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Peter Owen publishing records

Identifier: MSS 0571

Scope and Content Note

Peter Owen publishing records is the publisher’s archive (1950s-1995) of an independent British firm renowned for its international list of major authors and avant garde works. The bulk of the collection consists of the production files of selected works, primarily from the 1980s and 1990s, including edited typescripts, proofs, and other materials documenting the process of turning an author’s manuscript into a finished book.

The collection also contains correspondence between Peter Owen, his editors, authors, and related businesses and individuals. Many of the correspondence files contain both original letters from authors and others as well as carbon copies of Peter Owen’s outgoing letters. Overall, the collection documents the editorial process undergone by the works published by Peter Owen, the authors’ thoughts regarding their works, the editorial decisions made by Peter Owen and his editors, the financial and legal considerations involved in running a press, and the role Peter Owen played in the post-war European artistic and intellectual scene.

Many of the notable authors published by Peter Owen are represented in this collection with correspondence related to the editing of their works as well as records of the changes made to works between manuscript and final printed book. In addition, because Peter Owen Ltd. is a small, independent, firm, some of the correspondence with authors is of a fairly personal nature.

The collection is arranged in five series: I. Production files; II. Incomplete projects; III. Peter Owen’s projects; IV. Business correspondence; and V. Additional correspondence and agreements.

Series I. Production files, contains edited typescripts and several stages of proofs for works of fiction and non-fiction published by Peter Owen from 1956 to 1994. These materials document the editorial stages involved in the publication of a book as well as the changes in printing and typesetting technology over these decades. The series also contains correspondence and other editorial materials related to the authors represented.

Series I. contains full versions of works in various editorial stages by 56 authors writing in English and 35 international authors in translation. Of the authors writing in English, those represented by multiple works are Paul Bowles (who also served as a translator for Rodrigo Rey Rosa and was the subject of an anthology compiled by Peter Owen editor Gary Pulsifer), Evelyn Farr, H.B. Gibson, Gloria Hargreaves, John Haylock, David Herbert, Fiona Pitt-Kethley, Jeremy Reed, Elisabeth Russell Taylor, Anne Valery, Peter Vansittart, and Noel Virtue. Of the translated authors, those represented by multiple works are Shusaku Endo, Knut Faldbakken, Wolfgang Georog Fischer, Yasushi Inoue, Christer Kilman, Dacia Maraini, Marga Minco, Oscar Parland, Joseph Roth, Marquis de Sade, and Vesaas Tarjei. The series also contains anthologies compiled by seven editors and smaller editorial and/or correspondence files for the works of fifteen additional authors. Of the nearly fifty translators represented in this series, some such as Joan Tate, Margaret Crosland, David Le Vay, Nina Rootes, and Norman Glass have translated the works of multiple authors for the firm.

One concentration of this publishing firm is biography. Some notable autobiographies and memoirs in this archival collection were written by Oliver Bernard, Moura Lympany, Edith Piaf, and Mary Robinson. In addition, authors and artists such as Jean Cocteau, Anne Cumming, Stewart Home, and Jeremy Reed represent the firm’s concentration in avant garde, erotic, and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) works.

Series II. Incomplete projects, contains materials related to works that were not ultimately published by Peter Owen. This series contains manuscripts and sample chapters of some works Peter Owen chose not to publish as well as correspondence files documenting legal and/or copyright issues that prevented publication of other works.

Series III. Peter Owen’s projects, contains materials related to projects Peter Owen was involved in more directly as writer or editor. These projects range from anthologies edited by Owen to short pieces written by Owen for publication in periodicals. This series also contains correspondence related to Peter Owen’s thirtieth and fortieth anniversary celebrations.

Series IV. Business correspondence, contains Peter Owen’s files of correspondence with presses, literary agents, and other businesses. This series documents the legal, copyright, and other issues involved in running an independent press. There is a particularly substantial quantity of correspondence with Howard Moorpark, Peter Owen’s literary agent.

Series V. Additional correspondence and agreements, contains all correspondence and other small items not related to any of the previous series. The individuals represented are authors, translators, literary agents, friends, and other people somehow related to Peter Owen. There is a particularly substantial amount of correspondence from Charles Gustav Bode, Margaret Crosland, Lillian Halegua, David Le Vay, A. E. Murch, Stanley J. Rubinstein, and Lady Vyvyan. This final series demonstrates the breadth of Peter Owen’s involvement in literary and artistic circles.

The material in this collection was acquired by the University of Delaware Special Collections in a series of accessions in the 1990s. Earlier accessions of Peter Owen’s files are included in the Paul Bowles collection and other Peter Owen records are at the University of Texas at Austin.


  • Creation: 1951-1995


Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English.

Restrictions on Access

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce isrequired from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

British publisher Peter Owen was born in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1927, to a Jewish father and an English mother. He went to England in 1933 in order to live with his grandparents and was soon joined by his parents as Hitler came to power. In England, his father ran the Vision Press, which is now defunct. Owen served in the Royal Air Force for six months.

After an apprenticehip at the Bodley Head press and additional experience with small publishers, Peter Owen established his own small press in 1951 at the age of twenty-four. He worked out of his home and his first editor was Muriel Spark. The first major book published by Peter Owen was an English translation of Herman Hesse’s novel Siddhartha (1954), which began his firm's tradition of publishing important international authors in translation. Since then, Owen’s independent press has published seven Nobel Prize winners as well as numerous notable authors, including Paul Bowles, Ezra Pound, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau, Rabindranath Tagore, and Peter Vansittart. Peter Owen Ltd. (later named Peter Owen Publishers) specializes in translations of international literature, biographies, and avant garde works, particularly works by gay writers.

Peter Owen also personally compiled an anthology commemorating his fortieth anniversary, The Peter Owen anthology : forty years of independent publishing, and edited several other works about the publishing industry, including Publishing now and Publishing, the future. He celebrated his eightieth birthday in 2007 and his press, which has remained independent since its inception, continues to publish.

"Peter Owen Publishers." (accessed May 8, 2008).“‘She Sat Eating Caviar and Didn't Offer Me Any’,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 25, 2007. (accessed May 8, 2008).Additional information derived from the collection.


29 linear foot (29 boxes)

12 oversize galley proof

5 oversize box

1 microcassette


Peter Owen publishing records is the publisher’s archive (1950s-1995) of an independent British firm renowned for its international list of major authors and avant garde works. The bulk of the collection consists of the production files of selected works, primarily from the 1980s and 1990s, including edited typescripts, proofs, and other materials documenting the process of turning an author’s manuscript into a finished book.


Purchases, 1991-1995.

Gifts, 2010 and 2015.

Related Materials in Other Repositories

Peter Owen Ltd. collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

Related Materials in This Repository

MSS 0164, Paul Bowles collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware.

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-29: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. Box 30: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (17 inches)
  3. Boxes 31-33: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (18 inches)
  4. Box 34: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (24 inches)
  5. Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize galleys
  6. Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS Audio cassettes


Processed by and encoded Kate Hand, February-May 2008. Updated by Maureen Cech, September 2015.

Finding aid for Peter Owen publishing records
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2008 May 15
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA