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In the Galleries: A map of Greenwich Village from The Greenwich Village Quill

By Kelsey McKinney

A map of Greenwich Village from 'The Greenwich Village Quill' (1925). The shop was near the corner of Christopher Street and Greenwich Avenue.
A map of Greenwich Village from 'The Greenwich Village Quill' (1925). The shop was near the corner of Christopher Street and Greenwich Avenue.

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.

Slideshow: Installation of door from Frank Shay’s Greenwich Village bookshop

By Alicia Dietrich

The two exhibitions The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925 and Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored are now open at the Ransom Center. In the image gallery below, staff members install the bookshop door in the galleries on Friday.

 

Please click on the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

Help identify unknown signatures from the Greenwich Village bookshop door

By Alicia Dietrich

This previously unknown signature was identified as the English publisher Jonathan Cape by University of Texas at Austin English Professor Michael Winship.
This previously unknown signature was identified as the English publisher Jonathan Cape by University of Texas at Austin English Professor Michael Winship.

Yesterday, the Ransom Center launched the web exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925. The exhibition uses a door from a bookshop owned by Frank Shay in Greenwich Village in the early 1920s as an entryway into the lives, careers, and relationships of New York bohemians of that era. The door is signed on both sides by more than 240 artists, writers, publishers, and other notable 1920s Village habitués, and the web exhibition uses the signatures to reconstruct the intersecting communities that made Greenwich Village famous as an epicenter of Modernism.

Although about 190 of the signatures on the door have been identified, more than 50 signatures are still unknown, and visitors are encouraged to submit information about any signatures they might recognize.

Curator Molly Schwartzburg shares that she received the first confirmed identification yesterday with the launch of the website. The signature was identified as the English publisher Jonathan Cape by The University of Texas at Austin’s own Michael Winship, the Iris Howard Regents Professor of English Literature. Cape’s distinctive signature includes a slash at the end of his last name, which worked as a red herring on the minds of the project’s curators until Dr. Winship made his suggestion. The identification was confirmed swiftly with a trip to the stacks and reviewing an inscription by Cape in a book.

Six more submissions have come in since, most from New York City. Staff will be investigating these leads in the next week, and the web exhibition will be updated accordingly.

Curator Molly Schwartzburg confirmed the signature identification by comparing the signature to this inscription by Jonathan Cape inside the cover of Christopher Morley's copy of "After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie" by Jean Rhys.
Curator Molly Schwartzburg confirmed the signature identification by comparing the signature to this inscription by Jonathan Cape inside the cover of Christopher Morley's copy of "After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie" by Jean Rhys.

"The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925" web exhibition now live

By Alicia Dietrich

The Ransom Center has the web exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925. The exhibition uses a door from a book shop owned by Frank Shay in Greenwich Village in the early 1920s as an entryway into the lives, careers, and relationships of New York bohemians of that era. The door is signed on both sides by more than 240 artists, writers, publishers, and other notable 1920s Village habitués, and the web exhibition uses the signatures to reconstruct the intersecting communities that made Greenwich Village famous as an epicenter of Modernism.

Read an essay about the web exhibition that will appear in this Sunday’s print edition of The New York Times Book Review.

A gallery exhibition of the same name, which includes the actual door, opens Tuesday, September 6, at the Ransom Center.