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   Samuel Roth Papers, 1907-1994 [Bulk Dates: 1910-1979].

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Samuel Roth Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

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 The Samuel Roth Papers contain annotated books, manuscripts, court documents, business records, copyright statements, unpublished typescripts (by Roth and others), publishing advertisements and materials, as well as correspondence.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 Dates: 1910-1979].
Physical description:25.2 linear ft. (54 boxes: 51 document boxes, 2 oversize flat boxes 1 record carton)
Language(s): Material is in English and in French
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.  More information »



This collection is arranged in five series

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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The Samuel Roth Papers contain annotated books, manuscripts, court documents, business records, copyright statements, unpublished typescripts (by Roth and others), publishing advertisements and materials, as well as correspondence.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 Both his unpublished autobiography, Count Me Among the Missing, and his daughter's unfinished memoir of her father, In a Plain Brown Wrapper (as well as her extensive research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.

I.1. Subseries: Writings by Samuel Roth, 1914-1969

Consisting mostly of typescripts, this large sub-series is brimming with Roth's multiple unpublished works, but also contains some copies of published pieces. Along with various short stories, plays, fictionalized histories, are multiple drafts of Roth's last autobiography Count Me Among the Missing. Also in this sub-series is an epic work entitled The Transfiguration. Other works include The Hebrew Melodies of Heinrich Heine, The Kingdom, a long series of psalms. Some manuscript pages have not been identified and remain untitled.

I.2. Subseries: Writings by Adelaide Roth, 1970s-1990s

Included here are chapters and drafts of In a Plain Brown Wrapper, Adelaide Roth’s unpublished memoir, and Wroth Wrackt Joyce, her essay on Samuel Roth and James Joyce, and other writings, working drafts, some with corrections. The folders listed as "Drafts" represent the versions of her memoir that were found in separate individual boxes. The "Chapters" folders were found in folders titled by Adelaide Roth and many of the documents of these folders bear Adelaide's annotations. Chapters found together were kept together. Efforts have been made to name folders according to chapter titles, unless Adelaide Roth had already given a given folder a title. In the latter case, the title was put in quotation marks.

I.3. Subseries: Writings by Others, 1907-1986

The bulk of the material in this sub-series includes typescripts of novels or short stories that never made it to publication in any of Roth's many imprints. Some of documents are alternate versions of published works. Many of the longer works were originally bound by Roth in soft binders marked “Property of Samuel Roth.” Among the works never published are pieces by Maxwell Bodenheim, Ludwig Marcuse, Claude McKay, Harry Roskolenko, Arthur Symons, Denys Val Baker, George Sylvester Viereck among others. The authors of some of the materials in this sub-series are unidentified or have used pseudonyms.

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.

II.1. Subseries: Notes and Prepared Legal Files, 1931-1959

This sub-series contains legal files and notes that Samuel Roth prepared and arranged himself. The original folder titles were kept; if the folder was untitled, then the name it now bears reflects the dates of the documents it contains. Most of the material consists of court-issued documents, photocopies, transcripts, and even correspondence. The bulk of the legal files are contained within this sub-series. The order in which the material was kept within Roth's original folders has been maintained.

II.2. Subseries: Legal correspondence, 1926-1969

Contained here is correspondence related to various court cases in which Samuel Roth was involved. As with the other series, folders previously compiled and labeled by Roth were kept intact, and whenever possible, the same folder title was used. Included here is in-coming and out-going correspondence of Samuel Roth, and his spouse, Pauline Roth, related to Roth’s various court cases.

II.3. Subseries: Court Documents, 1947-1961

Documents issued by courts and lawyers during Roth's many trials: briefs, pamphlets, minutes, statements, are found here. The Briefs, from the Post Office Department, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and the United States District Court Southern District of New York, cover many different specific sections of Roth's trials and related legal matters. Included here are both bound briefs printed by the court press (italicized titles) and typewritten drafts issued by the defendant's lawyers or those representing the court.

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.

III.1. Subseries: Samuel Roth, 1909-1971

This sub-series consists of Samuel Roth's correspondence, both personal and professional and includes “prison letters” that Roth wrote while serving time. The bulk of these letters were addressed to his wife, Pauline. Also here is a large amount of professional and business correspondence. The folder titles used by Roth's own filing system have been kept and are indicated by quotation marks. Roth’s chronological arrangement of this material has been maintained.

Roth's early correspondence (1915-1925), while wide, is not deep. Here also is found general correspondence regarding Roth's short-lived journal, The Lyric, and the Poetry Bookshop, Two Worlds, and other publishing-related correspondence. When the material was originally kept in an originally-labeled folder, the same folder title was used for the finding aid.

III.2. Subseries: Adelaide Kugel Roth, 1974-1993

Included here are Adelaide Roth’s many communications with various archives and libraries regarding Samuel Roth. The letters often include photocopies, clippings, and notes. Most of the material here was arranged by Adelaide Roth herself and every effort was made to maintain her arrangement.

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.

IV.1. Subseries: Promotional Materials, 1919-1960s

Arranged alphabetically by book or magazine title when promoting a specific publication, or by slogan when promoting the press's products at large, this sub-series consists of materials used for promoting and advertising the books published by Roth's various imprints. The bulk of the materials are advertisement proofs, created during the years following World War II, but also included here are mail-order forms, negatives, photographs, and even printing blocks. There are a few clippings of book reviews, or receipts for ad payments, or ad drafts. Some of these proofs are oversized. As with previous series, folders created and arranged by Roth were kept intact and their original titles are in quotation marks. A few of the latter folders include correspondence and discarded advertising prototypes.

IV.2. Subseries: Business Files and Materials, 1930-1974

This subseries contains mostly book contracts, with some receipts, business certificates, financial documents, copyright registrations, and newspaper clippings regarding books published by various Roth imprints. In rare cases, some correspondence accompanies the book contract. In addition, photographs, printing blocks, and documents related to Roth's publishing endeavors can be found here. The material is arranged alphabetically.

IV.3. Subseries: American Aphrodite, 1950s

This subseries contains stories and essays clipped from issues of American Aphrodite: A Quarterly for the Fancy Free. The material has been arranged alphabetically by title, with the name of the author, when known, indicated.

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.

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

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.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; 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.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Papers processed 2009-2010 Jean-Christophe Cloutier

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

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion September 30, 2010 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-09-30 File created.

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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.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
American Aphrodite: A Quarterly for the Fancy-Free.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Booksellers and bookselling.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Copyright--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Erotica--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Good Times.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941--Criticism and interpretation.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941--Periodicals.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941.--Ulysses.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Juvenile delinquency--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Kugel, Adelaide.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lawrence, D.H. (David Herbert), 1885-1930.--Lady Chatterley's lover.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lockridge, Norman--pseudonym.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Mail-order business.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Obscenity (Law)--United States--Cases.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Obscenity (Law)--United States--Periodicals.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Obscenity (Law)--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pornography--Law and legislation--United States--Cases.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pornography--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Publishers and publishing.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Roth, Adelaide.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Roth, Pauline.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Roth, Samuel, 1893-1974.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Two Worlds Monthly.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Two Worlds.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Zorn, David--pseudonym.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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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.

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