Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Samuel Roth papers, 1907-1994, bulk 1910-1979

Summary Information


Samuel Roth (1893-1974)—writer, publisher, entrepreneur, and all-around schemer—is best known for publishing unauthorized excerpts of James Joyce's Ulysses in the United States, and for being the plaintiff in a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court that redefined what constitutes obscene material unprotected by the First Amendment. The Samuel Roth Papers contain annotated books, manuscripts, court documents, business records, copyright statements, unpublished typescripts (by Roth and others), publishing advertisements and materials, as well as correspondence.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1463
Bib ID 6913670 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Roth, Samuel, 1893-1974
Title Samuel Roth papers, 1907-1994, bulk 1910-1979
Physical Description 25.2 linear feet (54 boxes: 51 document boxes 2 oversize flat boxes 1 record carton)
Language(s) English , French .

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions. Much of the correspondence in boxes 35-38, however, is extremely fragile and therefore access to this material will be determined on a case-by-case basis.



This collection is arranged in five series.


Scope and Content

The Samuel Roth Papers contain annotated books, manuscripts, court documents, business records, copyright statements, unpublished typescripts (by Roth and others), publishing advertisements and materials, as well as correspondence. Among Roth's own works are his poetry, plays, and fiction, including The Transfiguration, an epic Roth thought would bring him fame and success as a writer. Both his unpublished autobiography, Count Me Among the Missing, and his daughter's unfinished memoir of her father, In a Plain Brown Wrapper (as well as her extensive research materials), are also included in the collection.

For certain works, Samuel Roth employed pseudonyms such as David Zorn, and his most frequently used nom de guerre, Norman Lockridge. Interestingly, he often used the latter name to clandestinely correspond with people, such as T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway, who had signed Joyce's International Protest against him.

Blending both the personal and the professional, the Correspondence series houses Roth's numerous prison letters sent from Lewisburg while serving his multiple sentences. Usually addressed to his wife Pauline, Roth shares his thoughts regarding prison life, his numerous literary undertakings, and advises Pauline regarding business matters. Many of Roth's early professional correspondents (1915-1925) are major names of twentieth century modernist literature and poetics, that include: Floyd Dell; (1917): William Stanley Braithwaite, John Gould Fletcher, James Oppenheim, Edgar Lee Masters, George Edward Woodberry, Sara Teasdale Filsinger, Lizette Woodsworth Reese and William Roe Benet; (1918-1919): Jessie Rittenhouse, Shaemus O'Sheel, Louise Bryant, H.D.; (1920-1921): Arthur Symons, Israel Zangwill, T.S. Eliot, Clement Wood, Carl Van Doren, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Edward Gosse, J.C. Squire, Ezra Pound, Leonard Woolf; (1922-25): Sylvia Beach, Avrahm Yarmolinsky, John Herrmann, Ezra Pound, Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman), James Branch Cabell, Ford Madox Ford, Harriet Shaw Weaver, Dorothy M. Richardson, Arthur Stanley Eddington, Upton Simclair, Leslie Gordon Philips, Gershon Legman.

The calendar series, part of Roth's editorial efforts, shows how much Roth was, in many ways, ahead of his time in regards to the publishing business and its many sales gimmicks. Similarly, the Publishing series as a whole represents a great testament to Roth's advertising acumen, offering a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of the self-publishing business in the years following World War II.

Roth's legal troubles encompassed many years. The prepared packets seem to have, in most cases, been created on-the-go during the trials, while some may have been put together at a later date.

  • Series I: Writings, 1907-1990s

    This, the largest series in the collection, includes mostly unpublished pieces by Samuel Roth, as well as collected works he edited; drafts of his daughter Adelaide Roth's memoir and essays, in addition to her extensive research materials; typescripts and holographs by various hands that either never made it to publication or are versions of material that was once published by one of Roth's many imprints.

  • Series II: Legal Documents, 1926-1969

    The files in this series that Roth compiled himself were kept intact and their original titles preserved. A large amount of legal correspondence—spanning decades—is here, as well as official court documents.

  • Series III: Correspondence, 1909-1993

    The material in this series spans Samuel Roth's lifetime and includes both personal and professional correspondence. Adelaide Roth's correspondence, both personal and research-related, is also here.

  • Series IV: Publishing, 1919-1974

    This series contains a plethora of ads, mail order forms, promotional prototypes, and other ephemera including realia such as printing blocks and original artwork. Official documentation related to Roth's publishing business such as book contracts, receipts, and permissions to do business, along with sample stories from Roth's American Aphrodite: A Quarterly for the Fancy-Free can also be found here.

  • Series V: Personal, 1915-1994

    This small series comprises documents such as family photographs, financial materials including bank statements and tax-related documents, wills and testaments, funeral matters, and a framed print of Samuel Roth's village of birth in rural Poland.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions. Much of the correspondence in boxes 35-38, however, is extremely fragile and therefore access to this material will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

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); Samuel Roth Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


No additions are expected

Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Custodial History

RBML has also obtained Samuel Roth's library, including copies of his magazines and journals (BEAU, Two Worlds & Two Worlds Monthly, American Aphrodite, and Good Times). In addition, the library holds copies of the many books published by Roth's imprints, as well as a number of books from his own personal library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

accn number: Source of acquisition--Bettina Hirsch, James Kugel, and Candace A. Kugel. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--2006.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Sponsor Information

The processing of this collection was made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation

Processing Information

Papers processed Jean-Christophe Cloutier 2009-2010.

Finding aid written Jean-Christophe Cloutier 05/--/2010.

Revision Description

2010-09-30 File created.

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:"
Booksellers and bookselling Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Copyright -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Erotica -- Periodicals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Erotica -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941 (Ulysses) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Juvenile delinquency -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kugel, Adelaide Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kugel, Adelaide Roth Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lawrence, D. H (David Herbert), 1885-1930 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lockridge, Norman Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Mail-order business Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Obscenity (Law) -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Obscenity (Law) -- United States -- Cases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Obscenity (Law) -- United States -- Periodicals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Occupation Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pornography -- Law and legislation -- United States -- Cases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pornography -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Publishers and publishing Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Roth, Pauline Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Roth, Samuel, 1893-1974 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Zorn, David, pseud Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

During his career Samuel Roth (1893-1974) established bookstores in New York City that published and sold books, magazines, and erotica, and operated a mail order operation that defied Post Office censors for two decades. He founded two literary magazines, namely Beau--the first American "men's magazine--and Two Worlds. As a publisher, Roth was frequently accused of violating the copyrights of authors such as D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, and was responsible for the first, unauthorized editions of Lady Chatterley's Lover and Ulysses. After Joyce published the "International Protest" against Samuel Roth in 1927, a petition signed by over one hundred of the world's elite artists and public figures, Roth became a pariah in the publishing world. Falling back upon his ingenuity and keen sense of salesmanship, Roth ended up in the mail-order pornography business, creating Good Times and American Aphrodite: A Quarterly for the Fancy Free. He published a critical treatise on Herbert Hoover, The Strange Career of Mr. Hoover Under Two Flags (1931), which sold well and thus may have helped defeat the President in 1932 In 1951 he issued My Sister and I, purportedly a memoir by Nietzsche about his incestuous relationship with his sister.

A self-taught writer, Roth wrote poetry and essays throughout his life. His early poetry won praise from Edwin Arlington Robinson, Maurice Samuel, Marie Syrkin, Harriet Monroe, Israel Zangwill, and Louis Untermeyer. "Samuel Roth publicized himself as a literary Johnny Appleseed, bringing to ordinary Americans the modern literature of two continents, despite its sexual explicitness. He was also a master of prurient advertising of borderline mail order sex pulps and sensational human interest stories. He put himself in the direct line of fire that municipal, state and federal law enforcement officials and moral entrepreneurs reserved for pariah capitalists," said Jay Gertzman, Professor Emeritus at Mansfield University and author of Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940. "Researchers will find Roth's archives valuable not only for a study of Roth but of New York publishing history and the history of censorship," continued Gertzman.

Roth last achieved notoriety in 1957 as the appellant in the Supreme Court case, Roth v. United States. The minority decision in the case opened the way to Constitutional protection for expression previously censored for indecency, and became a template for the liberalizing First Amendment decisions of the 1960s.