Gnome Press

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Gnome Press
first logo for Gnome Press designed by David A. Kyle
Status Defunct 1962
Founded 1948
Founder Martin Greenberg and David A. Kyle
Country of origin United States
Headquarters location New York City
Publication types Books
Fiction genres science fiction

Gnome Press was an American small-press publishing company primarily known for publishing many science fiction classics.[1]

The company was founded in 1948 by Martin Greenberg and David A. Kyle. Greenberg had prebviously been a partner of specialty press New Collectors Group - see The Black Wheel. Many of Gnome's titles were reprinted in England by Boardman Books. Martin Greenberg of Gnome Press was a New York science fiction fan and member of the Hydra Club, not to be confused with the later Martin H. Greenberg the SF anthologist. David A. Kyle was another New York based science fiction fan, a Futurian as well as a member of the Hydra Club. The address was Gnome Press, Inc., 80 E. 11th St. New York 3, N.Y.[2] Kyle contributed less and less to the press as other business interests took up more of his time.

Gnome Press's first book was The Carnelian Cube by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, an original novel originally contracted by the New Collectors Group. More early books followed, well-printed and featuring excellent jacket work by Edd Cartier. Gnome Press concentrated on authors who were at the height of their popularity writing for Astounding Science Fiction, the leading magazine of the time.

Gnome Press was the first to publish Isaac Asimov's I, Robot and Foundation Trilogy, brought Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories back from pulp obscurity, first published Arthur C Clarke, and introduced science fictions first themed anthology Men Against the Stars.[3]' Men Against the Stars was followed by such other theme anthologies as Journey to Infinity, The Robot and the Man, Travellers of Space, All About the Future, and a book of articles about the future as seen from a science fictional point of view, Coming Attractions.

Controversy surrounds the Gnome Press editions of Robert E. Howard's "Conan" stories. The Gnome Press editions placed the material in print for the first time since its original appearance in Weird Tales, but the seven volumes they published also included one volume not written by Howard (The Return of Conan) and one volume of non-Conan Howard stories extensively rewritten as Conan by SF writer L. Sprague de Camp (Tales of Conan). The works they published in the Conan series are Conan the Conqueror” (1950), “The Sword of Conan” (1952), “The Coming of Conan” (1953), “King Conan” (1953), “Conan the Barbarian” (1954), “Tales of Conan” (1955), and “The Return of Conan” (1957).

The press also published many of Robert A. Heinlein's classics, and Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras. Andre Norton worked as a reader for Gnome Press in the 1950s, and also had two of her novels published by the company under the pseudonym "Andrew North" (Plague Ship and Sargasso of Space).[4]

Gnome featured the work of many noted science fiction artists as well as authors. Those who contributed illustrative material for Gnome editions, including cover art, illustrations, maps and designs, included Ric Binkley, Hannes Bok, Chesley Bonestell, Edd Cartier, Lionel Dillon, Frances E. Dunn, Ed Emshwiller, Frank Kelly Freas, James Gibson, Harry Harrison, Mel Hunter, David Kyle, Stan Mack, Murray Tinkelman, L. Robert Tschirky, Walter I. Van der Poel, Jr., and Wallace Wood.

Gnome Press did not have much capital or access to distribution facilities. The company was notorious for not paying their writers royalties due, which is ultimately what led to its failure. Asimov claimed he was never paid for the publication of the Foundation books, and called Greenberg "an outright crook".[5] Asimov and other authors were able eventually to repossess the rights to their publications, and the company failed during 1962. Martin Greenberg was forced to close due to financial troubles. According to Filmfax, Greenberg couldn't keep top science fiction and fantasy writers, who wanted more money and went over to bigger publishers like Doubleday.

Despite these problems, Gnome was one of the most eminent of the fan publishers of sf, producing 86 titles in its lifespan - many considered classic works of SF and Fantasy today. Gnome published many of the major sf authors, and in some cases, as with Robert E Howard's Conan series (published in 6 books 1950-1955) and Isaac Asimov's Foundation series (published in 3 books 1951-1953), was responsible for the manner in which their stories were collected into book form. Other notable authors included Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Clifford D. Simak, L. Sprague deCamp, A. E. Van Vogt, and C L Moore. Despite a common assumption among some fans, there was no association with the imprint Greenberg: Publisher, a separate company established in 1924 and producing some science fiction between 1950 and 1958. [6]

The worst selling book in Gnome Press history was 1955's new novel Reprieve from Paradise by H. Chandler Elliott. In the waning years of the company (1955-1961), Gnome Press bought small quantities of unbound signatures from the defunct specialty publisher Fantasy Press and had them cheaply bound to be sold through Gnome's Pick-A-Book operation (a revised, later incarnation of their Fantasy Book Club), an early form of direct-mail sales that formed the basic idea for Doubleday's more successful Science Fiction Book Club. Most of the Gnome Press books were hardcover, but some few titles saw later paperback editions as Greenberg experimented, using his remaining stock of unbound sheets, with several titles bound in inexpensive paper covers as a test to see if such an effort could help to keep the company afloat. But with his Pick-A-Book hardcover titles already going for as little as $1.00 per book, the experiment did not save enough money to be profitable and was dropped (and these few paperbound titles are among the scarcest of Gnome Press collectibles today). Gnome Press was important in the transitional period between Genre SF as a magazine phenomenon and its arrival in mass-market book Publishing, but proved too underfunded to make the leap from fan-based publishing to the professional level.

Gnome Press publications are collected, and many of the books in well used condition can be inexpensively obtained (as of 2015 was offering several in the $10–$20 range). Other items are expensive. The calendars are particularly scarce. Among the books I, Robot, either in hardcover form or the Armed Forces paperback edition set from its plates, is in particular demand.[7]

As Gnome Press started to publish new books, Greenberg and Kyle set up the Fantasy Book Club, a subscription service designed to sell Gnome publications and books from other publishers at a discount. They also produced calendars featuring the black and white fantasy art of Hannes Bok & Edd Cartier. Gnome Press existed for just over a decade until they ultimately failed because of their inability to compete with major publishers who also started to publish science fiction. The larger publishers had more money, marketing and distribution outlets (the ability to sell wholesale to bookstores) while Gnome press relied on selling their books directly to fans by mail.

“But if you look at one of Gnome Press’s old catalogs, you find you are staring at a million dollars. The authors they had! Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein. Arthur C. Clarke. They had them all. They had the rights to books that have collectively sold tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of copies since, and they had acquired them at prices that would make a cat weep.” – Frederik Pohl

Financial mismanagement also cut into their ability to keep authors who jumped ship to the larger publishers. Author Isaac Asimov reported Gnome Press never paid him for his “Foundation” novels, but Asimov and other authors managed to get back the rights to their books to they could go to other more lucrative deals. In his biography, “I, Asimov: A Memoir,” by Isaac Asimov, the author provides a short chapter on his own frustrating interactions with Gnome Press, as well as some good detail on its publisher, Martin Greenberg. Greenberg continued to cut costs at Gnome Press, through smaller editions, cheaper paper, and various promotions to sell back inventory. Gnome folded in the early 1960s due to a long drawn-out lawsuit, leaving Arkham House the only viable small press in the SF-Fantasy field.

Had Gnome Press succeeded as a publisher and kept their stable of authors they would have been a powerhouse in the science fiction genre. When Gnome Press went out of business, it was $100,000 in debt. Martin Greenberg died in the fall of 2013. David Kyle is still alive, and still an ardent SF fan.

Works published by Gnome Press[edit]





  1. ^ Company description
  2. ^ Gnome Press Newsletter Image Accessed 2011-12-30
  3. ^ Charlie Jane Anders (2014-03-27). "The Failed Publisher That Gave Us I, Robot And Arthur C. Clarke". 
  4. ^ A conversation with Andre Norton
  5. ^ Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, Maryland and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. pp. 294–311. 
  6. ^ see archives on Greenberg: Publisher at the Columbia University Libraries Archival Collections for correspondence between publisher and authors Theodore Sturgeon and A.E. Van Vogt on their novels, as well as a history of the company
  7. ^ [1]