Written by: Patrick Olson
Primary Source: The Special Collections Provenance Project at MSU, January 22, 2016
We’ve probably all done this before. While out and about, perhaps while traveling or shopping, we lay a scrap of paper inside a book. Maybe it’s a receipt for the book’s purchase, or perhaps it’s a plane ticket. Whatever it is, we probably don’t give it much thought at the time. But decades later, or even centuries, those scraps of paper can prove more fascinating than the host book itself.
Not to discount Robert McAlmon’s first book, Explorations, but what we found laid inside our 1921 first edition was far more interesting: an early advertisement for Ulysses (as it happens, McAlmon edited Joyce’s Ulysses manuscript).
Early press for Ulysses more commonly manifests as a four-page prospectus that included a detachable order form. There were two versions of this that indicated Ulysses would be published in “Autumn of 1921”—just like our single-leaf advertisement (the book was finally published in 1922). One of these prospectuses bore the earlier address of Shakespeare & Co., 8 rue Dupuytren. The second of these prospectuses bore the new address, 12 rue de l’Odéon. Our advertisement here has the earlier address, though corrected by hand (someone please tell us if it’s Sylvia Beach’s hand!) to reflect the new rue de l’Odéon address. So with a bit of sleuthing and some help from The Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo, we can confidently suggest that this rare Ulysses ad was printed about the same time as the first prospectus.
As you might expect, printed ephemera aren’t known for their survival skills. WorldCat locates two other copies of this particular ad, one each at Yale and Cornell. Surely there are others out there, safely filed away in archival collections—or perhaps just languishing inside an old book, a forgotten memento of a visit to a Paris bookstore in 1921.