Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Small Presses

The development of printing and computer technology – i.e., desk-top publishing (DTP) – has placed publishing within the technical and financial grasp of devotees. In the market, and in the perceptions of readers, SPs now seem more to resemble the earliest private presses than the amateur or fan-produced presses where the movement began.

A number of early private presses included fantasy among their publications, of which the most notable was the Kelmscott Press, produced by William Morris. Beautifully printed and illustrated, books from this press were intended to reissue and capture the magic of the medieval Romance, including most of Morris's own fantasies. Its first book was Morris's The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891), but it also reprinted many of Caxton's earliest books, such as The History of Reynard the Foxe (1481; 1892), as well as other translations like Sidonia the Sorceress (1849 UK; 1893) by William Meinhold (1797-1851), plus works by the poets Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Keats, Algernon Swinburne, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. During the 1920s and 1930s there were many UK private presses producing specialist literary material, some of which was fantasy or supernatural fiction – Algernon Blackwood, John Collier and T F Powys, in particular, had work from such presses, and John Gawsworth ran his own Twyn Barlwun Press – but the real history of the specialist fantasy SP was in the USA.

The early history of the SP was dominated by the devotees of the work of H P Lovecraft and his circle. Lovecraft was himself a very active member of the amateur press movement, and it was this same dedication to artistic rather than commercial values that saw the first real fantasy SP, Recluse Press, run by W Paul Cook (1880-1948). This began with a volume of poetry, A Man from Genoa (coll 1926 chap) by Frank Belknap Long, but Cook is now best remembered for his attempts to publish the first hardcover book by Lovecraft, The Shunned House (1928 chap). Cook's limited finances prevented him from completing the full binding of this book, and later bindings of Cook's original sheets have come from other publishers over the years.

Another pioneer of the SP was William Crawford (1911-1984) who, under the Fantasy Pubs imprint, produced Men of Avalon/The White Sybil (anth 1935 chap), two stories by David H Keller and Clark Ashton Smith, plus the sf volume Mars Mountain (coll 1935) by Eugene George Key (1907-1976), before establishing the Visionary Publishing Company to issue Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936).

After the death of Lovecraft several fans made attempts to bring aspects of his work into print, such as the Notes & Commonplace Book (1938 chap) from The Futile Press of Clyde F Beck (1912-1986), but the real achievement came from August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, who established Arkham House to publish the first genuine collection of Lovecraft's fiction, The Outsider and Others (coll 1939).

After WWII a number of SPs appeared. Though they concentrated mostly on rescuing classic sf from the pulp Magazines, several also published fantasy, most of it from Unknown or Weird Tales. Lloyd A Eshbach's Fantasy Press (founded 1947), for instance, published mostly sf, but also The Book of Ptath (1943 Unknown; 1947) by A E van Vogt and Darker Than You Think (1940 Unknown; 1949) by Jack Williamson. Prime Press, whose editor was Oswald Train (1915-1988) – who later established his own Oswald Train imprint in 1968 – published more fantasy and Supernatural Fiction including The Mislaid Charm (1941 Unknown; 1947 chap) by Alexander M Phillips (1907-1991), Without Sorcery (coll 1948) by Theodore Sturgeon, and three subsidized volumes by David H Keller: The Homunculus (1949), The Eternal Conflict (1949) and The Lady Decides (1950). Shasta: Publishers, run primarily by Melvin Korshak, is best-remembered for publishing The Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948) by E F Bleiler, but also published Slaves of Sleep (1939 Unknown; 1948) by L Ron Hubbard and Kinsmen of the Dragon (1951) by Stanley Mullen (1911-1973).

The most successful of the immediate post-WWII SPs was Gnome Press, run by David A Kyle (1919-2016) and Martin L Greenberg (1918-2013), which consciously attempted to be a mass-market trade publisher. Its very name suggests an element of fantasy, and it did publish a much higher quota of fantasy than its sf brethren. Books of note include The Porcelain Magician (coll 1948) by Frank Owen; The 31st of February (coll 1949) by Nelson S Bond, The Castle of Iron (1941 Unknown; 1950) by L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, Conan the Conqueror (1935-1936 WT as "The Hour of the Dragon"; 1950) by Robert E Howard, followed by several Howard collections, Typewriter in the Sky & Fear (coll 1951) by L Ron Hubbard, Shambleau and Others (coll 1953) by C L Moore and Two Sought Adventure (coll 1957) by Fritz Leiber.

With the rise of the paperback and the trade publishing of sf books, the postwar SPs faded away, Gnome Press being the last to go, in 1962. But during the 1960s fantasy SPs began to re-emerge. Donald M Grant (1927-1927-2009) had become an interesting though minor SP publisher with his Grandon: Publishers (founded 1949), some of whose titles were fantasy, including Dwellers in the Mirage (1932; 1950) by A Merritt and The Werewolf of Ponkert (coll 1958) by H Warner Munn. But in the 1960s, after a hiatus, he came into his own with Donald M. Grant, Publisher (founded 1962). After releasing the revised edition of A Golden Anniversary Bibliography of Edgar Rice Burroughs (1962; rev 1964) by Henry Hardy Heins (1923-2003), he concentrated on Robert E Howard, starting with A Gent from Bear Creek (1937 UK; 1965) and including a definitive series of Conan books. Grant also reprinted lesser known material from the pulp magazines, like The Temple of Ten (1921 Adventure; 1973) by H Bedford-Jones and W C Robertson, The Bowl of Baal (1916-1917 All Around; 1975) by Robert Ames Bennet (1870-1954) and The Three Paladins (1923 Adventure; 1977) by Harold Lamb. Beginning with The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982), Grant was also among the first to produce SP editions of the works of Stephen King.

Roy A Squires (1920-1988) and Clyde Beck teamed in the 1960s to produce a poetry volume by Clark Ashton Smith, The Hill of Dionysus (coll 1962 chap); thereafter Squires continued on his own as Roy A. Squires, producing a series of hand-sewn card-bound chapbooks of extremely high quality. These featured mostly poetry, primarily by Smith but also by Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber and Robert E Howard. At this same time Jack L Chalker was developing his Mirage Press. This focused initially on bibliographical works, including The New H.P. Lovecraft Bibliography (1961 chap) by Chalker and In Memoriam: Clark Ashton Smith (1963) ed Chalker, but also A Figment of a Dream (1962 chap) by David H Keller. Although nonfiction remained its core output, especially a series of studies and analyses of Conan and the first publication of A Guide to Middle-Earth (1971) by Robert Foster (1949-    ), Mirage did publish some less commercially oriented fiction, including Dragons and Nightmares (coll 1969) by Robert Bloch, Is The Devil a Gentleman? (coll 1970) by Seabury Quinn and the poetry volume Phantoms and Fancies (coll 1972) by L Sprague de Camp.

SP publishing entered a new dimension in the 1970s, with sounder financing and better production techniques. Karl Edward Wagner established Carcosa in 1973 to restore to print lost stories from the pulps, the same original mission of Arkham House. Wagner published only four books – Worse Things Waiting (coll 1973) by Manly Wade Wellman, Far Lands Other Days (coll 1975) by E Hoffmann Price, Murgunstrumm and Others (coll 1977) by Hugh B Cave and Lonely Vigils (coll 1981) by Wellman – but Carcosa won the 1976 World Fantasy Award, as did both the first Wellman and Cave books.

Since then the number of SPs has increased significantly, though most have been short-lived. There has also been a growth in specialist art books and the ever-continuing interest in the Lovecraftian/WT school, while other SPs concentrate on bibliographical and reference works, of which the two major operations have been Starmount House run by T E Dikty (1920-1991) and Borgo Press run by Robert Reginald (real name Michael Roy Burgess, 1948-2013). The following summarizes the primary SPs since 1973 which concentrated on fiction. All firms are US unless otherwise stated.

Ash-Tree Press (UK) Started by Christopher and Barbara Roden, who moved to Canada in 1996. Intended to rescue rare and forgotten Ghost Stories plus new material in the classic ghost-story tradition. Began with a small anthology, Lady Stanhope's Manuscript and Other Supernatural Tales (anth 1994 chap) ed Roden, and moved to reprints, concentrating on M R James and the James Gang.

Axolotl Press Run by John C Pelan. Concentrates on neatly produced chapbooks, like Night Moves (1986 chap) by Tim Powers, Paper Dragons (1986 chap) by James P Blaylock and Ascian in Rose (1987 chap) by Charles de Lint.

Cheap Street Run by Jan Landau and George O'Nale. Produces small but beautifully published card-bound chapbooks, some with limited slip-cased editions. Started with Ervool (1944 The Acolyte; 1980 chap) by Fritz Leiber. Others include The Story of Pepita and Corindo (1982 chap) and other Fairytales by Richard Cowper, The Girl who Heard Dragons (1986 chap) by Anne McCaffrey, Bibliomen: Twenty Characters Waiting for a Book (coll 1984 chap) by Gene Wolfe.

Dark Harvest Run by Paul Mikol. Presents mostly works of Supernatural Fiction and Horror, always with one eye toward the commercial market. Noted for its Anthologies, including the Night Visions series, it has also published titles like Songs the Dead Men Sing (coll 1983) by George R R Martin and Carrion Comfort (1989) by Dan Simmons.

Fedogan & Bremer Run by Philip J Rahman, this continues the Arkham House tradition, publishing works either by or inspired by the Lovecraft circle. Fantasy titles include Colossus (coll 1989) by Donald Wandrei, The Early Fears (coll 1994) by Robert Bloch and Time Burial (coll 1995) by Howard Wandrei.

Ghost Story Press (UK) Run by David and Kat Tibet with the editorial assistance of Richard Dalby; concentrates on reprinting rare Ghost Stories, particularly those by the James Gang, but has included some new material. Titles include Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye (coll 1919; exp 1993) by Arthur Gray (1852-1940), Flaxman Low, Psychic Detective (ot Ghosts coll 1899; new intro 1993) by E & H Heron and Master of Fallen Years (coll 1995), the complete supernatural stories of Vincent O'Sullivan ed Jessica Amanda Salmonson.

Kerosina (UK) Run by a conglomerate which included as primary motivators James Goddard, Les Escott and Mike and Debby Moir. Escott later split to run his own Morrigan imprint (q.v.). Kerosina published both sf and fantasy by UK writers, concentrating on the work of Keith Roberts, whose titles included Kaeti & Company (coll of linked stories 1986) with the chapbook Kaeti's Apocalypse (1986 chap), Grainne (1987) with the chapbook A Heron Caught in Weeds (coll 1987 chap) and the singleton The Natural History of the P.H. (1988 chap). Books by other authors included The Jaguar Hunter (coll 1988) by Lucius Shepard and The Days of March (1988) by John Brunner.

Land of Enchantment Run by Christopher Zavisa, originally launched to promote the work of Bernie Wrightson with the portfolio Dinosaurs (graph 1977) but which also produced Cycle of the Werewolf (1983) by Stephen King and Twilight Eyes (1985) by Dean R Koontz.

Mark V. Ziesing Imprint run by Mark Ziesing (1953-    ), who began by publishing avant garde material with his brother Michael (1946-    ) as Ziesing Brothers, including two books by Gene Wolfe, before establishing his own imprint. He has published The Book of the Dead (anth 1989) ed John Skipp (1957-    ) and Craig Spector (1958-    ) and some rather more traditional fantasy and Horror fiction, including Beastmarks (coll 1984) by A A Attanasio, The Silver Pillow (1987 chap) by Thomas M Disch, The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter (1988) by Lucius Shepard and The Last Coin (1988) by James P Blaylock.

Morrigan (UK) Run by Jim and Les Escott. Focuses on US authors of the Fantastic. Titles of interest include East of Laughter (1988) by R A Lafferty and The Digging Leviathan (1988), Homunculus (1988) and The Magic Spectacles (1991) by James P Blaylock.

Necronomicon Press Run primarily by Marc Michaud (1960-    ), assisted in its early days by S T Joshi. Inaugurated to reprint rare items of Lovecraftiana, moving on to Lovecraftian scholarship but, since the mid-1980s, also issuing horror and supernatural fiction by divers authors, though keeping its roots in the Weird Tales school. It also issues the magazines Lovecraft Studies, Studies in Weird Fiction, Crypt of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Codex and Necrofile: The Review of Horror Fiction.

NESFA Press US speciality imprint of the New England Science Fiction Association. Although originally organized (1968) to publish the annual Index to the Science Fiction Magazines by Anthony Lewis (1941-    ), it began to publish an annual author collection for Boskone, the regional New England sf convention. Titles include Unsilent Night (coll 1981) by Tanith Lee, Storyteller (coll 1992) by Jane Yolen, Everard's Ride (coll 1995) by Diana Wynne Jones, Ingathering: The Complete People Stories (coll 1995) by Zenna Henderson (1917-1983) and The Silence of the Langford (coll 1996) by David Langford.

Phantasia Started by Sid Altus and Alex Berman but run by Berman since 1984, publishing reprints, like Wall of Serpents (fixup 1960; 1978) by L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, and limited editions like The Magic Labyrinth (1980) by Philip José Farmer. The press has specialized in books by C J Cherryh, de Camp, Farmer and Alan Dean Foster.

Pulphouse Founded by Dean Wesley Smith (1950-    ). The ambitious production of sf, fantasy and horror in hardcover, chapbook and magazine formats finally overstretched financially; the firm closed in 1996. The most successful series was Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine (12 issues; Fall 1988-Spring 1991), a quarterly magazine/anthology which alternated between sf, Fantasy and Horror. At its peak in 1991-1992 this was a significant publishing concern, operating on a commercial basis and moving beyond the SP arena. It also published a magazine format Author's Choice Monthly starting with The Old Funny Stuff (coll 1989) by George Alec Effinger (1947-    ), and a chapbook Short Story Paperback/Short Story Hardbacks series starting with Loser's Night (1991 chap) by Poul Anderson.

Scream/Press Run by Jeff Conner, concentrating on Supernatural Fiction. Titles include: The Dark Country (coll 1982), Red Dreams (coll 1984) and The Blood Kiss (coll 1988) by Dennis Etchison; and Cold Print (coll 1985) and Scared Stiff (coll 1987) by Ramsey Campbell. S/P's short-lived fantasy imprint Dream/Press published Signs and Portents (coll 1984) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Collected Stories (coll 1989) by Richard Matheson, etc.

Silver Scarab Imprint of Harry O Morris (1949-    ), under which he published his magazine Nyctalops (19 issues May 1970-April 1991), dedicated to H P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Morris issued occasional books, including Songs of a Dead Dreamer (coll 1985) by Thomas Ligotti.

Steeldragon Irregular short-lived publisher, unique in that it focused solely on genuine fantasy. Books included To Reign in Hell (1984) by Steven Brust, The Time of the Warlock (1984) by Larry Niven and Merlin's Booke (coll of linked stories 1986) by Jane Yolen.

Underwood-Miller Run by Tim Underwood (1948-    ) and Chuck Miller (1952-    ), whose mainstay author was Jack Vance. U-M began with the first hardcover edition of The Dying Earth (1950; rep 1976), issuing in the end over 30 Vance titles. U-M also published Roger Zelazny, starting with The Bells of Shoredan (1966; 1979 chap) and including The Last Defender of Camelot (coll 1981). Other titles include Leeson Park and Belsize Quare: Poems 1970-1975 (coll 1983) by Peter Straub, Through the Ice (1989) and Balook (1991) by Piers Anthony, and Apocalypse (1989) by Nancy Springer. U-M produced author bibliographies of Vance, Philip K Dick (1928-1982), L Sprague de Camp and Zelazny. The team eventually split in 1993, but the two continue to produce books separately.

Weirdbook Press Begun in 1968 by W Paul Ganley (1934-    ) with his magazine Weirdbook, subsequently branching into books with Hollow Faces, Merciless Moons (coll 1977) by William Scott Home (1940-    ) and The Gothic Horror (coll 1978) by George T Wetzel (1921-1983). From 1985, as W. Paul Ganley: Publisher, he has published books including The House of Cthulhu and Other Tales of the Primal Land (coll 1984) by Brian Lumley and Tom O' Bedlam's Night Out and Other Strange Excursions (coll 1985) by Darrell Schweitzer.

Whispers. > Whispers. [MA]

further reading: The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History (1991) by Jack L Chalker and Mark Owings (1945-    ).

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.