The interwar period, originally called The Lost Generation was filled with drama, extravagance and melancholy. It’s theme of morbid decadence and scandal stretched even so far into the dusty corners of fine arts printing, in the sad and strange tale of the Black Sun Press.
Black Sun began life as the Narcisse Noir (the Black Narcissus) a vanity press run by the dilletantes Harry and Caresse Crosby in order to privately publish both of its founders’ poetry chapbooks. Despite the best efforts, it seems, of the founders to ignore commercial success, it found them anyway, due mainly in part to the elite literary circles that the pair moved in. Reading the publication history of the Black Sun Press now reads like a role-call of the Lost Generation itself; with such greats as D.H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemmingway, Max Ernst, Lawrence Stern and the dubious Ezra Pound finding many of their first publications through their friend Cosby’s press.
The Cosby’s were notoriously outrageous; both socialites who had no need for the money that the press offered, and who attended the wild parties of Paris with abandon. Harry Cosby was the black sheep son of one of the richest bankers in Boston, and the pair lived a life of extremes and opulence. This financial freedom allowed the Cosby’s to only print the works that they themselves were interested in, as well as only producing works of very fine quality. Although Black Sun has been considered to be a ‘vanity’ or a ‘dilletante’ press, its contribution to allowing the struggling Lost Generation writers their first foothold should be recognised. Sadly, the life of the Press was ruptured in 1929, when Harry Cosby took his own life in a ‘murder/suicide pact’ with one of the many young ladies whom he had affairs with. People were shocked, but not overly surprised, as Cosby – like many of the Lost Generation – was obsessed with sex and death. The Press carried on printing in the hands of his widow, Caresse, and throughout her life it focussed on works of the outrageous and radical; Ginsburgh, Burroughs, Bukowski.
For the collector; a Press such as Black Sun will always offer a unique window into a fast-vanishing age. The Cosby’s unique position as the social brokers of a new literary movement means that they had access to early editions of works that will not reach the public domain often. Unfortunately, as ever, value is attracted to scandal, and it is the earlier (pre-1930, and Harry Cosby’s death) works that are the most desirable. I would suggest D.H Lawrence’s early work Sun, in its limited edition (with slipcase) form.
Wilde, Oscar. L'Anniversaire de L'Infante. Black Sun (1928). 9 illustrations by Alastair
Lawrence, D H. Sun. Black Sun (1928). Drawing by Lawrence
Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Black Sun (1929). Illustrations by Polia Chentoff / Editions Narcisse
De Laclos, Choderlos. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Black Sun (1929). Illustrations by Alastair
Crosby, Harry. Mad Queen. Black Sun (1929). Tirades; frontispiece by Caresse Crosby
Joyce, James. Tales Told of Shem and Shaun. Black Sun (1929). Three Fragments from Work in Progress
Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Black Sun (1930). 6 color lithographs by Marie Laurencin
MacLeish, Archibald. New Found Land. Black Sun (1930). Fourteen Poems
Crosby, Harry. Shadows of the Sun. Black Sun (1930). Series Three
Crane, Hart. The Bridge. Black Sun (1930). Three photographs by Walker Evans
Faulkner, William. Sanctuary. Black Sun (1932). Modern Masterpieces in English
Eluard, Paul. Misfortunes of Immortals. Black Sun (1943). Illustrated by Max Ernst
Radiguet, Raymond. Devil in the Flesh. Black Sun (1948). Le Diable Au Corps
Wilde, Oscar. Birthday of the Infanta. Black Sun (). Illustrated by Alastair