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In the Galleries: An illustrated envelope from Frank Shay's Bookshop

By Kelsey McKinney

An envelope sent from the bookshop to Christopher Morley in 1921.
An envelope sent from the bookshop to Christopher Morley in 1921.

Frank Shay’s shop at 4 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village was a bookstore, a community gathering place, a circulating library, and a tiny publishing house all at once. Shay published a newspaper, a magazine, and more than a dozen books from the shop during his time there: small, handcrafted editions with a simple, charming aesthetic that may also reflect the tastes of Shay’s wife, the artist and designer Fern Forrester Shay. In 1924 Frank Shay sold the bookshop and moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he had already been spending summers with his traveling bookshop. The 4 Christopher Street location closed down just a year later. We know that the shop was being managed at the time by a woman named Juliette Koenig, but little further evidence of its final year is found in the Ransom Center’s collections.

Shown here is an envelope for a letter from Frank Shay to Christopher Morley, dated August 1, 1921. The designer of the shop’s stationery was the multitalented Hendrik Willem Van Loon, who won the first Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature for his illustrated Story of Mankind (1922). The envelope may or may not render the shop’s exterior accurately; without surviving photographs, we do not know.

This envelope can be seen in the exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925, on display through January 22. Van Loon’s cartoons of the shop and its customers have been rendered in various locations throughout the exhibition.

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