The Bobbs-Merrill Journey: From Oz to Americas Kitchensby Scott Laming
Indianapolis is rarely associated with the publishing industry but this Midwestern city gave us Bobbs-Merrill – a pioneering firm that published numerous books of importance. There was time when a Bobbs-Merrill book could be found in the vast majority of American homes.
It all began when Samuel Merrill purchased an Indianapolis bookstore and then decided to begin publishing books in 1850. Samuel died in 1855 and his son Samuel Merrill Jr. took over. He guided the company through the Civil War, and a series of name changes reflecting various business partners, including Merrill, Meigs, and Company and Bowen-Merrill Company. Finally, in 1903, the company settled on the name Bobbs-Merrill in honor of the company’s long-serving director William Conrad Bobbs.
The turn of the century marked Bobbs-Merrill’s transformation from small press to publishing powerhouse. This rapid growth came with the printing of several works by fantasy writer L. Frank Baum whose 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and its many sequels, became ingrained in American culture. In addition to early Baum works, Bobbs-Merrill published James Whitcomb Riley, Ayn Rand, Richard Halliburton, and the 1929 Pulitzer-winning novel Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin.
Another reason for Bobbs-Merrill’s significant legacy is the famous 1908 Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus court case which centered on the book The Castaway by Hallie Erminin Rives. Bobbs-Merrill was the publisher and printed the instruction “The price of this book at retail is $1 net. No dealer is licensed to sell it at a lower price, and a sale at a lower price will be treated as an infringement of the copyright.” However, Macy’s, who purchased large quantities at wholesale, tried sell the book at 89 cents. Bobbs-Merrill claimed an infringement of its rights but the court declared that the publisher had the right to multiply and sell the book but could not limit its resale. Macy’s victory established what is now known as the “first-sale doctrine” – a key aspect of modern American retailing.
And yet, Bobbs-Merrill is rarely remembered today for L Frank Baum or even the court case, its greatest success came in 1931 when the publisher took a chance on a lowly housewife named Irma S. Rombauer who had just self published a cookbook called Joy of Cooking. This classic – found in countless American kitchens - has sold more than 18 million copies. In 1959, Bobbs-Merrill was bought by another firm who was in turn swallowed up by Macmillan in 1985.
Books by Bobbs-Merrill
The Day of Souls
by Charles Tenney Jackson
An Old Sweetheart of Mine
by James Whitcomb Riley
The Big Con
by David W. Maurer
When a Man Marries
by Mary R. Rinehart
by Ayn Rand
The Apple of Discord
by Earle Ashley Walcott
While the Heart Beats Young
by James Whitcomb Riley
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
by Washington Irving
The Filigree Ball
by Anna Katherine Green
by David Graham Phillips
The Purchase Price or The Cause of Compromise
by Emerson Houghuthor
by Charles Raymond Macauley
Life in Sing Sing
by Number 1500
The Scarlet Empire
by David MacLean Parryor
Laughter in the Dark
by Vladimir Nabokov
by Frederic S. Isham
The Royal Road to Romance
by Richard Halliburton
Scarlet Sister Mary
by Julia Peterkin
Each Dawn I Die
by Jerome Odlum
by Harrison Fisher
Other L. Frank Baum Books
Most Expensive Bobbs-Merrill Sold on AbeBooks
1. The New Wizard of Oz by L.Frank Baum - $880
Published in 1903, this copy was a second state of the second edition of the original 'Wonderful Wizard of Oz'. The book uses the same printing plates of the first true edition published by Geo M Hill but with a different title page plate.
2. Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron - $600
First edition published in 1951, includes inscription from Styron.
3. The New Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum - $550
1903 edition contains light green cloth with color paste on front boards.
4. James Madison in Six Volumes by Irving Brant - $360
Published from 1941-1961, this is a six-volume biography of the fourth president of the United States.
5. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving - $357
First edition from 1906, this copy was in fine condition and remained in the original publisher’s box. Illustrated by Arthur I. Keller.