The story of America’s most outrageous and salacious paperback publisher.
Erotic fiction found itself liberated by a series of obscenity trials in the 1960s, which slowly chipped away at the restrictions around the written word, with the high profile trials of serious literature – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Last Exit to Brooklyn – paving the way for less literary works. By the mid-1970s, even the British courts were forced to concede that there was little hope of ever getting a conviction against the written word (though the Manchester police would continue to raid Savoy Books for decades to come, and there have been infrequent attempts to set new legal precedents for what can and cannot be written). In the Sixties, the line between serious literature and porn was blurred by Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press, which published both side by side in the Travellers Companion series – so named because, although published in Paris, the books were in English and aimed squarely at tourists and other international travellers from countries where books like Henry Miller’s novels or The Naked Lunch were still outlawed.
Where Olympia led, others followed. The Liverpool Library Press, launched in 1967, was notable for following the Olympia style of plain, dark green covers, though it did allow for illustrations to be included in the form of line drawings that might often appear to be fairly innocent at first glance. The company was set up by an unidentified American with deep pockets and a taste for the more outré aspects of sexuality, and despite the name – possibly inspired by the popularity of the city thanks to the Beatles – had a Scandinavian address – Sweden and Denmark then seen as hotbeds of sexual freedom, of course. to confuse the issue further, the business was initially based in Majorca, where – for vague tax reasons – the publisher would insist on most of his writers relocating to in order to write the books. Apparently, it was worth the effort for writers, with LLP paying $1200 a book – very good money back then. Because of this, the publisher attracted some serious talent, working – of course – under pseudonyms. Many used the money to help finance their more respectable, but less popular, writing careers. Among the LLP authors was Edward D. Wood Jr.
The thing that makes the LLP novels stand out is just how utterly unsavoury many of the books were. There seems to have been no taste barrier in play, and several novels feature incest, bestiality and rape as central themes. Some of the content of these books is pretty shocking by modern standards, and even in the 1970s – when the collapsing obscenity laws meant that literally everything was permitted for much of the decade – they must have raised a few eyebrows.
The market for pornographic literature took a nosedive in the 1980s, as home video allowed people to watch porn at home without needing to use their imagination. LLP stopped commissioning new titles at the end of the 1970s, and although it kept going until the early 1990s, the distinctive cover design was scrapped in favour of more upfront nude art and photography, which did little to make the books stand out from the pack.
Inevitably, LLP books are now much sought after by collectors. Here is just a small part of their output…
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