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Banned Books Week and the 30th Anniversary of the Freedom to Read Vintage Sleaze

The book above was confiscated by the State of New York and the publisher was convicted of obscenity.  Specifically, violating a portion of the New York Penal Law as follows: by hiring others to prepare obscene books, publishing obscene books, and possessing obscene books with intent to sell them."  The person charged was sentenced to three years imprisonment and a fine of $12,000.

Particulars of the case are summarized below by Benjamin Glassman


"On December 29, 1959, police officers confiscated a number of books, alleged to be obscene, from a bookstore at 254 West 42nd Street, New York, known as Publishers' Outlet. Those books were all identified and were later admitted in evidence. On January 12, 1960, police officers, armed with a search warrant, raided a basement in premises 37 West 20th Street, New York, and confiscated a number of books, alleged to be obscene, which books were identified and later admitted in evidence. According to the testimony of one Norman Levenberg, who had a printing shop at 37 West 20th Street, those books were the property of the defendant. He testified that he printed those books at the request of the defendant; that the defendant instructed him to deliver some of those books to Publishers' Outlet, some to another store designated by the defendant, and the balance stored in room 908 of the said building. He testified further that the defendant gave him each month the money to cover the rental of that room; that in November, 1959, defendant told him that room 908 was under police surveillance and instructed him to move the books from that room, and that he thereupon made an arrangement with the superintendent of 37 West 20th Street for permission to use the basement for the storage of those books. He stated further that he removed the books from room 908 to the basement, where they were found and seized by the police. According to Levenberg, he paid about $600 to the superintendent for the use of that basement and that the defendant gave him about $200 of that amount."
 
"On February 10, 1960, the police also confiscated three books, alleged to be obscene, from the Main Stem Book Store, at 1607 Broadway, New York. It is charged that the defendant owned or had control of both the Publishers' Outlet and the Main Stem Book Store."

I own this book.  It is literally, and truly, far less explicit than one of today's romance novels.  I don't believe it even has ONE of the famous "seven words" we find offensive.   

Several years later, the Supreme Court of the United States (no less) Upheld the conviction.  Affirmed.  Two judges dissented, but to no avail.  


So technically, and I guess legally, this book is still obscene, still banned and for all I know if I put it for sale on eBay or something, I could be arrested.  The most obscene thing about it is the cover, I guess.  The fellow who published it was a creep, a criminal and a sleaze by my definition.  But I also feel that about a good number of the books I see propped up for sale in the bookstore near me.  To each his own.  Let freedom ring.  That is the point. 

Typically during "Banned Books Week" the same examples of literature are trotted out, and as a degree-holding librarian I support each and every activity surrounding Banned Books Week and The Freedom To Read organization of the American Library Association.  

All I am saying is that you guys may have missed a few...and the list is longer than most think.  No matter how bad, freedom to read means freedom to read.  This book, which was probably printed in an edition of 1000 or so, would never have reached a library, but someone bought this one and it ended up years later in my collection. 

Does this book have merit?  Yes, but that doesn't matter.  Even if it has, or HAD no merit...freedom to read means freedom to read. 

I have been collecting and investigating numerous examples of books which have been, well... Suppressed?  Confiscated?  Banned?  All which originated within a small circle of writers, publishers and artists who were active in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s.  They are scarce today, largely because the people responsible for them were arrested and subject to censorship.  

The book, when completed, will be titled Times Square Smut.  When completed, this blog will say so.

Queen Bee by Justin Kent (pseudonym)  "Rainbow Publishing Co. Brooklyn N.Y." Cover illustration by Eugene Bilbrew (uncredited)  176 pages   Collection Jim Linderman 

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