Saturday, November 26, 2011

Joseph A. Margolies

Joseph A. Margolies (b. Brest-Litovsk, Russia, 25 December 1889; d. West Hartford, Connecticut, 22 June 1982)

Joseph Aaron Margolies emigrated from Russia to the United States when he was twelve. In 1906 he became an office boy and assistant librarian at the Rand School of Social Science in New York.  In 1912 he began his career in bookselling at Brentano's.  He was a buyer for the New York store from 1923 to 1929, when he left Brentano's to become sales manager of the Covici-Friede publishing house.  After that publisher went under in 1938, Margolies returned to Brentano's, where, from 1944-47, he also served as director of the Council of Books in Wartime. In 1945-46 he additionally served as president of the American Booksellers Association. In 1951 Margolies left Brentano's to join the publisher Wilfred Funk Inc. as an executive vice-president. In 1955 he took over the management of the World Affairs Center Bookshop of the Foreign Policy Association and of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, retiring in 1960.  On June 30, 1914, he married Bertha Heft; they had two children, daughter Helen (Mrs. Leo Rifkin) and son Peter.  Though he resided in Manhattan, Margolies died in a Connecticut nursery home at the age of 92, survived by his second wife Hermine.

Margolies published only one book, the anthology Strange and Fantastic Stories: Fifty Tales of Terror, Horror and Fantasy (New York:  Whittlesey House, 1946).  The dust-wrapper blurb describes this volume as representing "the secret pasttime of a bookseller's lifetime. . . .  The fifty selections were chosen from over 500 outstanding stories over a period of many years." The selections are first-rate, and the anthology must have seemed at the time of publication to be a cornucopia---even though it was oddly arranged by having the stories presented alphabetically by author. Christopher Morley provided a typically breezy Introduction about how his friend of more than three decades, old Joe Margolies, had at last managed to get Morley to introduce his book, despite Morley being late in delivering promised manuscripts to several other publishers.  It is unfortunate that Margolies himself contributed nothing beyond the selection---no foreword, no notes, not even a discussion of his principles of selection.  One feels the absence, and despite the high quality of the selected stories we as readers would like to have had some peek behind the scenes about how Margolies went about his task of compilation.

In 1948 Margolies returned the favor to Morley by writing an Introduction to the first combined edition of Morley's two classics Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1948). (Despite the title, The Haunted Bookshop, originally published in 1919, is not a supernatural story---the proprietor/bookseller calls his shop haunted because the spirits of the great from literature live on there.) Margolies noted perceptively that "only his success as a writer of books kept Christopher Morley from becoming a great seller of books. In these books he shows a love and knowledge of the book business which only a few of us professionals possess."

In the mid-1950s, Margolies began a book on the history of the book business in America to cover the years from 1900 to 1950---a subject about which he was especially qualified to write.  Unfortunately the book was never completed. Of his own experiences from his many years as a bookseller, he left only an oral history interview, conducted in 1971 by Michael Kraus, as part of the Oral History project at Columbia University.