Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Leopoldt, Holt, Schuyler, and Dewey

As books and their bibliographies can lead one to other books, so a seemingly insignificant piece of card stock ephemera like this, can lead one to new discoveries. I had never heard of Frederick Leopoldt and in doing light research, I also came across Eugene Schuyler, another person new to me. Although Henry Holt's name lives on as an imprint, the names of Leypoldt and Schuyler seem forgotten except by scholars and specialists in certain fields.

Of the many publisher's devices, the owl used by Leopoldt & Holt, and then Henry Holt & Co., is one of the more recognizable ones along with Alfred A. Knopf's borzoi and Allen Lane's penguin. I don't have many Henry Holt books but one can find the images online here and there. It is interesting to come across the different versions of the owl. The card to the left was issued by the firm, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, this one from the Canadian office in Toronto, and the card was placed in complimentary copies sent out to, one hopes, fortunate recipients.

Baltimore born Henry Holt (1840-1926) joined the company of Frederick Leypoldt in 1866 whereby it became Leypoldt & Holt. One of their publications in 1867 was Edmund About's The Man With the Broken Ear translated from the French by Henry Holt. Two years before they joined together in business, Holt had offered this translation to Leopoldt who had graciously declined. Holt dedicated the translation to Leopoldt in an amusing paragraphe concerning this. You can find the translation and the dedication at Project Gutenberg. More importantly, in 1867, the company published the first English translation of Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons: a Novel, number 3 in their Leisure Hours Series. The translation was made from the original Russian with the approval of the author by Eugene Schuyler(1840-1890)the extraordinarily accomplished diplomat, author and traveller. Schuyler was one of the first recipients of an earned Ph.D. degree from an American University: Yale, 1861. The firm became Holt & Williams in 1872, and then Henry Holt & Co. in 1873 and continued to publish translations of Turgenev's works. Holt's memoirs entitled Garrulities of an Octogenarian Editor came out in 1923. (I can't think of another book with 'garrulities' in the title, although there may be other examples.)

Frederick Leopoldt (1835-1884), originally from Stuttgart, Germany, arrived in America in 1855. He was interested in creating better bibliographic records which would make the bookselling and publishing business more efficient. His Annual American Catalogue came out in 1870, his Publisher's Weekly came out in 1872, and Publishers' Trade List Annual in 1873. He was a busy man. Richard R. Bowker was Leopoldt's associate editor and he later took over the business. R. R. Bowker is a name that has survived into our day, as any one involved in libraries or publishing will know. They are also the official U. S. ISBN agency. Poor Leopoldt, his name continually dipped into obscurity, and yet he was the catalyst for so much. He was, in fact, instrumental in the start of the American Library Association.

In the month of May 1876, Melville Dewey had dropped by Publisher's Weekly in New York to tell Leopoldt about his idea for a library journal. Leopoldt was interested in the idea very much. Leopoldt in turn, told Dewey that in a forthcoming Publisher's Weekly editorial, he had suggested that librarians get together to meet in Philadelphia for the centennial celebrations: a conference to discuss and share information. This eventually happened, and the American Library Association was formed. Leopoldt liked the idea of a library journal and wanted to own and publish one. He asked Dewey to become the editor, and Library Journal came out in 1876.

Frederick Leopoldt, responsible for so much, yet, never achieved that lasting impression of a trade name like a Holt, or a Bowker. I only hope there is a bust of Leopoldt in the foyer of Publisher's Weekly, or an engraving of him at the home of the Library Journal.

For those with time on their hands, there is in an interesting interview with a Publisher's Weekly editor at this link.


Anonymous said...


My compliments on your very interesting writing. It is nice to see such well-researched and well-written words on the fascinating details of old books.

It is also nice to see somebody else charmed by the owl used by Leypold and Holt. Since you don't have a lot of books from that house, I thought you might like to see the version they used in Holt's translation of The Man With the Broken Ear, by Edmond About on my site.

There is another version of that nice old owl on Holt and Co.'s edition of The Rise of Universities by Haskins.

I wonder how many variations of it they used?

There is a totally different owl in their book by Pancoast and Spaeth. When I go into scanning mode, instead of typing mode, I'll do that, if you're interested.

Now with my curiostiy aroused, I'll hunt through my shelves and see if I have any more of their owlish books.

It made my day to find your blog.

Thank you,


ralph mackay said...

Dear Susan,
Many thanks for your kind words. Yes, the Holt owl has become a rare species at books sales these days--at least for me. Nice to hear of someone who shares an interest in them. All the best. Chumley

Unknown said...

Such an intriguing bit of ephemera, particularly interesting to me. I am writing a book about Frederick Leypoldt and his career in the book trade. I am building quite a collection of these owls (which changed dozens of times).