The collection contains author correspondence c. 1920-1960; book files (containing editorial, production and publicity material) c. 1960-1995; general files 1921-1987, including correspondence with foreign publishers and literary agents, and lists of manuscripts received and rejected; correspondence and publicity for the Jackdaws series of educational material; review cuttings 1972-1995; publicity files; rights correspondence and agreements 1914-1984; production files 1965-1991; production department correspondence files; Cape/Bodley Head joint production files from the 1970s and 1980s; managing director's files 1960s-1980s; ledgers 1920s-1980s. There is also some artwork created for Cape book jackets and for publicity material.
Archives of Jonathan Cape Ltd
- This material is held at
- ReferenceGB 6 RUL MS 2446
- Dates of Creation1914-1995
- Name of Creator
- Language of MaterialEnglish.
- Physical Descriptionc. 2000 boxes
- Direct Link
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Herbert Jonathan Cape (1879-1960) was the son of a builder who started as an apprentice in the bookselling trade. By 1919 he was in a position to start his own small publishing firm, Jonathan Page and Company (Page being his mother's maiden name). In 1920 he took on George Wren Howard as junior partner, and the firm of Jonathan Cape was launched in January 1921, with the publication of a new edition of Charles Montagu Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta, with an introduction by T.E. Lawrence. Edward Garnett was employed as chief literary adviser. In May 1921 Cape acquired the A.C. Fifield list, and added authors such as H.G. Wells, Laurence Houseman and Samuel Butler to his list, which already included an impressive array of American authors. As capital was badly needed during these early years, the firm was incorporated as Jonathan Cape Limited in 1924.
During the 1920s Cape had some notable successes, including work by H.E. Bates and Ernest Hemingway, T.E. Lawrence's Revolt in the Desert and Mary Webb's Precious Bane. The firm was also involved in the scandal surrounding Radclyffe Hall's lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. At the same time, Cape was involved in an independent American company, first set up in partnership with Harrison Smith in 1929 and later with Robert Ballou. However, the American venture was hit by the Depression and in 1932 Cape filed for bankruptcy.
The general recovery of the publishing industry in the early 1930s enabled the survival of the British firm, buoyed from 1935 by the posthumous success of Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Rupert Hart-Davis was taken on as a director in 1933, and appointed William Plomer as the replacement for Edward Garnett on the latter's death in 1937. During World War II Cape joined other publishers in trying to find ways of selling off its back-list stock before it was destroyed in bombing raids. Record sales were achieved in 1944 but at the expense of exhausting supplies of old stock.
After the war Cape took a while to share in the growth in the publishing industry, but in the early 1950s began to recover, with bestsellers such as Han Suyin's A Many-Splendoured Thing and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. In 1953 the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale was published, and by the time of Ian Fleming's death in 1964 Bond novels accounted for most of Cape's profit margin. The 1950s were also a time of change within the company. Michael Howard, the son of George Wren Howard, was appointed to the board in 1950 and began to press for a more aggressive marketing strategy and for the selection of more modern and innovative authors. In 1960, after the death of Jonathan Cape, Tom Maschler became senior editor, at the age of twenty-six. Maschler was responsible for the appointment as director in 1962 of Graham Carlton Greene, nephew of the novelist. Wren Howard retired, and handed the direction of the company to his son. During the 1960s and 1970s Cape had a string of successes, including Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Len Deighton thrillers, John Lennon's In His Own Write, Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape, John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.
In 1969 Jonathan Cape merged with Chatto & Windus, in an effort by both firms to protect themselves against takeover by a corporate conglomerate. The Bodley Head joined in 1973 and Virago Press in 1982. The four companies retained editorial control. Cape continued to publish both critical and financial successes, including work by Anita Brookner, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Salman Rushdie and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The group was purchased by Random House UK in May 1987.
Conditions Governing Access
Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Readers will also need the written consent of Random House. Check www.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/using/sc-using.asp for contact details and opening hours.
The original deposit was made by the company in October 1982. Material has been added at various times since.
Description prepared by Bridget Andrews with reference to British literary publishing houses 1881-1965, ed. Patricia J. Anderson and Jonathan Rose, (Dictionary of literary biography; v. 112) (Detroit & London; Gale Research, 1991).
Other Finding Aids
Records for around 280 book files 1961-1965 have been added to the Library's online catalogue, www.unicorn.reading.ac.uk. Various lists accompany the remaining sections of the collection.