Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Penn Publishing Company-Part 1

Above is the original Penn Publishing Building at 1020 Arch Street in Philadelphia.

Here is a picture of Charles Shoemaker, the founder of Penn.

The Penn Publishing Company which was based in Philadelphia was responsible for 23 boys' juvenile series listed in Mattson's guide. Probably half that number of girls' series were published . Undoubtedly because of modest print runs the books of these series are somewhat hard find-especially in dust jackets.

First a bit about the company. It began its business at 1020 Arch Street in Philadelphia in 1889. (Incidentally I was in Philadelphia two weeks ago and this address is now a parking lot.) It was founded by Charles C. Shoemaker. Early on Penn published books on elocution and recitation. After the great success of those books, plays for amateurs were printed. Popular handbooks for entertainment and education soon followed. In the early to mid 1890's books by Edward Ellis and Horatio Alger among others supplemented their list. Finally success really came to Penn in the early 1900's when they began to publish boys' and girls' series books.

The Dancing book with the dust jacket is one of the Popular Handbooks which were early best sellers for Penn.

As time moved on, juvenile books seemed to be a larger percentage of the Penn book list. In fact by 1927 75% of the catalogue listed juvenile books. By 1927 the series of previous years were being combined into large publisher's series called the Vacation Series, Historical Series, and the Outdoor Series.

Here is an ad from the penn Publishing catalogue in 1895. It shows some early juvenile fiction published by Penn.

In order to boost circulation Penn utilized giveaways as well as contests. Posters were offered to readers who sent in the answers to several questions. Dealers were offered incentives to sell Penn Publishing books. Shown here is a notice of winners of a Betty Wales dress to those who sold the most Betty Wales books in 1922. (Publishers Weekly- P. 267, Feb 4 1922)

The first of the boys juvenile series was the West Point Series. Winning His Way to West Point by Capt. Paul Malone published in 1904 was the first book. By the 1920's Penn was subtly pointing out to buyers of books that their titles helped the moral tone of youngsters. On the back of a catalogue Penn spoke about the key to choosing books for boys and girls.

The early Penn series books were well bound sturdy books with wonderfully decorated end papers and cover designs in gold gilt. As time went on the books had plain cover designs without end paper illustrations . Although I cannot prove it, I believe all Penn hardcover books originally had dust jackets.

More about Penn and its series in later blogs.

1 comment:

  1. The Stratemeyer Syndicate Records Collection at NYPL has a Penn catalog booklet. Stratemeyer offered some Alger material to Penn. I'm not sure if this was one of his "completions" or other texts to help Alger's sister.

    Likely this catalog was retained as a partial inspiration to the catalogs Stratemeyer would produce for his books.

    When I saw it in 2003 I took some notes on it:

    Box 329 -- Promotional Materials -- Advertising Catalogs

    1900 Penn (923 Arch St, Philadelphia). 6x3 stapled catalog, 16pp, with illustrations. Includes Ellis, Raymond, Brooks, and other authors. Nice item. No Stratemeyer listings, probably used as inspiration for his own promotional catalogs.

    James Keeline