Gnome Press was a small publishing firm located at 80 E. 11th Street in New York City, New York. They produced more than 50 books until they closed their doors in 1962.
Founded in 1948 by Martin Greenberg and David A. Kyle, the company specialized in science fiction, representing such classic sci-fi and fantasy writers as Isaac Asimov (“I, Robot”); Robert Heinlein (“Foundation Trilogy”); Robert E. Howard (“Conan the Barbarian” – which first appeared in Weird Tales); Wilmar Shiras (“Children of the Atom”); L. Spraque De Camp and Fletcher Pratt (“The Castle of Iron”); L. Ron Hubbard (“Typewriter in the Sky & Fear”); Arthur C. Clarke (“Against the Fall of Night”); Robert Silverberg (“Starman’s Quest”), as well as works by Jack Williamson, Clifford M. Simak, C. L. Moore, A. E. van Vogt, Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, Hal Clement and half a dozen others.
Initially, David Kyle handled Gnome’s production and artwork, while Greenberg was in charge of the business and editorial ends of the company.
The company logo of a gnome reading a book under a toadstool was draw by Kyle. Most of Gnome Press’s books were hardcover, but some saw simultaneous softcover editions.
The first book published by Gnome Press was “The Carnelian Cube: A Humorous Fantasy” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. With a print run of 2000 books, the story followed an archaeologist who finds a stone which transports him to parallel worlds.
Their next book was a fantasy titled “The Porcelain Magician: A Collection of Oriental Fantasies” by Frank Owen, stories which previously appeared in the pulp magazine “Weird Tales” between 1923 and 1930.
In 1949, Gnome Press released “Pattern for Conquest: An Interplanetary Adventure” by George O. Smith.
The first Robert E. Howard novel, “Conan the Conqueror” appeared in 1950 and was followed by several others, including “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).
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. Below are examples of Edd Cartier’s art featuring gnomes and other fantasy characters.
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 there 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.
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.
More information about Gnome Press can be found in the books:
- “The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History,” by Jack L. Chalker and Mark Owings. This contains a list of all the books published by Gnome Press between 1948 and 1962.
- “Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard, The Creator of Conan” by L. Sprauge de Camp, Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin.
- “Over My Shoulder: Reflections on a Science Fiction Era,” by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. There is a chapter on Gnome Press.
- “A Pictorial History of Science Fiction,” by David Kyle. (Brief discussion of Gnome Press.
- “Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, by Neil McAleer.” (Brief discussion of Gnome Press).
- “The Way the Future Was: A Memoir”, by Frederik Pohl. (Brief discussion of Gnome Press).
Gnome Press (Defunct)
80 E. 11th Street
New York City, NY