A midtown bookstore’s 1930s censorship fight

“Wise Men Fish Here” stated the longtime sign at the entrance to the Gotham Book Mart, on 47th Street in the Diamond District.

From 1920 to 2007, literature-loving New Yorkers could get lost in this book heaven, perhaps the most independent of independent bookstores in pre-Barnes & Noble New York City.

That’s because its founder, Frances Steloff, had real courage facing down censors in the 1920s and 1930s.

She defiantly sold copies of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer after these books were declared obscene and banned from U.S. stores.

Steloff was even sued by an outfit called The Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1936 for selling copies of French writer Andre Gide’s biography.

That suit was tossed. And for the next seven decades, the store reigned as a reader’s paradise, with obscure and out-of-print books cluttered under black-and-white photos of famous authors visiting the premises.

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2 Responses to “A midtown bookstore’s 1930s censorship fight”

  1. Paul Says:

    New York City and America in general used to have a whole culture and society that enjoyed good books. A shame that this one had to go. I wonder what happened to its sign.

  2. Happy 1969 from a Diamond District drugstore | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Jack May’s was a standard Manhattan neighborhood pharmacy on 48th Street in the middle of the Diamond District (PLaza […]

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