Saturday, November 8, 2008

William Targ, Bibliophile

A paper read before the Florida Bibliophile Society by Jerry Morris at the October 16, 2005 meeting.

The genus bibliophile is hard to define. He is a book lover, a collector and omnivorous reader of books and bookseller's catalogs; he may also be a book scout, or a scholar or a librarian. He may be mad about typography and fine paper. He/she may not know the properties of a hypotenuse or the nature of a silicon chip, but in the end, his/her tombstone will read, simply, BIBLIOPHILE. A lovely word." William Targ, Abacus Now, 1984.

William Targ was a book lover, a collector and an omnivorous reader of books and bookseller's catalogs. He was mad about typography and fine paper. He was also a bookseller, an author, a compiler, a magazine publisher, an editor, and a fine press publisher.

He began his career in the book business in 1925 at the age of eighteen as an office boy in the Chicago branch of the Macmillan Company. For four years he read hundreds of books in the Macmillan stockroom. He formed his opinions of the books and then compared them with the reviews after the books were published.

In 1929, at the age of twenty-two, he opened his own bookshop in Chicago. He had eight hundred dollars in capital, which he borrowed from his mother, a stock of used books he bought from antiquarian booksellers, and hundreds of "damaged" books he bought at a sixty percent discount from Macmillan.

Targ lost his savings after the Crash of 1929 --his bank never reopened--and attempted to supplement his income by publishing books as well as selling them. Under the Black Archer Press imprint, Targ published books on book collecting and occasional limited editions. I have some of the "Books About Books" that he published during this period:

Targ's First Editions and Their Prices, Chicago, 1930 (Alida Roochvarg's copy). The Pauper's Guide to Book Collecting, Chicago, 1933 (Francis M. O'Brien's copy). Adventures in Good Reading, Chicago, 1940. American Books and Their Prices, Chicago, 1940, 1941, two vols.

I have another copy of The Pauper's Guide to Book Collecting which contains a TLS (typed letter signed) from William Targ. This copy belonged to John Richard Starrs, a book collector from Detroit. After reading what Targ had to say about "points," Starrs underlined all of the errors in the book and notified Targ. William Targ typed his reply on Black Archer Press letterhead dated September 27th '33:

My dear Mr. Starrs,

It is a decided pleasure receiving a letter such as yours. Its effect is positively bolstering. No one to date has evidenced signs of having read my little pamphlet so painstakingly as you have. My wife and assistant both read proof, and shall be called down at once for having passed up those horrifying typographical and grammatical errors. If there is to be a second edition, these will certainly be corrected.

Oxfordain or, Oxonian---the meaning we trust is clear. What I tried to convey was that certain types of collectors feel they are slumming when they enter a second hand bookshop---the dust on the shelves annoys them--

I asked an expert typographer to examine my cover for errors (after I had discovered the double C in Chicago)---he read it carefully and failed to note the mistake. You must read with a magnifying glass---or, if you will pardon the expression, with malicious intent.

However, I appreciate you writing me. Your criticism has been comparatively mild. A few customers have actually expressed doubt as to my having written the damned thing---it seems inconceivable that a bookseller should be capable of writing English. Come in again, when you are in Chicago.

Sincerely yours,
William Targ, Bookseller

P.S. I have never personally felt that any discussion of religion was pertinent.

NOTE: Among the grammatical errors were Chicaco, grammer,and literatire. As for a discussion on religion, William Targ was a card-carrying atheist.

One of the limited editions published by Targ at the Black Archer Press was Poems of a Chinese Student by Charles Yu, Chicago, 1941. These poems originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune. They were submitted to the newspaper as being the poems of a Chinese student attending the University of Chicago. The book was a success, and Charles Yu was invited by a woman's literary club to speak before them. This caused a dilemma because William Targ wrote the poems himself. When "Charles Yu" appeared and recited two of his poems, some of the women were suspicious: he did not look Chinese!

Here is one of the poems Charles Yu wrote:


After three exciting days
And nights in which
I have devoted my keenest energies
Toward entertainment
Of my friend from China
I am weary...
Sitting in my room now
Over our cups of rice-wine
And viewing the rosy sky
Of sun-down on the Campus
I ask my friend Wang
What, of all he has seen
Has most impressed him.
Sighing he replies:
You have shown me wonders
But none So exquisitely gratifying
As the incomparable
The Delight of All Eyes,
The dancing girl Gypsy Rose Lee.

Needless to say,Targ decided to refrain from writing any more poetry.

Except for minor revisions, the following anecdote first appeared on the web in a thread I posted to the rec.collecting.books newsgroup on December 11, 2003:


On Dec 04, 2003, there appeared on ebay an auction for eight issues of The Book Collector's Journal. William Targ began publishing this monthly periodical in 1936 when he was still a bookseller in Chicago.

The auction wasn't even an hour old before the first bid was made. The very next day, an Aleister Crowley collector made his first bid, bidding a maximum of $35 and taking the lead. The seller had noted that there was an article on Aleister Crowley in one of the issues, "The Elusiveness of Aleister Crowley" by J. Chris Kraemer. William Targ always had a passion for the occult and the paranormal.

On Dec 08 at 09:22:15 PST, the Aleister Crowley collector increased his maximum bid to $78. He still had the lead at $23.27. There was no further bidding until the day the auction ended.

On Dec 11 at 10:03:57 PST, the Aleister Crowley collector increased his maximum bid to $101.

On Dec 11 at 15:10:13 PST, A William Saroyan collector bid $75. The Crowley collector was still in the lead. The seller had noted that William Saroyan contributed two articles to these issues.

On Dec 11 at 15:10:49 PST, the William Saroyan collector bid $100. The Crowley collector was still in the lead, but only for a few more minutes.

On Dec 11 at 15:13:34, the William Saroyan collector took the lead with a maximum bid of $107.

With less than five minutes left in the auction, the bidding stood at $103. I had my snipe bid already set up, but I was beginning to have doubts. How high did the William Saroyan collector bid? Should I increase my maximum bid? Will the Aleister Crowley collector bid again?

I reviewed in my mind why I wanted these eight issues of The Book Collector's Journal. William Targ published it. I collect William Targ. There were no copies of the Journal listed on the web. They weren't even listed at the LOC.

I had another reason for wanting one particular issue of this periodical. Although the seller did not mention it, one of William Saroyan's articles was "Those Who Write Them and Those Who Collect Them." William Targ made some extra money on this article, publishing fifty pamphlets without Saroyan's permission. I have one of those fifty copies. The minimum listing on the web for the unauthorized publication is $300.

If one squinted at a photo in the ebay seller's listing, one can make out the title on one of the periodicals: "Those Who Write Them and Those Who Collect Them." With less than three minutes to go in the auction, I was hoping nobody squinted.

With less than two minutes to go in the auction, I prepared to pick up the pizzas my wife had ordered for dinner. I took my flip flops off, put my socks and shoes back on, made sure I had enough money in my wallet for the pizza, and then, instead of jumping in my truck, hurried back to my library to check the outcome of the auction! To hell with the pizzas!

On Dec 11 at 15:49:27 PST, with only eight seconds to go in the auction, Auction Stealer made my snipe bid.

I won the eight issues of The Book Collector's Journal for $109.50!

Jerry Morris, One Who Collects Them!

For twelve years, William Targ survived from day to day as a bookseller and part-time publisher in Chicago. Finally, in 1942, he left Chicago and the bookselling business and moved to Cleveland. Ben D. Zevin, of the World Publishing Company, offered Targ the job of editor of the Tower and Forum Books Divisions. These books were inexpensive reprints bound in hard cover. In his first autobiography, Indecent Pleasures, New York, 1975, Targ notes some of the authors whose works he reprinted in Tower Books: Carter Dickson, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Ellery Queen, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Edna Ferber, John O'Hara,and W. Somerset Maugham.

In 1945, paperbacks proved to be too competitive, and World Books discontinued the Tower series. William Targ moved to New York to start a new trade-book division for World Books. Anthologies were the bread and butter of World Publishing, and Targ said he developed an allergy to these "scissors-and-paste books." Targ edited three anthologies himself on book collecting: Carousel for Bibliophiles in 1947, Boillabaisse for Bibliophiles in 1955, and Bibliophile in the Nursery in 1957. Perhaps his greatest personal acheivement in publication at World was publishing a facsimile edition of the Kelmscott Chaucer in 1958. It went through four printings.

Targ once owned an original Kelmscott Chaucer. He had examined a copy as a boy at the library of the Chicago Art Institute and always wanted to own a copy. One day, during the most desperate time of his first wife's illness (she eventually died of renal failure), he received a Philip C. Duschnes catalogue which listed a Kelmscott Chaucer in the white pigskin Doves Press binding for $1650. He had to have this copy and went to Duschnes's store. Duschnes let him have the book, telling him to pay for it when he could. At the time, Targ was swamped with his wife's medical bills. Holding the book gave Targ comfort when he needed it the most.

Targ was primarily responsible for the publication of the biography of A.S.W. Rosenbach. In his own Autobiographical Sketch," written in 1987, Edwin Wolf II, relates that he and John Fleming were approached by the New York office of Oxford University Press to write about the life of Rosenbach. Wolf submitted 1200 typed pages of the biography. Oxford said it was much too long. Wolf cut it down and submitted 800 pages. Oxford said it was still too long. Wolf had Donald and Mary Hyde, Bill Jackson and several other book people read the manuscript. They all advised him not to cut it any further. William Targ heard of the manuscript, read it,and within days World Publishing took over the contract. The book was published in 1960.

After twenty-one years as editor at World Books, William Targ resigned in 1964. The Los Angeles Times-Mirror Consortium had taken over World Publishing. In Targ's words, "World Publishing was suddenly in the hands of megalomaniacs, financial katzenjammers, packagers, and wheeler-dealers. There was hardly a bookman in the crowd."

Within days, Walter Minton of Putnam's hired Targ as senior editor, then eventually as editor-in-chief. One of Targ's greatest achievments at Putnam was to sign Mario Puzo to a contract for $5000 to write The Godfather. In his autobiography, Targ says that Puzo did not have to submit an outline or sample chapters. Targ had read Puzo's two previous novels, both of which were commercial failures, but first-rate books. As of 1975, there were fifteen million copies of The Godfather printed in various editions in the United States alone. Fawcett, the paperback reprinter, bought the paperback rights to The Godfather for a record $410,000.

There is not enough time left in this day to adequately cover Targ's achievements as a book collector, much less his other achievements as editor at Putnam's. William Targ was a book collector all his life. He also collected autographed letters to insert into his books. In 1971, he already had 2,635 autographed letters in his collection. He sold many of his books to the University of Texas. Targ mentions some of his book collecting achievements, along with an assortment of recommendations for specific books and authors in the 428 pages of his autobiography, Indecent Pleasures. One can buy this book for as little as two dollars, a steal. I often wonder if his choice of title affected the sale of the book. With that title, one can imagine a memoir of bed-hopping and immoral what-have-yous. Targ provides a glimpse on his choice of this title in the chapter, "A Spree in Gomorrah: September 20,1971." It is Rosh Hashanah, and Targ records how a Jewish book editor and confirmed book atheist shuns all work and dedicates himself to pleasure throughout this entire holy day. Targ reads the newspaper, eats breakfast, and relaxes in a hot cologne-drenched tub. "The fragrant steam is pure indecent pleasure." Targ then reads the poems of Gerald Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit poet, and decides he wants an autographed letter by Hopkins to put into his first-edition copy of the book. He acquires the letter from Mary Benjamin, who had just received it out of the blue only the day before....Indecent pleasures for sure!

In 1974 Targ decided that being editor-in-chief was just too hectic; however, he continued on at Putnam's as senior editor until 1978, at which time he resigned from day-to-day commercial publishing. But Targ did not retire; instead, he started up a fine press: Targ Editions. From 1978 until 1985, Targ published 25 Targ editions, including Abacus Now, a short sequel to Indecent Pleasures. This book was the collaborative effort of three printers. It is bound in one masterpiece of a book. You can't touch a copy for less than one hundred dollars.

I had to laugh when I read Targ's note on the copyright page of Abacus Now. He still was not a proof reader: "Letter-perfect books virtually do not exist; we suspect there are a dozen or so typographical errors in the following pages, for which our apologies. In view of the recently disclosed 5,000 errors in James Joyce's novel, Ulysses, we feel humble. To our friends we can only say--To err is human..."

William Targ died in 1999 at the age of ninety-two. On his tombstone should be a lovely word: BIBLIOPHILE.

There is even a sequel to "The Battle of Those Who Collect Them," my anecdote concerning the acquisition of the copies of Targ's Book Collector's Journal. The Aleister Crowley collector contacted me a few days after the auction, asking if I could send him a photocopy of the Crowley article. I made the photcopy and mailed it to him in High Wycombe, England. About a week later I received two keepsakes from the Fine Madness Society, "founded for the provision of relief to those unfortunate individuals with an incurable attraction to the first editions of Aleister Crowley." In addition, there was a copy of the Revised Notes Towards a Bibliography of Austin Osman Spare, which was signed, "For Jerry, With the compliments of the compiler, Clive Harper." Clive was the Aleister Crowley collector I had been bidding against!

Finally, in June 2004, I received another surprise:

Number 2 of 49 copies of The Elusiveness of Aleister Crowley by J. Chris Kraemer.

"Reprinted from The Book Collector's Journal, (1936) for the members of the Fine Madness Society. June 2004 ev.

The Committee wish to acknowledge the kind assistance of Mr. Jerry Morris, without whom this publication would not have been possible."


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