A Bookseller's Guide
to Grosset & Dunlap

by Craig Stark

June 14 2014

Part I: Essential History of the "Honorable" Pirates

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There's probably not a bookseller alive who hasn't been tripped up by a Grosset & Dunlap publication, whether it took the form of misrepresenting a reprint as a First Edition, mistaking a First Edition for a reprint or, in an attempt to identify a publication date, confusing a copyright date with a publication date. Additionally, there is the not-so-occasional pesky book with a "Grosset & Dunlap" imprint stamped to the spine panel and an altogether different imprint printed on the title (or copyright) page - and sometimes the title page imprint differs from the copyright page imprint. Worse, sometimes the statement "First Edition" is retained on the copyright page, and this practice opens an infamous can of worms in, for example, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series. Oh - and did I mention that bound trade publisher overstock was often purchased by Grosset & Dunlap and, in turn, issued with proprietary Grosset & Dunlap dust jackets applied?

For these reasons alone it's important to know more about this publisher, but there is also this not-insignificant reason: Not knowing how to identify Grosset & Dunlap First Editions - and there are plenty of them - can cost you big bucks. As is so often the case with publishers, having a grasp of its history will help us clarify these and other issues, but before getting into this, let's look at three prevalent Grosset & Dunlap myths, each of which needs to be dispelled once and for all:

1. All Grosset & Dunlap publications are reprints.

2. All Grosset & Dunlap publications were cheaply made.

3. No Grosset & Dunlap publications can be dated.

The first myth is an especially prevalent one, often reinforced in forums when questions are asked about identifying First Editions. The simple (and perhaps truthful-in-its-specific-context) answer, "Grosset & Dunlap was a reprint publisher" posted without qualification is potentially problematic for a bookseller new to the game, who might just grab it and run with it. There aren't just a few exceptions to this; there are many hundreds, many of these Stratemeyer Syndicate titles - the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, etc. And, even if all Grosset & Dunlap First Editions are set aside, it's still not entirely accurate to apply the blanket term "reprint publisher."

In its early days especially, Grosset & Dunlap was more accurately a rebinder, purchasing discounted softcover books, removing the covers and rebinding them as hardcovers, leaving title and copyright pages intact. Later, there were also numerous instances when Grosset & Dunlap purchased printed sheets from publishers and bound these, sometimes leaving title and copyright pages intact, sometimes substituting their own imprint on title pages. And, as well, there were many instances when Grosset & Dunlap rented plates from publishers and jobbed their own printing - and in this case one could surely state that the resulting book was a reprint. If this seems confusing, the good news is that, if we have a complete list of Grosset & Dunlap First Editions to refer to - and one will be provided in the subscription version of this report - this will enable us to quickly eliminate many rebinds and reprints from consideration as First Editions.

The second myth is more quickly dispelled. Beginning in 1926, Grosset & Dunlap experimented with a series of books called "Books of Distinction." Overall quality was significantly better than their conventional rebinds and reprints, and dust jacket art was often superior to trade counterparts, not to mention original. BOD's were also priced higher, usually at $1. See the following historical chronology for more information.

The third myth is not so easily addressed because most Grosset & Dunlap publications displayed no date on the title page and only a copyright date on the copyright page with no first or later printings indicated. Not much to go on, but it's often possible to establish date "windows" by examining points of issue - for example, prices on dust jackets, title lists on dust jackets or in-text, binding color or format, and so on. Moreover, as will be seen below, Grosset & Dunlap moved several times in its early years, and some, not many, of their publications display title page addresses:

And don't forget that something as simple as noting the first issue date of the trade edition can at least establish an earliest possible date of a reprint issue. Finally, if specific month and year dates are sought, deeper research is necessary and doable. Sometimes display ads in trade publications like Publishers' Weekly can help us date a first appearance, but far more consistent results will be obtained by investigating other resources.

The following chronological history covers the period most relevant to booksellers and provides some detail that will help identify Grosset & Dunlap publications in question:

A Brief Historical Chronology

1898: Grosset & Dunlap (then Dunlap & Grosset) is founded by Alexander Grosset and George T. Dunlap. Space was rented at 11 East Sixteenth Street, New York City. Initially, overstock was purchased from various New York City publishers, also remaining stock from the American Publishers Corporation, which had gone into receivership. Dunlap, traveling continuously in September, October and November, 1898, sold much of this inventory to retailers. Additional, deeply-discounted inventory was purchased again from various sources, and the partners opened a temporary retail location in Poughkeepsie, New York, in December and operated it successfully until January, 1899. This "retailer" model was to persist for at least some years but quickly became less important as more lucrative opportunities for profit presented themselves.

1899: Dunlap leaves to work as a salesman for Rand McNally & Co. To avoid a conflict of interest, Grosset changed the company name to Alexander Grosset & Co. Dunlap resigned his position only four months later, however, and the partnership immediately resumed. Publishing commenced for the first time with pirated editions of several Rudyard Kipling titles, among them Kipling's Child Stories and The Vampire, as well as Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. Years later, Dunlap famously stated in his memoirs (George T. Dunlap, The Fleeting Years: A Memoir): We were "honorable pirates, because to our credit be it said that in no case did we ever reprint anything that had not become public property by having been reprinted indiscriminately by about everyone else in the business." Large scale hardcover rebinding of paperbacks to hardcovers began for the first time in publishing history with Hal Caine's The Christian and accelerated after a purchase of the remaining and substantial H.B. Claflin Co. stock of paperbacks. In all cases original title pages were retained to avoid legal challenges from publishers.

1900: Firm is renamed Grosset & Dunlap. In another publishing first, Grosset & Dunlap arranged with Herbert Stone & Co. to reprint Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware in hardcover format - the first of many such arrangements to follow with multiple publishers in later years. This species of reprinting was to become its primary business model. Note that the title page retained the Herbert Stone & Co. imprint with this added statement: "The Trade supplied by Grosset & Dunlap" - the first appearance of the firm's name "Grosset & Dunlap" in print. Reprints were priced at $.50 and remained at this level until the onset of the WWI paper shortage. Prices were then raised in steps to offset increasing costs - $.65 to $.75 to $1.00, then dropped to $.75 after the war, remaining at this level until well into the 1930's (with exceptions noted later in this report).

1903. Firm moves to 52 Duane Street, New York City. By arrangement with Dodd, Mead & Co., Grosset & Dunlap reprinted Paul Leicester Ford's Janice Meredith - the first book to carry the Grosset & Dunlap imprint.

1907. Poor health forces Dunlap to discontinue traveling. Former Hurst & Co. salesman John May replaced him and serendipitously recommended that the firm expand into children's publishing by acquiring Chatterton & Peck and, in turn, rights to its large juvenile list, which included Edward Stratemeyer's Rover Boys series written under the pseudonym Allen Winfield. The latter ultimately became one of Grosset & Dunlap's most successful series.

1910. Tom Swift series commences with the publication of five Stratemeyer titles, all First Editions - Tom Swift and His Motorcycle, Tom Swift and His Motor Boat, Tom Swift and His Air Ship, Tom Swift and His Submarine and Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout.

Firm moves to 518 West Twenty-Sixth Street, New York City. Shortly thereafter a separate retail office was opened at Broadway and Twenty-Sixth Street. Note that this location was part of a large eight-story building between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues erected by Harris Wolff, a major bookbinder who at that time was producing much of Grosset & Dunlap's output. Several decades later the H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Co. would contract with the Book-of-the-Month Club to produce a significant portion of their selections, thus the presence of a "W" on some BOMC examples. The Haddon Craftsmen Co. and Kingsport Press were also major BOMC printers, their names often appearing on BOMC copyright pages. The following ca. 2002 photo shows both the Grosset & Dunlap and Wolff names faintly painted on the side of the building.

1914. Another publishing first: Grosset & Dunlap issues the first non-reprint movie novelizations or movie tie-ins - by the way, advertised as "photo play editions" as early as 1915. Titles (all First Editions) included The Master Key, The Million Dollar Mystery and The Trey of Hearts. The firm also issued its first deluxe MTI in 1914 - The Eagle's Mate. MTI's became one of Grosset & Dunlap's best selling series, especially post-WWI.

1916. Retail office moves to 1140 Broadway, New York City.

1918. Grosset & Dunlap partnership incorporates. This allowed Dunlap, still in poor health, to be relieved of active duties without surrendering his interest in the business. This date is especially noteworthy for marking the first reprint of an Edgar Rice Burroughs' title - A Princess of Mars. 44 ERB titles were to follow. The ERB series is one of the most collectible and consistently valuable of all Grosset and Dunlap reprints.

1926. Books of Distinction series is introduced. Although these too were reprints, this initiative was a significant departure from the more cheaply bound reprints that had been the firm's stock in trade for years. Binding quality was upgraded to equal or surpass trade publisher counterparts, and dust jackets often featured original art. (Note the variant design of A Farewell to Arms below.) A somewhat elaborate peacock logo was blind-stamped to the front panels, also printed on the dust jacket spine panels. Titles in this series were usually priced at $1.00, compared to the more usual $.75 price for conventional reprints. Categories included Non-Fiction of Distinction, Novels of Distinction, Pulitzer Prize Novels and Juveniles of Distinction. (Note that the juvenile category included both fiction and non-fiction.) The first three titles issued, all Novels of Distinction, were Louis Bromfield's The Green Bay Tree, E. Barrington's The Divine Lady and Anne Parrish's The Perennial Bachelor. Many of the titles in this and other series, if dust jackets are present, have become moderately, in some cases intensely collectible and will likely become more so going forward.

1927. Successful Hardy Boys series commences with the publication of three Stratemeyer titles, all First Editions - Tower Treasure, House on the Cliff and Secret of the Old Mill. In all 124 different titles were published between 1927 and 1994.

1929. Business declines sharply following the stock market crash. In his Memoir, Dunlap cited two exacerbating factors - a growing public interest in non-fiction and the widespread presence of circulating libraries. Nonetheless, the firm remained committed to its reprint model, and to bolster sales built up its non-fiction (especially reference and self-help titles) and juvenile lists. Notable non-fiction successes here were the Bible, first issued in 1931 at $1.00, followed by Modern Dictionary and Roget's Thesaurus. Sales of juveniles remained strong throughout the Depression.

1930. Successful Nancy Drew series commences with the publication of four Stratemeyer titles, all First Editions - Secret of the Old Clock, Hidden Staircase, Bungalow Mystery and Mystery of the Lilac Inn. In all 78 different titles were published between 1930 and 1985.

1934. Alexander Grosset dies in October. To some extent Dunlap was forced to reengage in the firm's operations, though by this time an extensive organization was in place to support him.

1939. Firm moves to 1107 Broadway, New York City. Robert de Graff's Pocket Books revolutionized the reprint market during this period with the introduction of $.25 paperbacks and aggressive marketing, significantly eroding Grosset & Dunlap's market share.

1944. George T. Dunlap retires. Alexander Grosset's son Donald succeeded him as president and, recognizing that the firm could no longer compete in the reprint market without additional capital, sold it to a powerhouse consortium comprised of Random House; Little, Brown; Harper and Brothers; Scribners; and the Book-of-the-Month Club. Grosset & Dunlap retained its name under the management of Random House.

1945. Grosset & Dunlap, partnering with Curtis Circulation Co., forms Bantam Books and soon rivals Pocket Books in sales.

1949. Via stock acquisition, Grosset & Dunlap gains control of Wonder Books - a publisher of low-priced children's coloring books and workbooks - and renames it Wonder Treasure Books.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A much more extensive report will be delivered to subscribers of BookThink's Author Reports soon. This will include the full chronological history, a market analysis of collectible titles, discussions of dating and First Edition identification, extensive lists of Grosset & Dunlap series books, both juvenile and adult, a list of high spots, a presentation of relevant bibliographies and more. To obtain the complete report, purchase a subscription to BookThink's Author Reports here.

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