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Behind Dover Publications’ eclectic 10,000-title catalog lies a remarkable story of 20th century innovation

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Karin Falcone Krieger is a freelance writer, poet, teacher, and advocate in Oyster Bay, New York. She has recently written for Able Newsand LIT PUB. Since 1990, she has edited the pop-up zine ARTichoke. She holds an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, and a BA in Social Sciences from SUNY Stony Brook. After 20 years of teaching freshman composition as an adjunct instructor at area colleges, she is on a self-imposed and self-funded sabbatical.

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While my proximity to the Dover Bookstore may have given me unique access to its huge and varied catalog, the publisher is well-loved by people of wide-ranging interests for its affordability, accessibility, and design. Started by Heyward and Blanche Cirker in their apartment in post-war Queens, Dover Publications produced 10,000 book titles over the course of 80 years. They built a profitable company through a number of unique and innovative publishing practices, most notably filling their catalog with republished versions of books that had fallen out of copyright.

Josh MacPhee, a Brooklyn designer and archivist, likes the striking graphic design of early Dover covers, but also the philosophy he sees behind the books themselves: the “nearly unique belief that bedrock math, science, logic, anthropology, and history texts should not only be available to a broad, general audience, but that if made affordable, this audience would buy them.” Dover, he argues, “is arguably as political a publishing project as the most anarchist of anarchist book outfits.”1

For his part, Hayward Cirker told Time Magazine in 1978: “I’m no Renaissance man…. I’m just curious, is all.” Whether he was a publishing anarchist, Renaissance man, or “just curious,” Cirker was also a businessman. For sixty years, Dover Publications succeeded with a unique business model and a founder who was willing to defend that model against changes to copyright law that he believed threatened to undermine it.2

Read entire article at Contingent Magazine

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