On Bookfinger, A Neglected 1970s Speciality Publisher
of Macabre & Supernatural Mysteries
with special references to Sax Rohmer, creator of Fu Manchu
by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Very little has been written about Bookfinger, a significant fantasy publisher active throughout the 1970s. The press existed specifically to make rare books available to fans of weird fiction. I have over the years watched for Bookfinger editions religiously, & was for some while under the mistaken impression that the press had been a library facsimile house with an inexplicable fondness for the macabre. I eventually found myself in correspondence with the retired publisher, Joseph G. Amadeo, who immediately disabused me of the idea that he serviced libraries. The books were advertised in detective & science fiction pulps & the main place to pick up copies in person was at Richard Whitter's F&SF Book Company in New York City. There was virtually no intentional design to reach general libraries.
Joseph was born in Brooklyn on September 15, 1925. He attended Grover Cleveland High School, Washington Irving Evening Highschool, & the Pace Institute of New York City. Drafted in November 1943, he was home from the Pacific in August 1946. Twenty years later, Bookfinger was born. The first book came out in 1967, The Sins of Séverac Bablon, inaugurating the Sax Rohmer Society, which issued a newsletter, The Rohmer Review, edited first by Dr. Douglas Rossman of Louisiana & continued under Dr. Robert E. Briney of Massachusetts. Though the Society was not directly part of Bookfinger, they worked virtually hand-in-hand as devotees of that author, & Society members provided Bookfinger with copies of certain rare books for reissue.
Over the next thirteen years, Joseph issued many of Rohmer's books in simple editions in black cloth with gold lettering, & no dustwrappers. "All of the credit belongs to Mr. Oliver Swan of Paul R. Reynolds Inc. for securing permissions. And the collectors who sent me copies of the titles I needed to continue. One by one the titles came into my possession." Several of the Rohmer titles, including the inaugural Séverac Bablon, had never been issued in the US, meaning some of the Bookfinger facsimiles are in fact American firsts. Others, such as the Sumuru series, had only appeared in the US in paperback, & the Bookfingers are American hardcover firsts. This renders them a bit more important than mere facsimiles.
For the rare Psychic Detective Gees series by Jack Mann (pseud of E. Charles Vivian), Mr. W. O. G. Lofts did the research. Lofts has been an imperfect critic & researcher over the years & conceivably led Joseph slightly astray on obtaining rights, though no one seems to remember exactly why things transpired as they did. I have been unable to puzzle together why events proceded in the following manner, but Joseph was definitely put in contact Susan Egerton-Jones of Tom Stacey Reprints to get permission to issue the Mann titles. Ms Egerton-Jones had previously tracked down an heir, Vivian's daughter, who reputedly claimed at that time to know nothing of her father's use of the name Jack Mann, hence starting the rumor that the author may have been some other family member whose work was at best revised by Vivian. There was nothing to such rumors & authorship is not disputable. Vivian's daughter was generally mistrustful & may merely have been evasive. She in particular mistrusted Mr Lofts who on a visit lectured her on her family history but would not listen to her corrections (or so she recalled that meeting). Some of the confusing rumors perpetuated about Mann/Vivian stem from flawed reportage in Armchair Detective. Vivian's daughter has since submitted to better interviews, & she certainly knew all about her father's writings. Peter Beresford Ellis has completed an as-yet unsold biography on E. Charles Vivian. When this becomes generally available, all the mysteries & rumors about Vivian will be swept away.
Though it was probably done in innocent miscommunication, the effect of the confusion was to deny Vivian's daughter reprint fees for her father's work. Tom Stacey Reprints was paid a nominal fee by Bookfinger to clear rights, though it is not likely Stacey ever held rights. The insertion of Lofts into the equation increases the puzzle, as I am not certain what percentage of information passed on to me from Joseph Amadeo was filtered to Joe through Lofts, or direct from Ms Egerton-Jones, who seems indeed to have been in contact with Vivian/Mann's daughter in a preliminary effort to obtain permission to reprint a "lost race" novel by Vivian. Tom Stacey went bankrupt before any agreements were reached, & the daughter was left feeling justified in her mistrusts. Yet on the premise that her father may not have been the author of the Mann books, Tom Stacey Books did not pass the minimal fees on to her.
All Bookfinger titles were issued in editions of 1000 & were printed in England, some by Redwood Burn Ltd, others by Trowbridge & Esher. "I was working in a New York City hospital, & I depended on the printers for everything. The books arrived in 11 pound packages to pass free through US Customs." In addition to numerous Rohmer titles, & seven of the eight Jack Mann novels about psychic detective Gees (only The Kleinert Case was excluded), Bookfinger issued other authors from time to time, including Sydney Horler's The Vampire (1935; 1974); Noah Brooks' Tales of the Maine Coast (1894; 1980) featuring a few excellent ghost stories in the mix; Leland Hall's Sinister House (1919; 1975); A. M. Burrage's classic Ghost Stories (1927; 1980); Duffield Osbourne's lost race classic The Secret of the Crater (1900; 1979); Harris Burland's Dacobra (1903; 1979), & the campily awful film-based Dr. Cyclops (1940; 1974) by the house name Will Garth, believed to have been written by Henry Kuttner or Manly Wade Wellman in an hour of need, though neither would confess to it.
Finding the books from which the UK printer created the facsimile editions was frequently an adventure. For Mann's Maker of Shadows, Joseph obtained two damaged copies & put the pages together to make a reprintable book. And, as Joseph told me, "I found a beat up copy of The Glass Too Many in Sam Weiser's Bookshop here in New York City. The pages had tobacco stains. I don't know how the printer managed."
In 1981, as the amount of work had grown burdensome for one man with limited room & resources, Bookfinger was terminated. Joseph's neighborhood had gone downhill, & he no longer felt safe toddling to & from the post office with packages, let alone sending & receiving packages by leaving them outside the premises for the postman or, rather, for neighborhood thieves. He had never much socialized in science fiction or mystery fandom or book circles, so his withdrawal from publishing left only an imperfect record of his important contribution. Overviews of mystery, horror, or fantasy specialty presses have reliably failed to cover Bookfinger. Even so, over the years Bookfinger titles have increased in value $25 to $35 each is common though still a great bargain compared to the increasingly rare original editions. Joseph replied, "The best gift anyone could give is to be told that the Bookfinger books have increased in value."
Joseph told me he was no longer able to fill in all specifics of his press. He ran Bookfinger out of his room in Brooklyn & like most small operations there was never a profit. He kept imperfect records of what was issued when. What is certain is that the dates of issue given on the facsimiles are sometimes wrong by a year or two, because of unexpected though inevitable delays. In an April correspondence from book collector & Rohmer authority, R. E. Briney, information was passed on to me (based on Dr. Briney's 1970s correspondence with Joseph as the books were being issued) as to the specific month & year of several (by no means all) of the Bookfingers, which information has been added to my Bookfinger bibliography.
I have heard tell of variant bindings other than black with gold lettering, but have never seen any; there would certainly be nothing unusual about the printer running off a few variant copies if cloth or ink ran short on a given day. The volumes of Rohmer & Mann are particularly fun because they form "matched sets." Joseph's one complaint was that he felt the cloth was too easily marred, & this is indeed why mint copies are not to be found. Joseph notes, "They need plastic covers to protect the black cloth which may acquire blemishes," so I have myself fitted plain mylar to my personal run of Bookfinger titles, & they're lovely.
See also The Bookfinger Bibliography
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