Papers of Peter Owen Ltd

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains manuscripts, typescripts, author's corrected proofs and other publishing material relating to books published by Peter Owen Ltd. There is also correspondence between Peter Owen and various authors including Paul Bowles, Shusaku Endo, D.J. Enright, Ronald Hayman, Anais Nin, Kathleen Raine, Jeremy Sandford, Peter Vansittart and others.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter Owen was born in Germany in 1927 and grew up in Nuremberg where his parents owned a leather factory. When he was five he was sent back to England and went to school in North London. His first ambition was to be a journalist but a maternal uncle who managed Zwemmers bookshop in London influenced him in a different direction. Owen began his publishing career as a general dogsbody at The Bodley Head, followed by a brief period working for the celebrated German publishing house Ullstein Verlag.

By the time he was 21 Owen felt that he had learned enough about how a book is put together to embark on his first independent venture so he entered into a brief partnership, publishing under the name of Peter Newell. The enterprise began well but there were soon disagreements and Owen was bought out. The experience taught him not to rely on partners or backers in the future because, as he said, "If I'm going to lose money, I prefer to lose my own. Once you start losing their money they turn nasty".

Peter Owen Ltd was set up in 1951 with an initial investment of 800 pound and a bank overdraft guaranteed by Owen's mother. Owen's aim was to publish "only books of quality" which included first novels, established authors and translations. He had a good eye and as well as taking risks published several bestsellers and longsellers such as Hesse's Siddharta which gave his enterprise stability. His friendships with writers such as Peter and Jane Bowles have been fruitful both personally and for the business. Peter Owen Ltd has been careful not to overexpand and continues to publish and Peter Owen has not fully retired although nowadays his daughter Antonia has taken over much of the running of the company.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check www.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/using/sc-using.asp for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

Purchased at auction 1989

Other Finding Aids

A typed list of the material is available in the Reading Room

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Gil Skidmore