The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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John Wurtele Lovell, 1852-1932

Nationality: Canadian
Date of Birth: 1852
Place of Birth: Montreal
Date of Death: 1932
Place of Death:


John W. Lovell was the son of one of Canada's best known printer/publishers. By the age of twenty-one he was in charge of one of his father's branches in the USA.


In 1876, Lovell left his father's firm, took American citizenship, and founded his own company, Lovell, Adams and Co. His first partner was G. Mercer Adam, and the second, Francis L. Wesson; the company's name was briefly changed to Lovell, Adam, Wesson, and Co. but this partnership was dissolved in 1877.

As John Lovell and Co., he pirated the works of others, including Charles Knight's Popular History of England, and the works of Dickens, Thackeray, etc. Not all his titles were pirated. When he paid royalties, he issued those titles as 'Authorized Editions.' He earned the nickname, 'Book-a-Day Lovell'.

He issued several series, including Lovell's Editions of the Poets and his most successful, started in 1882, Good Literature for the Masses. He also published the magazine Tid-Bits.

He distributed books from New York and had branches in Boston, Chicago, London. The last was managed by Wolcott Balestir, who was as crooked as Lovell. By pirating, Lovell actually introduced many British authors to American readers in cheap editions.

Claiming to be a democratic reformer, producing high quality literature in cheap editions for the common man, he began publishing Lovell's Political and Scientific Series. These influenced the growth of the American Labor Movement. Lovell was also a promoter of Women's Suffrage rights and to promote this cause he established a subsidiary to publish books on women's issues.

It was in 1890 that he became interested in the publication of Whistler's The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, which was published in London by William Heinemann.

Lovell planned a single conglomerate, the United States Book Co., which was incorporated in 1890. He bought the plates for the cheap reprint rights of works from many companies including J. B. Lippincott. He then issued these books in a number of series. Several subsidiary companies of the United States Book Co. were established. However, his attempt to control the cheap book market failed.

Lovell's continual pirating and unscrupulous attempts to corner the market earned him the reputation as 'The Most Hated Man in Publishing.' In 1891, the new International Copyright laws limited his ability to pirate books. Wall Street investors ousted Lovell, replaced him with John M. Forbes and renamed the company the American Publishers Corporation. It ceased to operate in 1904.

Lovell planned new schemes, and acquired Godey's Lady's Book, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to corner the magazine market; it failed when Scribner's and Century refused to sell to him at any price.

Bibliography: (accessed 2003.09).