Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Thomas L. Bonn papers, 1935-1983, bulk 1939-1941

Summary Information


This collection consists primarily of documents relating to the founding and early years of Pocket Books, a New York publishing firm, and its founder, Robert De Graff. The collection also includes several research notes and articles written by Thomas Bonn, a librarian and historian whose work centered largely on Pocket Books in the early 1980s.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1453
Bib ID 6764611 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Bonn, Thomas L.
Title Thomas L. Bonn papers, 1935-1983, bulk 1939-1941
Physical Description 0.42 linear feet (1 box)
Language(s) English .

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.



The materials are arranged alphabetically.



The bulk of Thomas Bonn's research files comprise documents related to Robert De Graff's career and to the early years of Pocket Books. The earliest documents in the collection concern De Graff's brief stint as a magazine seller for Garden City Publishing Company. Most of the documents, however, date from 1938 to 1941. These latter documents include hand-written notes and other materials relating to Pocket Books' initial publicity and distribution strategies, records of the sales figures that the company attained through its various distribution channels, and letters of praise sent both from customers and distributors. The collection also includes newspaper clippings about De Graff and his company, documents relating to a law suit that Pocket Books filed against a company that mimicked its approach, checks from the War Department and Navy, announcements of De Graff's lectures on such topics as the state of book publishing in South America, and several notes and articles written by Thomas Bonn.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Thomas Bonn papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


No additions expected

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Daniel Vaca (GSAS 2012).

Finding aid written by Daniel Vaca in June 2008.

Collection is processed to folder level.

Revision Description

2008-11-07 File created.

2009/01/15 xml document instange created by Patrick Lawlor

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Avon Books Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bonn, Thomas L. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Book industries and trade -- Latin America -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Book industries and trade -- United States -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Book industries and trade -- United States -- History -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Paperback wholesalers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Paperbacks -- Marketing Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Paperbacks -- Prices -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Paperbacks -- Publishing -- United States -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Paperbacks -- Publishing -- United States -- History -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pocket editions Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Publishers and publishing -- United States -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sears, Roebuck and Company -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Simon and Schuster, Inc -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

While serving during the 1970s and 1980s as a librarian at the State University of New York, College at Cortland, Thomas L. Bonn wrote regularly on the history of paperback books. In addition to co-editing the journal "Paperback Quarterly: A Journal of Mass-Market Paperback History", Bonn wrote a number of articles on paperback history and an authoritative book titled "Under Cover: An Illustrated History of American Mass-Market Paperbacks" (Penguin, 1982). These research files contain some of the source materials that Bonn drew upon for these studies.

For Bonn, no single company in American publishing history deserves more credit for bringing mass-market paperbacks to American bookshelves than Pocket Books, a New-York based company that released its first book list in June 1939. To be sure, as Bonn explains in Under Cover, paperback books had existed previously. German and English publishers had begun experimenting with small paperback books as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Focusing either on dime-novel fiction or literary titles, however, those publishers never reached mass audiences. Such English publishers as Albatross and Penguin Books began reaching wider audiences in the 1930s, and Pocket Books soon extended their model of selling popular titles at low cost by adding a few key innovations.

Pocket Books' principal innovations centered around its decision to produce and distribute books in the style of magazines, a development that reflected the knowledge and experience of the company's founder, Robert De Graff. Before founding Pocket Books in 1938, De Graff had worked for fourteen years selling hardback books, reprints, and magazines. Pocket Books accordingly printed large volumes of books at high speeds and selected titles that appealed to general literary tastes, sometimes publishing books related to popular films. Releasing between five and ten new books every month, De Graff distributed this steady stream of paperbacks through previously untapped outlets, such as department stores, newsstands, chain stores such as Sears, and eventually drug stores and grocery stores. In wartime, Pocket Books established distribution agreements with the Armed Services. These innovations in distribution, Bonn suggests, marked Pocket Books as the first "mass market" paperback publisher in the United States.

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Contents List

Box 1 Folder 1 Clippings--Advertisements, 1939-1946

Box 1 Folder 2 Clippings--Pocket Books and Robert De Graff, 1938-1969

Box 1 Folder 3 De Graff, Robert--Announcements of Talks, 1939-1943

Box 1 Folder 4 De Graff, Robert--Garden City Publishing Company, 1935-circa, 1936

Box 1 Folder 5 Law Suit--Pocket Books v. Avon Pocket-Size Books, 1941-1942

Box 1 Folder 6 Mailings--Development, circa, 1938-1939

Box 1 Folder 7 Mailings and Publicity, 1939-1940, undated, 1939-1940, undated

Box 1 Folder 8 Notes and Articles, 1983, undated, 1983, undated

Box 1 Folder 9 Research Binder--General, 1939-1960

Box 1 Folder 10 Sales Statistics and Distribution Strategy, 1935-1944

Box 1 Folder 11 Testimonials--Customers and Distributors, 1938-194