University of Texas at Austin

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.:

An Inventory of Its Records at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Title: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records
Dates: 1873-1996 (bulk 1945-1980)
Extent: 1526 boxes, plus art work, film, galleys, realia, and video (635.8 linear feet)
Abstract: The records of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. document the daily activities of an established and prestigious publishing firm. Beyond recording the history of the firm, its founders, editors, and other staff, the collection serves to articulate the publishing process (especially in terms of editorial and promotional practices at Knopf), to offer detailed information on the numerous prominent authors and books published by the firm, and to illuminate the interactions between publishers, authors, editors, literary agents, manuscript readers, translators, and book designers, all engaged in the endeavor to produce quality books. The collection also provides a glimpse of the personal lives of the Knopfs, which were closely intertwined with their business concerns. The collection contains chiefly correspondence. Author's manuscripts were generally not kept by the company; however, a selected number were retained. Since the firm is still in existence, important vital documents and financial records are not present in this collection, with the exception of two defunct enterprises.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-00062
Language: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and other languages.
Access: Open for research with the exception of an autobiographical fragment by Blanche Knopf, folder 685.10. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Center's Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records (Manuscript Collection MS-00062). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Acquisition: Gifts, 1963-1996
Processed by: Jennifer Peters, Mandy York, Michele Shukers, and Erika Heinen, 1996

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Organizational History

Organizational History

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 Louis Wilkinson.
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 in 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 in 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 publishers.
In 1954, Pat Knopf added Vintage Books, a paperback imprint, to the firm. However, in 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.

Biographical Sketch

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 as 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 of 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 the 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 for 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 as 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 of 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 B. 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 in 1967 in Rio de Janeiro. He officially retired in 1972, becoming chairman emeritus of 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, 1984.
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 of excellence he maintained led H. L. Mencken to write of Knopf, "he is, by my standards, the perfect publisher."

Biographical Sketch

Blanche W. Knopf, 1894-1966
Blanche Wolf was born July 30, 1894, to Julius and Bertha Wolf, in New York City. She 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 a 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 a 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 Fame."


A Bibliography of Alfred A. Knopf Imprints through 1971. Unpublished typescript, 197-.
Fadiman, Clifton, ed. Fifty Years: Being a Retrospective Collection of Novels, Novellas, Tales, Drama, Poetry, and Reportage and Essays (Whether Literary, Musical, Contemplative, Historical, Biographical, Argumentative, or Gastronomical), All Drawn from Volumes Issued during the last Half-Century by Alfred and Blanche Knopf, Over This Sign and Device. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965.
Knopf, Alfred A. Portrait of a Publisher 1915/1965. 2 vols. New York: Typophiles, 1965.
Knopf, Alfred A. "Those Damned Reminiscences": Further Selections From the Memoirs of Alfred A. Knopf. Ed. Cathy Henderson. Austin, Tex.: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 1995.
The Library Chronicle, Vol. 26, nos 1 & 2. Austin, Tex.: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 1995.
Prescott, Peter. Lecture. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 12 Sept. 1995.
Tebbel, John. Between Covers: The Rise and Transformation of Book Publishing in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.


The Knopf Records are arranged in the following Series and described in further detail in the Scope and Contents and Series Descriptions sections of this finding aid.
  • SERIES I. GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1922-1971, bulk 1946-1966, boxes 1-500
  • SERIES II. ALFRED A. KNOPF PERSONAL, 1874-1984, bulk 1953-1984, boxes 501-685
    • Subseries A. Personal Correspondence, 1895-1984, bulk 1950-1980, boxes 501-562
      • Sub-subseries 1. Chronological Files, 1911-1984, bulk 1958-1984, boxes 501-560
      • Sub-subseries 2. Blanche Wolf Knopf, 1912-1923, box 561
      • Sub-subseries 3. Manuscripts Removed from Books, 1895-1983, bulk 1950-1980, boxes 561-562
    • Subseries B. Office/Subject Files, 1894-1979, bulk 1940-1965, boxes 563-595
    • Subseries C. Purchase Files, 1876-1985, boxes 595- 673
      • Sub-subseries 1. Memoirs, 1876-1985, boxes 595-620
        • a. Chronological Files, 1910-1983, boxes 595-609
        • b. Memoir Drafts, 1892-1982, boxes 610-618
        • c. Willa Cather, 1946-1985, box 618
        • d. H. L. Mencken, 1876-1981, boxes 618-620
      • Sub-subseries 2. Diaries, 1919-1984, boxes 621-647
      • Sub-subseries 3. Interviews, 1964-1978, box 643
      • Sub-subseries 4. Alphabetical Files, 1897-1984, boxes 648-669
      • Sub-subseries 5. Clippings and Reports, 1931-1984, boxes 669-673
    • Subseries D. Other Subjects and Interests, 1874-1985, boxes 673-685
  • SERIES III. BLANCHE W. KNOPF, 1918-1966, bulk 1940-1966, boxes 685-697
  • SERIES IV. AUTHOR AND BOOK DESIGNER FILES, 1911-1979, bulk 1920-1960, boxes 698-734
    • Subseries A. Author Files, 1911-1979, bulk 1921-1956, boxes 698-731
    • Subseries B. Book Designer Files, 1927-1954, boxes 731-734
  • SERIES V. EDITORS' FILES, 1873-1984, bulk 1960-1980, boxes 735-932
    • Subseries A. Angus Cameron, 1873-1984, bulk 1960-1978, boxes 735-787
    • Subseries B. Charles Elliott, 1908-1984, bulk 1971-1982, boxes 788-811
    • Subseries C. Lee Goerner, 1968-1980, boxes 812-813
    • Subseries D. Robert Gottlieb, 1949-1984, boxes 814-827
    • Subseries E. Ashbel Green, 1957-1984, boxes 827-839
    • Subseries F. Carol Brown Janeway, 1970-1983, boxes 839-847
    • Subseries G. Judith Jones, 1926-1980, bulk 1958-1977, boxes 847-859
    • Subseries H. William A. Koshland, 1935-1982, bulk 1967-1976, boxes 859-898
    • Subseries I. Subseries I. Michael Magzis, 1967-1976, boxes 899-900
    • Subseries J. Anne McCormick, 1966-1982, box 900
    • Subseries K. Nancy Nicholas, 1948-1984, bulk 1970-1980, boxes 900-906
    • Subseries L. Dan Okrent, 1949-1974, bulk 1967-1974, boxes 906-907
    • Subseries M. Regina Ryan, 1919-1976, bulk 1967-1974, boxes 907-914
    • Subseries N. Harold Strauss, 1950-1981, bulk 1966-1974, boxes 914-917
    • Subseries O. Herbert Weinstock, 1950-1971, bulk 1967-1971, boxes 918-921
    • Subseries P. Sophie Wilkins, 1927-1972, bulk 1969-1972, boxes 922-924
    • Subseries Q. Vicky Wilson, 1967-1983, boxes 925-932
  • SERIES VI. EDITORIAL DEPARTMENT FILES, 1930-1984, bulk 1948-1978, boxes 933-1172
    • Subseries A. Contract Data Sheets, 1948-1984, bulk 1948-1970, boxes 933-936
    • Subseries B. Foreign Rights, 1955-1983, bulk 1965-1976, boxes 936-957
    • Subseries C. Manuscript Records, 1930-1979, bulk 1941-1968, boxes 957-963
    • Subseries D. Reject Files, 1933-1968, bulk 1952-1968, boxes 964-1115
    • Subseries E. Rejection Sheets, 1931-1983, bulk 1948-1974, boxes 1116-1170
    • Subseries F. [Translations], 1961-1978, boxes 1171-1172
  • SERIES VII. OTHER DEPARTMENT FILES, 1916-1996, bulk 1943-1968, boxes 1173-1514
    • Subseries A. Publicity Department, 1916-1996, bulk 1943-1968, boxes 1173-1513
      • Sub-subseries 1. Publicity Files, 1916-1967, bulk 1943-1958, boxes 1173-1289
      • Sub-subseries 2. Permanent Title Folders, 1916-1983, bulk 1955-1968, boxes 1290-1494
      • Sub-subseries 3. W. T. Loverd Title Folders, 1968-1970, bulk 1969, boxes 1495-1498
      • Sub-subseries 4. Fall 1984 Title Folders, 1983-1985, boxes 1498-1502
      • Sub-subseries 5. Fall 1985 Title Folders, 1984-1986, boxes 1502-1505
      • Sub-subseries 6. Jane Becker Friedman, 1966-1988, bulk 1975-1976 and 1983-1984, boxes 1505-1509
      • Sub-subseries 7. Author Questionnaires Pre-1960, 1929-1965, bulk 1948-1955, boxes 1510-1511
      • Sub-subseries 8. General Promotional Materials, 1923-1996, boxes 1511-1513
    • Subseries B. Sales Department, 1939-1970, bulk 1948-1959, boxes 1513-1514
    • Subseries C. College Department, 1951-1990, bulk 1951-1959, box1514
  • SERIES VIII. LONDON OFFICE FILES, 1910-1957, bulk 1928-1940, boxes 1514-1518
  • SERIES IX. AMERICAN MERCURY, 1923-1960, bulk 1933-1936, box 1519
  • Index of Correspondents
  • Appendix I. Rejected Authors

Scope and Contents

The records of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1873-1995 (bulk 1945-1980), document the daily activities of an established and prestigious publishing firm. Beyond recording the history of the firm, its founders, editors, and other staff, the collection serves to articulate the publishing process (especially in terms of editorial and promotional practices at Knopf), to offer detailed information on the numerous prominent authors and books published by the firm, and to illuminate the interactions between publishers, authors, editors, literary agents, manuscript readers, translators, and book designers, all engaged in the endeavor to produce quality books. The pervasive influence and hallmarks of the firm's founders Alfred A. and Blanche Wolf Knopf are evident throughout the archive: unwavering commitment to worthy books; introduction of international writers to the American public; insistence on quality book design and manufacture; and the pursuit of books on topics of personal interest to the Knopfs and their editors. The collection also provides a glimpse of the personal lives of the Knopfs, which were closely intertwined with their business concerns.
The collection's date span is strongest for the post-World War II period to the 1970s, due to an office move in 1945 that precipitated the destruction of many of the firm's older files. However, some of the more important author files from Knopf's "golden age" of publishing in the 1920s and 1930s were saved for their literary significance. Other early records document promotional activities, and a number of Alfred Knopf's personal files contain earlier date ranges. Only a very few items, generally consisting of individual family documents and single pieces of correspondence, date from prior to the founding of the firm in 1915.
The collection is arranged in nine series: I. General Correspondence, 1922-1971 (500 boxes); II. Alfred A. Knopf Personal, 1874-1984 (184 boxes); III. Blanche W. Knopf, 1918-1968 (12 boxes); IV. Author and Book Designer Files, 1911-1979 (36 boxes); V. Editors' Files, 1873-1984 (197 boxes); VI. Editorial Department Files, 1930-1984 (239 boxes); VII. Other Department Files, 1916-1995 (341 boxes); VIII. London Office Files, 1910-1957 (4 boxes); IX. American Mercury, 1923-1960 (1 box). The original order has been maintained in as many cases as possible, generally following the standard firm practice of grouping files by year and alphabetizing within each year. Occasionally subseries have been alphabetized for ease of use. In a very few instances subseries have had order imposed upon them by the archivist. An extensive name index, listing more than 52,000 correspondents across the nine series, has been compiled by the catalogers and can be found at the end of this finding aid.
While containing chiefly correspondence, the collection also includes account books, address books, appointment books, autobiographies, awards, balance sheets, book reviews, business records, certificates, Christmas cards, contact sheets, contracts, copyright certificates, diaries, drafts, editorials, ephemera, exhibition catalogs, financial records, galley proofs, guest registers, house organs, internal forms, interviews, invitations, invoices, itineraries, journals, legal documents, mailing lists, membership lists, menus, a motion picture, negatives, personal effects, photographs, press releases, profit and loss statements, promotional materials, publishers' catalogs, reminiscences, schedules, slides, and tear sheets. Authors' manuscripts were generally not kept by the company; however, a selected number were retained. These include writings by Alfred A. and Blanche Knopf, as well as by authors such as Elizabeth Bowen, Albert Camus, Gilberto Freyre, John Galsworthy, Knut Hamsun, Langston Hughes, William Humphrey, Thomas Mann, Yukio Mishima, and Carl Van Vechten, among others. Since the firm is still in existence, important vital documents and financial records are not present in this collection, with the exception of two defunct enterprises. Materials relating to personnel, sales, book productions, and other publishing areas (such as Vintage paperbacks, periodicals, children's books, and college texts) are incidental to the collection and are present in very small numbers.
The primary focus of the collection is on the editorial and promotional side of the publishing business, particularly emphasizing Knopf trade books. By using the firm's central editorial correspondence files (Series I, General Correspondence) in combination with the working files of seventeen Knopf editors (Series V, Editors' Files), the internal forms and documentation contained in the Editorial Department Files (Series VI), and the abundant publicity and promotional materials (Series VII, Other Department Files), researchers can follow the publishing process from initial submission, through rejection or acceptance, editing, publication, promotion, and public response, generally in the form of correspondence. While many files consist of single exchanges with the firm, the more significant correspondence files document the close and complex relationship that developed between an editor and author, also revealing the respect and loyalty the firm fostered. The presence of internal paperwork further illuminates the publishing process, offering frank opinions and information for the firm's private use only. Other files demonstrate that relationships with quality literary agents, excellent translators, qualified manuscript readers, trusted foreign publishers, and talented book designers all contributed to the success of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
From its beginnings as a publisher of Russian literature, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. quickly established a reputation for promoting quality writers from all over the world, and numerous literary figures are well represented in the collection. The following genres and writers confirm the breadth of the firm's list, and are usually represented in multiple files across the nine series:
  • African-American literature: James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Langston Hughes;
  • American literature: Frederick Buechner, Witter Bynner, W. R. Burnett, George Harmon Coxe, Clarence Day, Bergen Evans, Mark Harris, Sterling Hayden, Joseph Hergesheimer, John Hersey, Gilbert Highet, Randall Jarrell, Oscar Lewis, H. L. Mencken, George Jean Nathan, Robert Nathan, Jack O'Connor, Sylvia Plath, Chaim Raphael, Conrad Richter, Maurice Samuel, Robert Shaplen, William Shirer, Wallace Stegner, Wallace Stevens, John Updike, Carl Van Vechten;
  • British literature: Eric Ambler, Brendan Behan, Roald Dahl, John Galsworthy, Macdonald Hastings, W. H. Hudson, Hammond Innes, Nicholas Monsarrat, Alan Sillitoe;
  • European literature: Pio Baroja, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Pierre Daninos, Friedrich Durrenmatt, Ilya Ehrenburg, Kahlil Gibran, Andre Gide, Jean Giono, Jose Maria Gironella, Knut Hamsun, Joseph Kessel, Thomas Mann, Henri de Montherlant, Elsa Morante, Jules Romains, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mikhail Sholokhov, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Germaine Tillion;
  • "Hard-boiled" detective fiction: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald
  • Japanese literature: Kobo Abe, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Jiro Osaragi, Junichiro Tanizaki;
  • Latin American literature: Jorge Amado, German Arciniegas, José Donoso, Gilberto Freyre, Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Clarice Lispector, Eduardo Mallea;
  • Texas literature: Robert Flynn, William Goetzmann, John Graves; Ben K. Green, A. C. Greene, Shelby Hearon, William Humphrey;
  • Women writers: Elizabeth Bowen, Kay Boyle, Willa Cather, Mildred Cram, Nan Fairbrother, Erna Fergusson, Jon Godden, Rumer Godden, Shirley Ann Grau, Shirley Hazzard, Rodello Hunter, Storm Jameson, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Margaret Lane, Margaret Laurence, Anne S. Mehdevi, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Thirkell, Anne Goodwin Winslow, Elinor Wylie.
Apart from literary texts published, the collection also documents the firm's interest in the areas of history, the environment, science, law, politics, music, and cookbooks, following the careers of writers such as Paul M. Angle, James Beard, Simone Beck, Samuel Flagg Bemis, Eric Bentley, Pierre Berton, Geoffrey Bibby, June Bingham, Morris Bishop, Hal Borland, Francois Bourliere, Julian P. Boyd, Fawn Brodie, Sally Carraghar, C. W. Ceram, Julia Child, Robert G. Cleland, Alistair Cooke, Carleton S. Coon, Virginius Dabney, Clifton Fadiman, Frank Freidel, Donald Gallup, Arnold Gingrich, Lawrence H. Gipson, Eric F. Goldman, Albert J. Guerard, Louis M. Hacker, Learned Hand, Melville J. Herskovits, Alger Hiss, Richard Hofstadter, Alvin M. Josephy, V. O. Key, Mildred Knopf, Irving Kolodin, Alexis Lichine, Richard G. Lillard, Samuel Eliot Morison, Allan Nevins, Ernest Newman, Sigurd F. Olson, Arthur Rubinstein, Abram L. Sachar, Eric Sevareid, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Joseph Szigeti, Benjamin Platt Thomas, Freeman Tilden, Philip M. Wagner, and T. Harry Williams.
Among the many others who did not publish for the firm, but are nevertheless well represented in the collection, are literary agents Franziska Becker, Lurton Blassingame, and Jenny Bradley; book designers Warren Chappell and W. A. Dwiggins; scouts Grace Dadd, Harriet de Onis, Anthony Gishford, and Raymond Postgate; translators Robert Pick and Barbara Shelby; law firms Stern & Reubens and Weil, Gotschal & Manges; as well as general correspondents Lester Cappon, Bennett Cerf, Clifford Crist, Bernard DeVoto, Irving Dilliard, J. Manuel Espinosa, W. H. "Ping" Ferry, Joseph Henry Jackson, Elizabeth Janeway, Jacob K. Javits, Edith Lewis, Alfredo Machado, Katia Mann, Mauricio Nabuco, National Park Service, Wallace Pratt, James Reston, Holly Stevens, Aaron Sussman, Jose Vieitas, Edward Weeks, and Walter Muir Whitehill. Additionally, virtually every important domestic and foreign publisher, literary agency, and periodical published in the twentieth century has some correspondence in the collection.
Although the correspondence of Alfred A. and Blanche Knopf is concentrated in the series bearing their names, their letters are also scattered through the rest of the collection. Additionally, editors, salesmen, promoters, and other Knopf employees initiated correspondence. Names which recur throughout the collection as correspondents for the firm are Leon S. Anderson, Robert P. Armstrong, Gretchen Bloch, Angus Cameron, Henry C. Carlisle, Eleanor Carlucci, Clifford Crist, Charles Elliott, Eleanor French, Jane Becker Friedman, Thomas Gervasi, Lee Goerner, Robert Gottlieb, Ashbel Green, Patrick Gregory, Sidney Jacobs, Carol Janeway, Judith B. Jones, Alfred (Pat) Knopf, Jr., William A. Koshland, Seymour Lawrence, Harding (Pete) Lemay, Joseph C. Lesser, William T. Loverd, Thomas Lowry, Anne McCormick, Ellen McNeilly, Michael Magzis, Nancy Nicholas, Dan Okrent, Robert Pick, Stewart Richardson, Henry Robbins, Regina Ryan, Anthony M. Schulte, David I. Segal, Bernard W. Shir-cliff, John J. Simon, Bernard Smith, Harold Strauss, Philip Vaudrin, Sally Waitkins, Herbert Weinstock, and Sophie Wilkins.
The collection also registers the impact of Alfred and Blanche Knopf on the firm. Records about the founding of the firm and its early successes are best documented in the two series bearing their names, particularly in Alfred Knopf's files, because many early records were saved as research material for his unpublished memoir. The Knopfs' presence is felt throughout the collection; they corresponded with authors, monitored the publishing process, and often developed close personal relationships with their literary contacts. Alfred Knopf's outside interests in conservation, wine, Latin America, history, and music are well documented in his personal series; an examination of the firm's list, known for its quality books on those same subjects, reveals how closely the interests of the firm and the man were intertwined. Similarly, Blanche Knopf's love of France brought a number of important French writers to the firm, and her control of the European side of operations, up to her death in 1966, is revealed in numerous series. Very little personal information on the couple is present in the collection, however. Only a small cache of letters from their courtship and early marriage survives, and they are more revealing about the early days of the firm than the relationship between the two. Additionally, while Alfred Knopf's personal papers contain diaries, family papers, guest books, memoir drafts, personal correspondence and photographs, they focus more on his day-to-day activities rather than his private life and thoughts.
The collection also offers a history of the firm and twentieth century publishing in general, focusing especially on the post World War II period. While few records are present that document staff changes explicitly, information can be gleaned by a close examination of folders dating from the years of internal change. For example, the sale of the company to Random House in 1960 is documented in only two folders maintained in Alfred Knopf's personal files, but the firm sent out letters to most of their long-term contacts describing the sale, which are scattered elsewhere. Additionally, the travel folders found in most series, filled with itineraries, correspondence, and narrative reports, offer a time frame for new literary discoveries, including regions, writers, and contacts. The collection follows the rise (and sometimes fall) of authors published by the firm, as well as changing relationships with scouts, translators, readers, new talent, literary agencies, and other publishing houses.

Series Descriptions

Related Material

In addition to their archives, Alfred A. and Blanche Knopf donated their personal library and some furniture to the Ransom Center. Other related materials are maintained in the Ransom Center Art Collection, Moving Image Collection, Personal Effects Collection, Photography Collection, and Vertical File Collection.
Among the other collections in the Ransom Center with correspondence from the Knopfs or the firm are those of Merle Armitage, Willa Cather, J. Frank Dobie, Morris Ernst, George Macy Ltd., John Graves, Joseph Hergesheimer, David Higham, William Humphrey, Fannie Hurst, Dan Jacobson, John Lehman, M. A. B. Lowndes, Henry Miller, Jessica Mitford, Christopher Morley, Leonidas Warren Payne, Nancy Wilson Ross, and Idella Purnell Stone. Of particular interest is the collection of the William Aspenwall Bradley Agency, whose correspondence with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. spans 1922-1977. The collection is significant because it details the early relationship of these two firms (filling in gaps not held by the Knopf archive), and because it contains personal letters from Alfred and Blanche Knopf interfiled with the business correspondence. Related collections include the publishers' archives of Albatross Verlag, John Calder Ltd., John Lane The Bodley Head, and John Lehmann.
A much smaller collection of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. records is available at the New York Public Library. The 68-linear foot collection contains correspondence, rejection files, clippings, and typescripts, focusing generally on the 1930s and 1940s (a slightly earlier date range than the bulk of the holdings at the Ransom Center). The rejection files, containing manuscript records, rejection correspondence, and reader's reports, complement the holdings of the Ransom Center, as do the correspondence files. The collection was donated to the library before Knopf chose The University of Texas as his repository. Further, Alfred Knopf gave his correspondence with H. L. Mencken to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which houses the Mencken Collection.

Index Terms


Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984
Knopf, Blanche Wolf, 1894-1966


American literature--20th century
Authors and publishers--20th century
Literature and publishing--United States
Publishers and publishing--United States--20th century

Folder List

Film and A/V material Box 1520-21