Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
||The firm of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. was founded in 1915 in New York, New York. Alfred
A. Knopf set up his business in a one-room office on W. 42nd Street with slightly
less than five thousand dollars. Inspired by the windmill symbol used by William
Heinemann & Co., and using an idea from Blanche Wolf, his fiancée,
he adopted the symbol of the borzoi as his alliterative trademark.
||The first book published by the firm was Four Plays,
by Emile Augier, printed by the Plimpton Press. From the very beginning, the firm
demonstrated that it would be unique, binding the book in orange and blue, and
advertising the book by emphasizing its imprint, instead of its author or subject.
Ten other books were published in 1915; many of them were Russian translations,
which were easy to obtain in sheets from England. Also in 1915, Carl Van Vechten
became associated with the firm, beginning a professional and personal relationship
with the Knopfs that would last for decades.
||The firm expanded rapidly over the next few years. In 1916, the firm published 29
books, including its first big success, W. H. Hudson's Green
Mansions. In 1917, 37 books were published, and the firm officially
incorporated in 1918, with Alfred Knopf as president, Blanche Knopf as
vice-president, and Samuel Knopf (Alfred's father) as treasurer. Authors published
before 1920 include Leonid Andreyev, Pio Baroja, Algernon Blackwood, Witter Bynner,
Richard Curle, E. M. Delafield, Floyd Dell, Max Eastman, J. S. Fletcher, Gilbert
Frankau, Kahlil Gibran, Ivan A. Goncharov, Robert Graves, Joseph Hergesheimer,
Alfred Kreymborg, Wyndham Lewis, H. L. Mencken, George Jean Nathan, Ezra Pound,
Stanislaw Przybyszewski, Dorothy Richardson, Eunice Tietjens, Carl Van Vechten, and
||The next decade was a period of explosive growth for the still young company. In
1920, Knopf signed Willa Cather, who "was convinced that [Knopf] had set out to do
something unusual and individual in publishing"; the firm would publish sixteen
titles by the author, beginning with Youth and the Bright
Medusa in 1920. Also in that year, the firm published Clarence Day's
This Simian World. In 1921, Alfred and Blanche
Knopf traveled to Europe in search of new talent, visiting Germany, Denmark, Sweden,
Norway, and France. These journeys abroad would continue for decades and established
Knopf as the premiere American publisher of European, Asian, and Latin American
writers. Additionally, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. was at the forefront of new American
literary trends; for example, they signed up Harlem Renaissance writers such as
Langston Hughes, and were especially encouraging of women writers. The firm also
relied heavily on the recommendation of other writers in these years. H. L. Mencken
recommended Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Carl Van
Vechten suggested Wallace Stevens and Elinor Wylie, and Witter Bynner introduced
Knopf to Kahlil Gibran. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. grew so quickly that in 1922 it moved
out of its original office to the Hecksher Building on 57th St. and 5th Avenue. In
1923, the firm published Gibran's The Prophet, one of
its most remarkable sellers. In that same year, Knopf began publishing The American Mercury, founded by H. L. Mencken and
George Jean Nathan. The partnership continued for eleven years, and introduced
writers such as Herbert Asbury, James M. Cain, Logan Clendening, Harvey Fergusson,
and Ruth Suckow to the imprint. The magazine featured a monthly advertisement of the
firm, known as the Borzoi Broadside, which later
evolved into the Borzoi Quarterly, a periodical
written by Alfred A. Knopf promoting new books, interspersed with philosophical
comments by the publisher. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. opened a London office in 1926,
although it closed five years later. Significant writers published in the 1920s
include Thomas Beer, Hilaire Belloc, Mary Borden, Claude Bragdon, Elizabeth J.
Coatsworth, A. E. Coppard, Miguel Covarrubias, Mildred Cram, Clarence Day, Warwick
Deeping, Walter de la Mare, Harvey Fergusson, Zona Gale, David Garnett, Andre Gide,
Louis Golding, Knut Hamsum, Robert Hillyer, Langston Hughes, Fannie Hurst, Julian
Huxley, Storm Jameson, Johannes V. Jensen, D. H. Lawrence, Arthur Machen, Thomas
Mann, Katherine Mansfield, Paul Morand, John Middleton Murry, Ernest Newman, P. D.
Ouspensky, T. F. Powys, M. P. Shiel, I. J. Singer, Edith Sitwell, G. B. Stern, Ruth
Suckow, Sigrid Undset, Carl Van Doren, and Francis Brett Young. By the end of the
decade, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. was considered one of the most innovative and
prestigious publishing houses in the United States.
||The firm garnered its prestige not only from its list of authors, but from the
physical quality of the books it published. Alfred Knopf took an unusual interest
the aesthetics of trade books, and made sure that his books were produced with
brightly colored dust jackets, well-made bindings, and attractive fonts. Book
designer Claude Bragdon worked with the firm in its first year, and Elmer Adler and
W. A. Dwiggins began designing Knopf books in the 1920s. Knopf books were produced
by other important designers, including Warren Chappell, Guy Fleming, Carl Hertzog,
Bruce Rogers, Rudolph Ruzicka, George Salter, and Vincent Torre.
||Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. continued to expand over the next three decades. Samuel Knopf
died in 1932, and the firm weathered its first financial crisis three years later.
In 1934, William A. Koshland joined the company, and remained associated with the
firm for more than fifty years, rising to President and Chairman of the Board. The
firm also moved to 501 Madison Avenue in 1939, its home for the next thirty years.
||In 1942, Blanche Knopf visited South America, contacting authors and publishers.
Three years later, the firm published the first of many texts from the region, Jorge
Amado's The Violent Land. Further, she was one of the
first publishers to visit Europe after World War II, signing up Albert Camus and
Jean-Paul Sartre. Her trips, and those of other editors, brought in new talent from
Europe, South America, and Asia. The Knopfs also hired their son, Alfred "Pat" Jr.,
as secretary and trade books manager after the war.
||By the late 1940s Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. was solidly established in the literary
marketplace. Although the reins were still held tightly by Alfred and Blanche Knopf,
they allowed their editors to pursue their own literary interests, which garnered
additional prestige for the company. For example, editor Harold Strauss' interest
Japan brought in the writers Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, and Yasunari Kawabata.
Herbert Weinstock's background in music led to the publication of well-known
biographies of composers. Other editors of note include Angus Cameron, Charles
Elliott, Lee Goerner, Robert Gottlieb, Ashbel Green, Carol Brown Janeway, Judith
Jones, Michael Magzis, Anne McCormick, Nancy Nicholas, Dan Okrent, Regina Ryan,
Sophie Wilkins, and Vicky Wilson.
||Although the editors had primary contact with authors, other staffers were involved
in the publishing process. The firm employed literary scouts, who sought out new
talent throughout the United States and all over the world. After a manuscript was
submitted to the firm, often by an agent instead of the author, it was read by at
least one editor or manuscript reader contracted by the firm. A form known as a
"white sheet" would be attached to the manuscript, detailing its submission and
leaving space for the reader's comments. If the work seemed promising, it would be
sent to other readers for their opinions; sometimes as many as ten readers,
including Alfred or Blanche Knopf, would examine the work before coming to an
ultimate decision. If accepted, an editor would correspond with the author,
suggesting manuscript changes and working out the details of publication. Within the
firm, a contract would be drawn up under the guidance of long-time treasurer, Joseph
C. Lesser, and signed by all parties. If legal work was necessary, company lawyers
like Stern & Reubens read the manuscript looking for libel or obscenity
issues. Once in final form, the manuscript was turned over to the printer, and
initial plans for the design of the text and dust jacket were made. The Publicity
Department began gathering information on the author, soliciting blurbs from
established writers, and planning the promotional process. Salesmen encouraged
bookstores to stock the book, and helped identify the best markets for the text.
Once published, careful records were maintained on sales and profits, as well as
clippings of reviews, fan letters, and requests for publication rights from foreign
||In 1954, Pat Knopf added Vintage Books, a paperback imprint, to the firm. However,
1959 he left to form his own publishing house, Atheneum. Shortly thereafter, Alfred
and Blanche Knopf decided to sell the firm to Random House in April 1960. In an
agreement with long-time friends Bennett Cerf and Donald S. Klopfer, Random House
took over much of the technical side of the business, but allowed the firm to retain
its autonomy as an imprint. Alfred and Blanche Knopf also joined the Board of
Directors at Random House. The firm moved with Random House in 1969 to its present
location at 201 E. 50th St.
||Blanche Knopf had become president in 1957. After her death in 1966, William A.
Koshland received the title. Two years later, Robert Gottlieb, formerly of Simon
& Schuster, joined the firm as vice-president, and became president and
editor in chief after Alfred Knopf's official retirement in 1973. Gottlieb remained
at Knopf until 1987, when Ajai Singh "Sonny" Mehta became president.
||Known for over 80 years for the quality of its list, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., remains
one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the United States. The firm was the
first to publish highly acclaimed novelists such as Shelby Hearon, John Hersey, and
John Updike. It also drew in established writers such as Joseph Hergesheimer and
Robert Nathan. Its commitment to readable and scholarly works of history, science,
and the environment gave the firm a trusted reputation with academic and lay readers
alike. Further, Knopf published at least one book by each of the following Nobel
Prize winning authors: Ivo Andric, Ivan A. Bunin, Elias Canetti, T. S. Eliot,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Knut Hamsun, Johannes V. Jensen, Yasunari Kawabata, Halldor
X. Laxness, Thomas Mann, Wladyslaw S. Reymont, George Seferis, Mikhail Sholokhov,
Frans E. Sillanpaa, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Sigrid Undset, and Verner von Heidenstam.
Alfred A. Knopf, 1892-1984
||The history of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. is intimately tied to its founder, Alfred A.
Knopf. Born September 12, 1892, to Samuel and Ida Japhe Knopf (who died when he was
four years old), Knopf grew up in a privileged household in New York, headed by his
father, a successful advertising agent. Knopf entered Columbia College in 1908,
where he became interested in the fields of history and literature. Early on, he
displayed the spirited boldness that would bring him such success in publishing.
Prompted by an assignment to write an essay on a contemporary author, Knopf
initiated a correspondence with John Galsworthy. Following his graduation in 1912,
he visited Europe and met with the author, who recommended the writers W. H. Hudson
and Joseph Conrad; both would play a role in Knopf's earliest publishing ventures.
Additionally, Knopf visited bookstores throughout England and Europe, noting the
aesthetic appeal of certain books and choosing favorite publishers. By the end of
the summer, he said, "I came home...determined to be a publisher and not a lawyer
the family had intended."
||Knopf's entry into publishing was not easy. As the established publishing industry
was overwhelmingly gentile and conservative, the prospects for a young Jewish man
were not favorable. However, in October 1912, with his father's assistance, Knopf
was hired at Doubleday & Company as a junior accountant. From the beginning
of his employment, Knopf took the initiative to learn as much as he could about
publishing, visiting the composing room to offer suggestions on binding, and reading
manuscript submissions. Because of his familiarity with Joseph Conrad, he was one
the first to read Conrad's manuscript Chance.
Enthusiastic about the novel and displeased with Doubleday's lackluster promotion,
Knopf sent letters to well-known writers such as Rex Beach, Theodore Dreiser, and
George Barr McCutcheon, asking for what would come to be known as "publicity
blurbs." Additionally, Knopf's enthusiasm for Conrad led him to contact H. L.
Mencken, also a Conrad admirer, initiating a close friendship that would last until
Mencken's death in 1956. In March 1914, Knopf left Doubleday to join Mitchell
Kennerley's firm, in part because of Kennerley's commitment to good book design.
While there, Knopf wrote sales letters and sold books on the road.
||By the next year, at the age of twenty-three, Knopf was ready to strike out on his
own. With the financial assistance of his father and the support of his fiancée (and
later wife), Blanche Wolf, the firm of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. was born in the summer
of 1915. From the very beginning, Knopf took an interest in the design and
manufacturing of the books, and made every effort to associate the firm with quality
literature. In the summer of 1918 he became president of the firm, a title he would
hold for thirty-nine years.
||Because Knopf's personal life revolved around the firm, most of his activities in
1920s and 1930s were associated with the world of publishing and literature. He
developed close friendships with many of the writers on the firm's list, such as
Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, and Carl Van Vechten, and he persuaded existing friends
such as H. L. Mencken and Joseph Hergesheimer to publish with him. Knopf's youthful
enthusiasm and sartorial style caused a stir in the literary world; within a few
years, his personality was as associated with the firm as the borzoi trademark. With
Blanche's considerable literary acumen and the financial expertise of his father
(who joined the firm in 1921 as treasurer and remained in that post until his death
in 1932), Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. expanded rapidly during the 1920s and 1930s. Knopf
documented these years by photographing and filming the many visitors to his office
and home in Purchase, New York (later gathered together in a film titled "A
Publisher is Known by the Company He Keeps"). When he was not invited to join the
established publishing associations, he formed the Book Table, a luncheon group made
up of publishers, book sellers, librarians, and other literary men.
||At the end of World War II, Knopf began to delegate some of his responsibilities to
other Knopf employees. While still taking an active role as president, he gave his
wife almost total control over the firm's European operations and allowed trusted
associates such as William A. Koshland to oversee the administrative business of the
firm. Further, a series of superlative editors helped bring in new talent, garnering
additional prestige for the firm.
||He never lost his interest in fine books. Besides maintaining life-long friendships
with book designers Warren Chappell and William A. Dwiggins, Knopf was a member of
several book arts groups. He was honored in 1950 by the American Institute of
Graphic Arts for his contribution to American book design. In interviews near the
end of his life, he criticized the lack of style and elegance in contemporary books.
||Knopf's interests outside the world of publishing were diverse. He was well-known
his love of fine wine and food, and was a member of numerous wine-tasting and dining
clubs. His friendships with Ernest Newman and Arthur Rubinstein complemented his
love of music, and he was a regular concert-goer. His passion for history never
waned, and he carried on life-long correspondences with prominent historians such
Henry Steele Commager, Richard A. Hofstadter, and both Arthur Schlesingers. He was
particularly excited by historians with excellent prose styles, and often deplored
their small numbers. Additionally, he was elected to the Council of the Institute
Early American History and Culture in 1948, and was selected a corresponding member
of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
||After an excursion to the Western United States in 1948, Knopf became passionately
interested in the national parks and forests, sparking his life-long activity in
conservation issues. With such contacts as National Parks Service Director Newton
Drury, writer Freeman Tilden, and historian Bernard DeVoto, Knopf encouraged the
publication of environmentally progressive titles and wrote numerous letters to
legislators urging land conservation. In 1950 he joined the Advisory Board on
National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments of the National Park
Service, serving as chairman for five years.
||In 1961, Knopf made his first trip to Brazil, and it was on this visit that Knopf's
literary relationships deepened to friendship. He became extremely interested in
Latin America at that time, and visited regularly throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
For the rest of his life, he corresponded regularly with writers such as Jorge Amado
and Gilberto Freyre, the publisher Alfredo Machado, and translators Harriet de Onis
and Barbara Shelby Merello. Blanche and Alfred Knopf acted as godparents to Freyre's
first granddaughter. Additionally, he collected materials from clippings to
published reports on the politics of the region.
||After Blanche's death in 1966, Knopf married the former Knopf author Helen Hedrick
1967 in Rio de Janeiro. He officially retired in 1972, becoming chairman emeritus
the firm, a position he held until his death. He remained active after his
retirement, traveling, corresponding with politicians, academicians, and literary
friends, and family, and writing his unpublished memoirs. Knopf died August 11,
||Knopf became a publishing legend within ten years of the founding of the firm that
still bears his name. He applied exacting standards to both his firm and his
personal life, demanding the best from not only writers, editors, and staff, but
also from newspapers, politicians, and even hotel staff and waiters. The standard
excellence he maintained led H. L. Mencken to write of Knopf, "he is, by my
standards, the perfect publisher."
Blanche W. Knopf, 1894-1966
||Blanche Wolf was born July 30, 1894, to Julius and Bertha Wolf, in New York City.
was educated privately and graduated from the Gardner School. She met Alfred A.
Knopf in 1911, and, after they were engaged, she encouraged him to start his own
firm. They were married April 4, 1916, and she gave birth to Alfred "Pat" Knopf on
June 17, 1918.
||Blanche Knopf was involved with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. from its very beginning and
devoted herself to the firm. She was named vice-president in 1921, and played a key
role in establishing the firm's reputation by traveling to Europe and South America,
scouting out writers, literary contacts, and by working closely with translators.
Her travels not only brought in a rich variety of writers, but cemented personal
relationships, full of trust and respect with authors such as Albert Camus, literary
agents like Jenny Bradley of the William Aspenwall Bradley Agency, artists,
ambassadors, and other influential people. These relationships, coupled with her
similarly strong American connections, created a solid foundation of high quality
for the firm over the decades.
||Blanche Knopf's trip to Latin America in 1942 established the firm's presence in the
area. She signed up the writers Eduardo Mallea, German Arciniegas, and Jorge Amado.
She was eventually honored by Brazil with the Order of the Southern Cross.
||At the end of World War II, Alfred Knopf turned over the European side of the
business to Mrs. Knopf, and she traveled to the continent almost yearly. Among the
writers she successfully courted were Elizabeth Bowen, Hammond Innes, Angela
Thirkell, Alan Sillitoe, Mikhail Sholokhov, Mario Soldati, and Elinor Wylie. Mrs.
Knopf read and selected manuscripts from all of Europe, but her most passionate
interest lay in French literature. A life-long Francophile, she brought Albert
Camus, Andre Gide, Jules Romains, and Jean-Paul Sartre to the firm. She was named
Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government in 1949, and became an
Officier de la Legion d'Honneur in 1960. Blanche Knopf worked closely with American
writers as well, including Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Langston Hughes, William
Shirer, and Robert Nathan. In 1957, she was named president of the firm. Plagued
with ill health in the early 1960s, she refused to slow down and continued working
until her death on June 4, 1966.
||Blanche Knopf was the only significant woman publisher working in America in the 20th
century. She faced barriers because of her sex, and was excluded from a number of
men's publishing clubs. She once declined an invitation to speak on publishing at
women's college, saying there was "no future worth mentioning" for women.
Nevertheless, she made enormous contributions to the success of Alfred A. Knopf,
Inc., and to American publishing in general. In a memorial issue of the Borzoi Quarterly, Alfred A. Knopf wrote of his late
wife: "She brought charm, sophistication, and enlightenment to a publishing world
predominantly masculine. She has a special place in the publishers' Hall of