by Bud Webster

#25, August 23, 2004

A Bibliographer's Job is Never Done

Collecting Science Fiction

EDITOR'S NOTE: Time and time again, over the years, I've been delighted at how often the process of researching/writing uncovers things I didn't suspect - or couldn't have imagined - were there in the first place. So it was this week for BookThink's Tim Doyle. While doing a recent biblio-dig for his Collecting Science Fiction column on Groff Conklin and interview with SF author and Conklin bibliographer Bud Webster, Tim unearthed a long-buried gem: (in his own words) " ... I came across a tantalizing listing for a book with Conklin's signature and inscription. The seller's reference to Conklin owning a publishing house, something never even hinted at in any biographies I've read, was so interesting that it had to be explored." Tim, in turn, turned over this information to Webster. Webster himself did more digging, and, well, he tells the story much better than I could. Three cheers, Tim!

It was a reasonably amazing day, all things considered, this past Thursday.

Tim Doyle sent me an e-mail asking if I'd seen anything in my researches about Groff Conklin "owning the Harbor Press." Scratching my head, I replied that I'd never heard of such a thing and asked him what his reference was.

While waiting for his reply, I did some research on the Harbor Press (to be distinguished from Green Harbor Press, Cold Harbor Press, This Harbor, That Harbor...) and discovered that the publisher had been established in NYC in 1925 and that their primary claim to fame was the publication in 1929 of Robert Frost's play "A Way Out" in a signed edition limited to 485 copies.

Okay, fair enough, but still no mention of Conklin. And I wasn't at all certain of any connection whatsoever, seeing as how he would have been 21 in 1925 and still in college. Still, you never know, right?

Back comes a note from Tim with an Abebooks bookseller's description of one George Moore's "A Flood" (1930) in which the seller makes the claim that "Groff Conklin owned the Harbor Press." I called the bookseller in question (a particularly cooperative gentleman of the old school, eager to learn whatever he could about one of his books), and we discussed it. It would seem that the colophon read "G.C. at the Harbor Press" and that this copy was inscribed by Conklin to a family member as "from the publisher!" complete with underlining and exclamation point.

I zapped off a note to this effect to Tim and got a reply in which he mentioned that "A Flood" had originally appeared in the Smart Set magazine and was later reprinted in Conklin & Rascoe's A Smart Set Anthology (Reynal & Hitchcock 1934; reprinted as The Bachelor's Companion, Grayson 1944). So I pulled my beat-up copy of the latter off the shelf and looked for the copyright information.

What I found was a footnote on the first page of the story, reading:

"This Story does not appear in the Carra edition of the complete works of Moore and it appeared only in The Smart Set and in a small limited edition published by Groff Conklin."

And in the acknowledgements:

"Groff Conklin, for George Moore's A Flood (November 1913) copyright 1930 by Groff Conklin, and issued in a limited edition of 185 copies."

Ah. Light begins to dawn, and I recall that Harbor did a significant amount of contract printing/publishing for the Limited Editions Club and a number of other companies without their own presses. A note from librarian extraordinaire Denny Lien confirms this; in Ransom's Selective Check Lists of Press Books (Duschnes 1945-50) it states that " ... this organization carried on a general printing business in New York City, interspersed with specimens of bookmaking which add up to an interesting and collectible list."

Mystery solved. Conklin read the story in Smart Set sometime after its initial publication in 1913, then 17 years later arranged for its publication in hardcover in a signed edition of 185. It was, in fact, his earliest publishing venture, for all that he never "owned" the publisher who produced the book. No wonder he inscribed that copy so proudly! And at the age of 26 too.

But no mystery can be solved without clues or even the knowledge that the mystery exists in the first place. So my gratitude goes out to Timothy Doyle for bringing this to my attention and for his help in tracking down an important event in the career of the most important anthologist of his generation.

Yep, not a bad Thursday at all.

See also the related article,
Timothy Doyle's
An interview with Bud Webster