, editor in chief, and one for myself. What became of the other two copies I do not know.

Oct. 1953                                     (signed) Manuel Komroff”

Well! Who doesn’t love having possibly the only copy of a suppressed edition! I immediately thought of the blog, and started a little background research. Manuel Komroff (1890-1974) was indeed the production manager for the publisher Boni & Liveright from 1920 to 1926. It happens that Columbia has his papers, but a quick look didn’t turn up anything relating to this moment in the early phase of Komroff’s career (they’re primarily from his next career as an author).

So we start with the book itself. Aside from Komroff’s note, there is no indication that the book has any connection with Boni & Liveright. It has no place of publication, and gives “Se trouvez chez l’auteur” as its only publication statement. The rest of the title page, and the introduction are in English. The limitation statement places it in the US: “This edition is strictly limited to 600 copies for America. Each copy is signed.”

Imagine my distress when I looked in Worldcat, and found 40 or more other libraries holding what appear to be the same edition!  And one of them at the Avery library, here on campus. A comparison of that copy and ours suggests they are, indeed, from the same edition.

What published information could I find? The standard bibliography of Masereel shows only one 1922 English language edition, conforming to the copy here.  No mention of Boni & Liveright. No other English-language editions before 1930.

 The Dictionary of Literary Biography (vol. 288, c2004) gives a documentary history of Boni & Liveright. And indeed, they had continuous trouble with John Sumner, of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, and ended up in court over Petronius Arbiter’s Satyricon in 1922. (Liveright won the case, though his troubles with Sumner persisted.)  Tom Dardis, in Firebrand, his 1995 biography of Liveright, explains that B&L used subscription publication of more questionable titles as a way of trying to avoid this kind of prosecution. And this history of trouble, and avoiding trouble, possibly explains the odd lack of the Boni & Liveright name anywhere on the volume.

It seemed time to try to find Boni & Liveright’s archives. And it turned out that much of what little there remains (the papers were dispersed because of B&L’s slow demise, and Liveright’s financial difficulties) is here at Columbia: Horace Liveright’s unfinished and unpublished autobiography is in Komroff’s papers (unfortunately, Komroff only got him to set part of his life to paper, and that mostly his colorful non-publishing life). And, fortuitously, W.W. Norton acquired Liveright in 1974. In a 2000 addition to our W. W. Norton papers are 3.5 feet of financial accounts for B&L books from 1920 to the 1960s, and 48 of the B&L catalogs dating between 1919 and 1944.

Masereel’s My Book of Hours was advertised in the Fall 1922 catalog (“to be published September 15”), but is never mentioned again. Petronius shows up in the backlist in Spring 1923 (“Subscription Edition – Entirely Sold”).  The suppressed book by Andre Tridon is harder to pin down; Tridon was a prominent early popular psychoanalyst, and the Fall 1921 catalog lists a book called Sex Happiness, not in the regular list, but under “Scientific Books” (“These books are offered to physicians, the clergy, the legal profession, and to other educators legitimately interested in the subjects they discuss”). It’s not mentioned again in the catalogs, but it’s hard to know whether this is the suppressed book Komroff calls “Love” in his note.   

And the production accounts – these are hard, at least for this librarian, to make sense of. There’s one sheet of accounts headed “F. Masereel Book of Hours,” with dates ranging from July 1922 to an inventory note dated 31 December 1927. Clearly the book was made: in the debit column, there are various production charges during 1922 culminating in the printing of 600 copies charged on 31 December 1922; the binding of 602 copies was charged for on 31 July 1923. In the credits column, it would seem that 8 copies were sold in 1925, and 35 in 1926. There may have been others sold or given away; the regular inventory notes indicate 560 bound copies on hand 1 January 1925, 552 copies 31 December 1925, and only 346 bound copies in 1927.

So definitely the book was produced. And it may have been suppressed from publication in 1922, but it wasn’t destroyed save for three copies, as Komroff wrote in 1953. Did Komroff perhaps confuse this title for another?  And why doesn’t the Boni & Liveright connection get made by any of the Masereel bibliographers?

But you want to see the troublesome picture, don’t you?  16 pages from the end comes this image:


Here the artist is showing his contempt for society. Worth suppressing a book over? Couldn’t this one image have just been removed from all the copies? A mystery.

Leave a Reply