Thursday, January 5, 2012
As it is today, Manhattan was the center of American magazine publishing in the 1920s. The vast majority of those who signed the door in Frank Shay’s Bookshop in Greenwich Village had some role in the business as editors, publishers, printers, or contributors to a variety of publications.
While some bookshops in New York at the time were havens for experimentation and likely carried few magazines beyond the “little magazines” produced for a small literary audience, Frank Shay’s tastes were much broader. His friends and customers alike worked for and likely purchased a wide range of the available publications of the day. Magazines are a valuable source for reconstructing literary movements and shifts in popular and coterie tastes. Works that we recognize as monuments today were often first experienced by readers in little and big magazines alike: landmark poems and chapters of serialized novels were read alongside forgotten avant-garde manifestoes or advertisements for household products
This map, drawn by Robert Edwards, was published in Quill, a magazine popular with the Village community. The map shows the bookshop in its final year in business, 1925. Shay no longer ran the shop, as can be seen in the description of the shop at number 49 in the legend. Frank Shay is called “Parnassuswaggoner” because he had moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, with his travelling bookshop, “Parnassus on Wheels.” Of particular note are the map’s designation of two distinct immigrant communities, “Erin” (Ireland) and “Italia,” concentrated in particular areas of the Village, and the presence of “Aristocrats” and other wealthy community members in the elegant blocks surrounding Washington Square. Immigrants and “Aristrocrats” alike are frequently absent from the Bohemians’ descriptions of their community, so Edwards’s decision to highlight them here is notable.
A hard copy of Quill magazine and an enlarged version of Edwards’s map can be seen in the current exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925, on display through January 22.