Please let me go! I’m not even in this book!
Originally published in 1933, with this Century Publications paperback appearing in 1946, Van Wyck Mason’s The Shanghai Bund Murders was seventh in a series of twenty-six mostly similarly titled thrillers such as The Hongkong Airbase Murders, The Sulu Sea Murders, and—no one-trick-pony Mr. Mason—The Budapest Parade Murders, because murder happens even outside Asia. All of these starred his spy creation Hugh North, and here Hugh finds a coin—previously carried by an agent who suffered an early demise—that is engraved with a coded message about Chinese military secrets. You get pro forma anti-commie stuff, but the real villains here are western gunrunners. The excellent cover art, which is not related to the text, is by Malcolm Smith.
The meek shall inherit starvation wages.
Originally published in 1949 as Spit and the Stars, which is a title we really like, Tough Kid from Brooklyn is the story of a Jewish youth who seeks love and gets involved in union organizing only to see owners strike back violently via the usual methods. The book is a reminder of two important facts—organizing or striking for better pay is often illegal, and that puts cops on the wrong side of justice, as well as literary protagonists. This was Mende’s only novel, though he apparently had thirteen others tucked away in a trunk. The first abridged edition from Avon appeared in 1951. The one you see here is from 1955, with a slightly different logo treatment than the 1951 paperback, but with the same uncredited cover art.
Mid-century paperback art and the race to judgment.
Science has given humanity a lot over the centuries. What will turn out to be one of its most important gifts is its conclusion, widely disseminated beginning in 1950 but by today firmly proven thanks to DNA sequencing, that race doesn’t exist in any scientific way. Of course, many don’t consider that fact a gift—but many people also had serious problems with the revelation that the Earth wasn’t flat. The concept of anti-black racism came entirely from the human imagination within about the last five-hundred years, principally as a means to justify the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Seen in that light, scientific proof that race doesn’t exist represents not new knowledge, but a return to knowledge that was the norm before the drive for riches caused men to deliberately warp human thought as a means to cover for mass cruelty.
As an imaginary construct, however, race is persistently powerful, which the collection of paperback fronts above and below strongly illustrate. We weren’t around when any of these were written, but their existence reveals a surprisingly (to us) lively market in such material. Were all the books you see here of great worth? Certainly not. But even with their flaws—particularly woman-blaming for rape—these books are artifacts of a fascinating racial dialogue that we suspect, on balance, was beneficial. We have forty-nine examples and there are at least a couple dozen more we didn’t include (Black Dicks for Marcie was just a bit too out there). Some of those pieces will pop up later in a slightly different themed collection. In addition to what you see here, we also put together a related group last year featuring an Asian theme and you can see that here.
, Victor H. Johnson
, Hodding Carter
, Gilmore Millen
, David Westheimer
, James Williams
, Walter B. Lowery
, Carl Offord
, Maxwell Bodenheim
, Sam Merwin Jr.
, Blair Fuller
, Don Elliot
, Lou Delarue
, Jay Thomas Caldwell
, Curtis Lucas
, Adam Rebel
, Carolina Lee
, Wenzell Brown
, John A. Williams
, Walton Fairbank
, Chester Himes
, John Taylor
, Jesse Lee Carter
, Curtis Lucas
, Ric Arana
, Worth Tuttle Hedden
, Tony Calvano
, Cid Ricketts Sumner
, Hans Habe
, Ernest L. Matthews
, Louis-Charles Royer
, Eugene Brown
, Vin Packer
, Alan Marshall
, Joe L. Hensley
, Franklin Coen
, Doris Lessing
, Kyle Onstott
, Noel Clad
, Angeline Taylor
, J. Saunders Redding
, Lionel White
, cover art
I already knew you weren’t married, silly. No self-respecting wife would let her man out wearing such an atrocious tie.
Above is a beautiful and lighthearted cover for No Time for Marriage by David Charlson for Venus Books, 1951, featuring a smiling femme fatale and her homme with his garish pin-up girl tie. The art isn’t attributed and Gary Lovisi’s reference book Dames, Dolls and Delinquents lists it as by unknown. But we think it’s by George Gross. Compare it to a cover confirmed as painted by Gross—One Wild Night, which you see just to the right. The general style is close if not identical, and the female figures on both covers wear drawstring puffsleeve blouses, necklaces, an assortment of gold bracelets, and the always popular ankle strap pumps. We sound like we’ve been watching Project Runway for the last ten years, we know, but this is what obsessing over paperback art does to you. You also notice that the pose, facial features and hairdos on both covers are nearly identical too. While it’s true Rudy Nappi also painted in this general style for Venus, his hairstyles were usually less sculptural than what you see here. We also think the similarities of No Time for Marriage to other Gross covers are too great to ignore. In any case, we hope whoever painted it was well paid at least, because the same art was reused for Joan Tucker’s 1954 novel Young Secretary.
Get off me, you gorilla! Don’t you girl-pimping drug dealing thieving gangsters know how to take no for an answer?
Above, a nice front for Frank Smith’s Back Alley, for Beacon Signal. A lonely call girl named Judy falls in love with a racketeer who by various vicious means has made his way from the gutter to the penthouse. Things go sour between the two and it’s clear gangster sees moll as merely another disposable babe—but she has plans to make him see her differently. 1958, with George Geygan art.
That’s just my name for them. Everyone else still calls them men.
Above, another winner from Greenleaf Classics, Don Holliday’s The Lust Pigs, 1962, for the Midnight Reader line. The real author behind this one was David Case, who wrote ten books total for Greenleaf, including Lust Circuit and Luster’s Lane. Clearly he had a thing about lust. As do we all. The art is unattributed.
Baby, you are something special. And to imagine I once thought a quality spread only referred to the stock market.
They say money can’t buy love, but it can certainly buy a reasonable facsimile. That’s not our opinion—that’s empirical reality. It works even if you’re even as old as this guy. Gordon Semple, aka William Neubauer, Norman Bligh, et al, explores the theme of love-for-money in Love-Crazy Millionaire, as a rich man gets tangled up with a woman who’s decided it’s time to get ahead in life. It comes from Croydon Publishing Company, and the excellent cover art is by Bernard Safran, who we need to feature more often. 1954 copyright on this.
And now, the top 20 financial terms that sound sexual but aren’t:
20: Backup withholding
19: Tender offer
18: Liquidity put
17: Horizontal acquisition
16: Gypsy swap
14: 30-day wash rule
13: In-service withdrawal
11: Open position
10: Jointly and severally
9: Receipt of deposit
7: Pump and dump
6: Naked straddle
5: Escheat period
4: Fallout risk
3: W-type bottom
2: Front-end load
They were like shipments passing in the night.
Above, a classic piece of good girl art by illustrator Frank Cozzerelli for Si Podolin's Devil's Cargo, 1955, from Pyramid-Giant. The book is about a solder of fortune and an “Arab bellydancer” who team up in Marseilles to smuggle stolen weapons into French Morocco. It was written around the time of a lot of unrest there, which gives it some extra spice, and Morocco finally gained independence a year later.
Avon Publications dared to ask—will readers pay to be turned on?
Avon Publications launched in 1941 as a direct competitor to the revolutionary Pocket Books. But while Pocket was basically a literary house, Avon directed itself toward the popular market, working with lesser known authors focused on pure entertainment, and promoting books by featuring more visually arresting covers. The company veered further in the mass market direction when it launched a subsidiary called Novel Library, which saw it begin experimenting with racier fiction. Jack Woodford, born in 1894 as Josiah Pitts Woolfolk, was one of the early practitioners of what would later become sleaze fiction. His books, mostly written during the 1930s and 1940s, were pretty chaste by later standards, but helped prove that pulp readers would pay for sexual thrills. Above are seven of the eight Woodford books published by Novel Library between 1948 and 1950. Some originally appeared under other titles, for example Free Lovers, which was aka Fiddler's Fee. The cover artists here are, top to bottom, J. Biernacki, Perlowen (not Perl Owen, as seen on many sites), D. Trager-Phillips, Ann Cantor, and unknowns. You can see Woodford's eighth Novel Library book in this group.
Hello? I’m from next door! If you don’t turn down that infernal music I swear I’m going to shoot you!
Charles Williams’ A Touch of Death (published in Britain as Mix Yourself a Redhead) had several different covers, but this 1963 Gold Medal edition with uncredited art is easily the best. It’s a bit strange, though. It almost seems as if it depicts a blind woman. And it does—a woman who’s blind drunk. An intruder is sneaking up on her as she gets loaded and plays her record collection. Don’t worry though. The hero saves her and once she sobers up she reveals herself to be one of mid-century fiction’s greatest femmes fatales—the immortal Madelon Butler. This is a really good book.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
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