In 1928, after studying with famed book and type designer Frederic W. Goudy,
printer William Edwin Rudge, and Melbert B. Cary, 22-year-old Peter Beilenson set
up a small press in the basement of his fathers home in Larchmont, New York,
and designed and printed about 200 copies of J. M. Synges With
The entire print run was purchased by a New York bookseller, and the volume was
lauded as one of the American Institute of Graphic Arts "50 Books of the
Year." This was the auspicious beginning of the Peter Pauper Press.
The next year, Edmund B. Thompson joined Beilenson as a partner in the Walpole
Printing Office, a limited-editions press named for 18th-century author and private
press owner Horace Walpole. Beilenson also began a third imprint for less respectable
offerings, entitled At the Sign of the Blue-Behinded Ape. After three
years, Thompson left the business, and Peters wife, Edna Beilenson, became
partner. In 1935, they moved Peter Pauper Press to Mount Vernon, New York, where
Peter printed special edition books for publishers such as Random House, New
Directions, and the Limited Editions Club.
Peters son, Nick, in a 1998 New York Times interview, remembered his
father as a very intense, quiet art designer. His more extroverted
mother enjoyed her involvement in the companys general operations and sales;
in 1968, she was named Whos Who of American Women Outstanding
Business Woman of the Year.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, Peter Pauper Press produced handsome,
finely bound letterpress volumes of prose and poetry, including works
by John Donne (which are thought to have sparked new interest in the
Jacobean poet), Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, and hundreds more.
The books were sold at prices
even a pauper could afford, according to Nick, though many included slipcovers,
handmade paper, one- or two-color printing, and illustrations, woodcuts, and
graphics by some of the 20th centurys most acclaimed artists, including
Valenti Angelo, Fritz Kredel, Lynd Ward, Fritz Eichenberg, Raymond Lufkin,
and Richard Floethe.
Edna Beilenson also started a cookbook series in the 1950s; she once said it covered
everything from abalone to zabaglione. She also initiated the use of
decorative bindings for smaller gift books. The couple published 10 to 12 new titles
each year until Peters death in 1962 at the age of 56.
Edna then took over the business, which thrived until the late 1970s. In
a magazine interview at that time, she said, My career at the Peter
Pauper Press has been a lifelong romance. In addition to her duties
at the press, she was also the first woman president of the American
Institute of Graphic Arts, among the first women elected to the Grolier
Club, a president and chairman of the Board of the Goudy Society, and
a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Today, the Beilensons fine press and gift book editions are sought-after
collectibles, and a number of rare book libraries have held exhibitions of their
work. Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder of the University of Exeter, in the
U.K., founding members of the Information Society Network, consider these titles
culturally notable artifacts" that served as "guidebooks to a mobile,
articulate, cultured life. According to Borgerson and Schroeder, These
little books made belles-lettres authors, exotic ingredients, and foreign figures
available to mainstream U.S. consumers. . . . Peter Pauper Presss attractive
books contributed small signals of success in the quest for adventurous dining,
broader horizons, and cultural capital.
Peter Paupers presses kept running until Ednas death in 1981; after
her passing, they almost stopped for good. But her son, Nick Beilenson, a lawyer,
and his wife, Evelyn Beilenson, an interior decorator, chose not to let that happen;
both changed careers and re-launched the business, moving it to White Plains,
Currently, Evelyn remains Publisher of Peter Pauper Press, Nick has retired,
and a third generation is very much involved. Nick and Evelyns son,
Laurence Beilenson, is now Chief Executive Officer, and his wife, Esther,
is Director of Special Sales. Another Beilenson son, John, is a free-lance
Peter Pauper author, as is daughter Suzanne.
Celebrating its 85th anniversary, Peter Pauper Press is prospering with a customer-pleasing line of children’s books, activity books, stationery, journals, holiday cards, engagement calendars, travel guides, gift books, and vibrant new and backlist bestsellers. Please visit the rest of our Web site and get acquainted with all our offerings!