Bookleggers and Smuthounds

9780812217988: Paperback
Release Date: 30th September 2001

53 illus.

Dimensions: 155 x 235

Number of Pages: 424

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

Bookleggers and Smuthounds

The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940

This first examination of the trade in erotica during the 1920s and '30s provides an understanding of the evolution of both obscenity law and sexual explicitness in literature, and raises fascinating questions about moral control, idealism, and the marketplace in ways that continue to resonate today.

Paperback / £26.99

Between the two world wars, at a time when both sexual repression and sexual curiosity were commonplace, New York was the center of the erotic literature trade in America. The market was large and contested, encompassing not just what might today be considered pornographic material but also sexually explicit fiction of authors such as James Joyce, Theodore Dreiser, and D.H. Lawrence; mail-order manuals; pulp romances; and "little dirty comics."

Bookleggers and Smuthounds vividly brings to life this significant chapter in American publishing history, revealing the subtle, symbiotic relationship between the publishers of erotica and the moralists who attached them—and how the existence of both groups depended on the enduring appeal of prurience. By keeping intact the association of sex with obscenity and shameful silence, distributors of erotica simultaneously provided the antivice crusaders with a public enemy.

Jay Gertzman offers unforgettable portrayals of the "pariah capitalists" who shaped the industry, and of the individuals, organizations, and government agencies that sought to control them. Among the most compelling personalities we meet are the notorious publisher Samuel Roth, "the Prometheus of the Unprintable," and his nemesis, John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, a man aggressive in his pursuit of pornographers and in his quest for a morally united—and ethnically homogeneous—America.


1. Traders in Prurience: Pariah Capitalists and Moral Entrepreneurs
2. "Sex O'clock in America": Who Bought What, Where, How, and Why
3. "Hardworking American Daddy": John Saxton Sumner and the New Society for the of Vice
4. "Fifth Avenue Has No More Rights than the Bowery": Taste and Class in Obscenity Legislation
5. "Your Casanova Is Unmailable'': Mail-Order Erotica and Postal Service Guardians of Public Morals
6. The Two Worlds of Samuel Roth: Man of Letters and Entrepreneur of
7. Erotica
8. Epilogue

Selected Bibliography

Jay A. Gertzman is Professor Emeritus of English at Mansfield University and has been actively involved with the National Coalition Against Censorship based in New York.

"This excellent study deserves to be ready by any lawyer and jurist. . . . It raises profound questions, which still haunt the legal scene."—New York Law Journal

"[An] absorbing account of an often overlooked corner of American publishing history."—Publishers Weekly

"A major work of scholarship."—AB Bookman's

"A detailed and fascinating study."—The Library

"Gertzman's book is important; it opens a new topic of study and establishes groundwork for debate."—Journal of American History