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1924 J.S. Ogilvie Book
1950 Avon Comics
1932 Aphrodite
1950-12 Out of this World
1941 Avon Books
1950-12 Pioneer Western
1943-07 Out of this World
1951-01 Avon Sci-Fi
1947 Avon Western Reader
1951-Spr 10-Story Fant.
1947 Avon Books
1951-11 Space Detective
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOSEPH MEYERS

(1898-1957)

Joseph Meyers was born July 19, 1898 in New York City. His father, Levi Yaroslavsky, was born in 1860 in Poland of Jewish ancestry. He moved to America in 1876 and changed his name to Louis Meyers. His mother, Ida Wolinsky, was born in 1870 in Poland of Jewish ancestry, and came to America in 1885. The parents married in 1886 and had six children, Edna (b.1887), Isador (b.1889), Sadie (b.1891), Florence (b.1893), Ruth (b.1896), Joseph (b.1898). The family lived 83 East 108th Street, in the same Jewish ghetto where the Marx Brothers were born and raised. The father was a tailor.

On September 13, 1903 Mr. & Mrs. Meyers had a seventh child, Harry, with a complicated birth. Three months later, on December 28, 1903, the mother, Ida (Wolinsky) Meyers, died at the age of thirty-three. After this tragic death the father struggled to raise seven children.

Joseph Meyers attended public school, and in June of 1911 he completed the eighth grade, after which he entered the work force as an office boy.

On November 8, 1911 the father married a second wife, Yetta Bernstein, and moved to Brooklyn, where they lived at 779 Gates Avenue, with the youngest two children, Joseph (age thirteen) and Harry (age eight).

By 1916 Joseph Meyers was age eighteen, and lived at 1110 Simpson Street in the Bronx. He was a clerk at the National Cloak & Suit Company on 24th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan.

On September 12, 1918, during the Great War, Joseph Meyers registered with his draft board. He was recorded at the time to be age twenty, medium height, medium build, with brown eyes and black hair. He was not selected for military service.

On January 17, 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment took effect, which made the sale of alcohol a federal crime. Demand exceeded supply to such an outrageous extent that law enforcement was quickly overwhelmed. Politicians had intended to prohibit unwholesome behavior, but inadvertently generated a national syndicate of organized crime that controlled and coordinated the wholesale import, manufacture, storage, trucking and distribution of alcoholic beverages. Criminal gangs were suddenly involved in a wildly lucrative mass production industry on a scale that was previously unimaginable.

In 1922 Joseph Meyers began to work as a salesman at the J. S. Ogilvie Book Publishing Company at 57 Rose Street. They sold erotic books, such as "The Science of New Life - Love Explained" by Dr. Cowan, through mail order advertising in the back pages of magazines.

J. S. Ogilvie was a 19th century publisher who died in 1910. His company was inherited by his son, Frank Ogilvie, who sold it to ANC, the American News Corporation, a distributing company that dominated American publishing. During the "roaring twenties" organized crime took control of the nationwide system of distribution, trucking, warehousing, and labor unions, and that included ANC. Although it belonged to organized crime, ANC was headed by William Randolph Hearst and Moe L. Annenberg. To avoid prosecution for anti-trust laws, ANC delegated various affiliates, such as Lee Ellmaker, Paul Sampliner, Irving S. Manheimer, Warren Angel, and Theodore Epstein, to operate as independent publishers, although the lifeblood of their operating credit belonged to ANC.

By 1925 Joseph Meyers had been promoted from mail-order salesman at to publisher at J. S. Ogilvie Publishing Company.

On June 1, 1925 the New York State census recorded Joseph Meyers as a lodger at 957 Faile Street in the Bronx. He identified his occupation as "Book Publisher."

On July 7, 1928 Joseph Meyers married Bessie Emelin. She was born in 1903 in Russia of Jewish ancestry, and came to America in 1906. The married couple moved to a large apartment building at 2119 Valentine Avenue in the Bronx. That same year their first daughter, Hope Meyers, was born.

In 1929 Joseph Meyers joined two partners, his widowed oldest sister, Edna B. (Meyers) Williams, and David Belasco, the renowned actor, writer, and theatrical producer, to form Williams, Belasco & Meyers at 100 Fifth Avenue, where they published reprint editions of "The Temptation of St. Anthony" by Gustave Flaubert, "Salome" by Oscar Wilde, and "Candide" by Voltaire.

In 1930 the same three partners formed Three Sirens Press, also at 100 Fifth Avenue, where they produced a reprint edition of "A Sentimental Journey" by Laurence Sterne.

The 1930 census listed Joseph Meyers as a "salesman" in the "Book Publishers" industry. He lived with his wife and daughter in the Bronx. His divorced younger brother, Harold Meyers (b.1902), also lived with them.

On May 14, 1931, David Belasco died of pneumonia at the age of seventy-six.

On May 28, 1931 The New York Times reported Illustrated Editions Company was a newly incorporated business at 220 Fourth Avenue, to produce inexpensive hardcover books of erotic classics. Their first titles included The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Aphrodite, and Chinese Love Tales.

On September 25, 1931 Joseph and Bessie Meyers celebrated the birthday of their second daughter, Susan Meyers.

In 1932 Bennet Cerf (1898-1971), a founder of Random House, planned to produce an American edition of "Ulysses" by James Joyce. Several of his company's books had already been reprinted by Joseph Meyers with spicy covers, but without authorization. Cerf described his competitor as the "notorious pirate of the Illustrated Editions Company," who reprinted books without paying for copyrights, which made it possible to sell his risqué novels for sixty-five cents at Macy's. Cerf protected his expected market for Ulysses by asking his lawyers to send Meyers a threatening letter, because "any appeal on purely ethical grounds would fall on deaf ears."

On February 20, 1937 the son of J. S. Ogilvie died at the age of sixty-two.

The 1937 Manhattan Telephone Directory listed Ogilvie Company (books) at 220 Fourth Avenue, telephone 477-3224. The same directory also listed Joseph Meyers (pubr) at 220 Fourth Avenue, telephone 477-3224.

In 1937 Avon Books sold out-of-print books through a back-page mail-order service from a warehouse in Palisades, New Jersey.

In 1939 ANC was the first to realize that Simon & Schuster's new "Pocket Books" were selling like hotcakes, so they arranged to produce a cheap imitation to exploit the trend. ANC ordered Joseph Meyers to reorganize the J. S. Ogilvie Publishing Company into Avon Books. Meyers continued to work in tandem with his older sister, Edna B. (Meyers) Williams, but he also hired Charles Byrne as editor and Fredrick Klein as V.P. They moved into offices at 575 Madison Avenue, and they chose a portrait of William Shakespeare, as "the Bard of Avon," for the company logo. Their first book was "Elmer Gantry" by Sinclair Lewis. The packaging was nearly identical to Pocket Books, which resulted in a lawsuit. After three years of litigation, Avon Books won the case in Appeals Court, which decided, "The company gave reasonable prominence on their covers to a medallion hallmark, Avon Pocket-Size Books, to avoid deception as to their source." The dissenting opinion said,"The test of unfairness is not found in elaborate descriptions of discoverable differences, but rather in the overall resemblance which will deceive the average buyer into believing that the simulated article was the original the buyer had in mind."

The 1940 census listed Joseph Meyers with his wife and two daughters at 3875 Waldo Avenue in the Bronx. His occupation was "Book Publisher" in the "Publishing" industry.

In 1943 Avon Publications began to produce a pulp magazine, Out Of This World.

On March 21, 1944 The New York Times reported that Joseph Meyers, "head of the Illustrated Editions Company," had leased a ten-room duplex apartment in the Beresford Building at 211 Central Park West.

In the 1940s Avon installed hundreds of coin-operated vending machines that sold two dozen of their latest paperbacks for twenty-five cents.

In 1947 Joseph Meyers began to produce digest-sized pulp magazines, such as Avon Western Reader. He hired Donald A. Wollheim to edit Avon Fantasy Reader, and Wollheim soon became Managing Editor at Avon Books. He later produced Avon Science-Fiction Reader, which had covers painted by Pagsilang Rey Isip.

In 1949 Joseph Meyers began to produce comic books. On March 7, 1949 The New York Times reported that Sol Cohen, General Manager of Educational Comics, had been appointed General Manager of Avon Comics Group. Avon produced Complete Romance Comics, Sparkling Love Stories, and Parole Breakers.

1949 Philadelphia banned sales of Avon Publishing Company books written by Jack Woodford, "The Abortive Hussy," "Male And Female," and "Illicit."

In 1950 Avon introduced a new pulp magazine, Pioneer Western, which was followed by 10-Story Fantasy, which had a cover painted by James Bama.

In 1951 Avon produced Space Detective Comics, which had drawings by Wally Wood.

According to Time Magazine, Avon Books are "westerns, whodunits, and the kind of boy-meets-girl story that can be illustrated by a ripe cheesecake jacket."

October 22, 1957 The New York Times reported Avon was again in legal jeopardy because they had not clearly identified abridged versions of books. Twelve days later, on November 2, 1957 Joseph Meyers died at the age of fifty-nine after a short illness, while on a business trip to Los Angeles.

In 1959 Avon was acquired by Hearst Publications, and still exists today as a romance paperback division of Harper-Collins.

                               © David Saunders 2017

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