Hard to believe today, but before World War II not a single mainstream publisher in America would publish a genre science fiction or fantasy novel. H. G. Wells had once been so fanatically popular that publishers would pirate his works if they couldn’t get them legitimately, but the coming of the pulp magazine era destroyed the reputation of the field. Science fiction was written by subliterates for subliterates, or so went the opinion of the literary world.
The forceful introduction to the Atomic Era in 1945 may have made those crazy Buck Rogers ideas a bit more respectable, but not to publishing. Mysteries sold in the millions, westerns remained popular, and romances had steady sales but fantasy and science fiction couldn’t even get a foothold in the paperback world, let alone mainstream hardbacks of the type sold in bookstores.
A few science fiction fans saw a niche. They pooled what seems today like pitifully small amounts of money and started small presses. There was Shasta and Prime Press and the New Collector’s Group and Fantasy Press and Hadley Publishing and the Buffalo Book Company and many more.
Perhaps the most ambitious, the most professional, the most forward thinking, the most successful – all attributes that the acolytes of the other presses will forever dispute – was brought into being as The Gnome Press, Inc. Martin L. Greenberg, who must always be carefully introduced as no relation to the anthologist Martin H. Greenberg, wanted to do more than resurrect older stories from their living death in browning pulp magazines – although he did much of that, very successfully; he wanted to make modern science fiction and fantasy part of the modern world of publishing.
He brought in David A. Kyle, who had publishing experience, business connections, and artistic skills, and the two put out their very first book, The Carnelian Cube by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, in 1948. The company logo of a gnome reading a book under a toadstool was drawn by Kyle.
In its first five years, Gnome would publish Robert Heinlein’s Sixth Column, The Sands of Mars and Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the three volumes of the Foundation trilogy, Clifford M. Simak’s award-winner City and his Cosmic Engineers, reprints of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, and works by L. Ron Hubbard, Jack Williamson, C. L. Moore, A. E. van Vogt, Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, Hal Clement and half a dozen others. That’s Golden Age science fiction in a nutshell.
I’ve collected Gnome Press books for over 40 years. My collection will never be complete to my standards but I have all 86 first editions, more than 90% of the 70 known variants, and piles of associational items. I wanted to know everything possible about Gnome, so I’ve scoured the internet, newspaper databases, vintage fanzines, library archives, and every other source I could think of. My research proved to my satisfaction that virtually all previous histories of Gnome are at best lacking and all too often completely wrong. How wrong? Even the basic order of publication, given by Marty Greenberg himself, and followed by every subsequent commentator, is impossible. Since the order of publication in many ways tells the story of Gnome, a new set of dates needs to be standardized. Everything follows from that base, including the first comprehensive full bibliography.
This site will eventually contain more than 150,000 words of text and over 500 images. I’m planning on dividing it into four parts. The Complete Gnome Press, containing histories of Gnome and the f&sf genre as of 1948 as well as biographies of the founders, the assistants, and the artists; Bibliographies, containing three full bibliographies by publication order, author, and title, as well as my reasoning and research for how I arrived at those conclusions; The Books, short chapters on all 86 individual titles; and Ephemera, covering everything from foreign editions to catalogs to calendars. Just click on the menu bar to see what’s been added to those sections.
These are the major sources of information on Gnome Press variants and other basic info on the history. I’ll be referring to them regularly throughout each individual book page and elsewhere. Anyone interested in collecting science fiction will want to become familiar with them.
CHALKER – The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, 3rd edition, by Jack L. Chalker and Mark Owens (Mirage Press, 1991)
CURREY – Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: a Bibliography of First Printings of Their Fiction and Selected Nonfiction, by L. W. Currey (G. K. Hall, 1979); revised edition, (rbPublishing CD-ROM, 2002)
ESHBACH – Over My Shoulder: Reflections of a Science Fiction Era, by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (Oswald Train: Publisher, 1983)
ISFDB – The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, isfdb.org
KEMP – The Anthem Series: Part V: Gnome Press, by Earl Terry Kemp (appeared in the fanzine –e*I*47– (Vol. 8 No. 6) December 2009 – no longer available online)