To many, the news that the City Lights Bookstore in downtown San Francisco was to be given the status of a municipal landmark was greeted with wry celebration. Celebration, on the one hand that this modern-day Mecca of alternative literature and culture had finally been recognised, but with a touch of irony because one of the ways that it became famous was its involvement in ‘Anti-American’ and ‘obscene’ activities from the late 1950s onwards.
Of course, what I am referring to is the literary home of the Beat Generation; the in-house press that was created by the City Lights owners and founders – beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. Past these hallowed doors; the ‘beat-up, beat-on, and beatific’ (to misquote Kerouac) were welcomed, and it was here that first published Allen Ginsburg’s seminal Howl and Other Poems (which eventually earned them an obscenity trial for its poetic invocation of homosexual love in the 1950s). If these ribald facts don’t warrant the attention of the antiquarian collector, then consider also the very fine quality of some of the private presses work, and the unique window that City Light Press had on a very particular turning point in history. Careful examination and collection of City Lights material can lead to findings of First Edition Ginsburg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and even Burroughs.
For the interested collector, consider Ferlinghetti’s own original work Pictures from The Gone World (1955) with a first print run only included 500 copies, is very agreeable at $1,600. Or consider Charles Bukowski’s classic Shakespeare Never Did This (First Edition 1979) which can be found, signed, for as little as $1,400.
One of the curiosities of collecting an ‘underground press’ such as City Lights is the fact that, unlike other private presses – we search for the particular, the select, and the unique over the grand and elegant (not that City Lights books aren’t elegant indeed), but, as the first editions of the great works were often printed on a very tight budget, with limited resources, then it is quite customary to find that the most valuable are often the stapled-together chapbooks, with hand written annotations!
Martin, Peter. City Lights Magazine. City Lights (1952). Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Spicer, Pauline Kael (Contributors)
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl And Other Poems.. City Lights (1956). Introduction By William Carlos Williams; 1500 copies; 1000 copies of the 1st issue, printed in London, and with mention of Lucien Carr in the dedication (removed in later printings). The Pocket Poets Series: Number Four.
Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. Pictures Of The Gone World. City Lights (1956). With Holograph Poem
Levertov, Denise. Here And Now. City Lights (1957). Pocket Poet Series # 6
Mailer, Norman. The White Negro.. City Lights (1957). Superficial Reflections On The Hipster
Corso, Gregory. Gasoline.. City Lights (1958). Introduction By Allen Ginsberg; Pocket Poets Series Number Eight.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl And Other Poems. City Lights (1959). Introduction By William Carlos Williams
Duncan, Robert. Selected Poems.. City Lights (1959). 1500 copies; The first issue was saddle-stitched.
Parra, Nicanor. Anti-Poems. City Lights (1960). The Pocket Poets Series No. 12; Translated from the Spanish by Jorge Eliot
Kerouac, Jack. Rimbaud.. City Lights (1960). 2000 copies
Kerouac, Jack. Book Of Dreams.. City Lights (1961). 5000 copies;
Merton, Thomas. Journal For The Protection Of All Beings. City Lights (1961). A Visionary and Revolutionary Review/Love-Shot Issue No. 1 (One); Edited by Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and David Meltzer
Ginsberg, Allen. Kadish And Other Poems 1958-1960.. City Lights (1961). Printed by Villiers press, london; 2500 copies; Pocket Poets Series No. 14.
Ferlinghetti. City Lights Journal.. City Lights (1963). Edited By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Mcclure, Michael:. Meat Science Essays.. City Lights (1963). Foreword by Lawrence Ferlinghetti; Signed by McClure on the title page; 3000 copies
Ginsberg, Allen. Reality Sandwiches. City Lights (1963). #18 in the Pocket Poet Series; Printed at the Villiers Press in England; 3000 copies.
Burroughs, William S. The Yage Letters.. City Lights (1963). Allen Ginsberg
Lamantia, Philip. Selected Poems 1943-1966. City Lights (1967). The Pocket Poets Series Number Twenty
Ginsberg, Allen. Planet News.. City Lights (1968). 500 copies specially bound and numbered and Signed by Ginsberg; Pocket Poets Series Number Twenty Three.
Ginsberg, Allen. Indian Journals. City Lights (1970). March 1962 - May 1963, Notebooks, Diary Blank Pages, Writings; 1,000 copies
Cassady, Neal. The First Third. City Lights (1971). A Partial Autobiogaphy And Other Writings
Di Prima, Diane. The Revolutionary Letters. City Lights (1971). The Pocket poets series, no. 27.
Ginsberg, Allen. Chicago Trial Testimony. City Lights (1975). illustration by Pat Ryan
Ginsberg, Allen. Mind Breaths. City Lights (1977). Poems 1972-1977; Number 35 of the Pocket Poets Series; 300 copies
Snyder, Gary. The Old Ways. City Lights (1977). Six Essays; Illustrated by Thomas Pohrt.
Burroughs, William S. Roosevelt After Inauguration. City Lights (1979). And Other Atrocities; Contains the title piece and 3 other short prose fantasies (When Did I Stop Wanting to be President, The Whole Tamale, and Sects and Death), plus Burroughs introduction
Bukowski, Charles. Shakespeare Never Did This.. City Lights (1979). Illustrated with photographs by Michael Montfort; 300 copies
Antler. Factory. City Lights (1980). 210 copies
Buckley, Lord. Hipparama Of The Classics. City Lights (1980). Contains The All Hip Mahatma, The Naz, Gettysburg Address, Hipsters, Flipsters, and Finger - Poppin Daddies, Nero, The Religious History of Alvar Nunnez Cabaza de Vaca, The Bad Rappings of the Marquis de Sade.
Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. Literary San Francisco. City Lights (1980). Nancy J. Peters; A Pictorial History From Its Beginnings To The Present Day.
Lamantia, Philip. Becoming Visible. City Lights (1981). 50 signed and numbered copies; Pocket poets series number 39.
Shepard, Sam. Motel Chronicles.. City Lights (1982). Photographs by Johnny Dark
Ginsberg, Allen. Plutonian Odes. City Lights (1982). Poems 1977-1980; 150 copies
Shepard, Sam. Fool For Love. City Lights (1983). 400 copies. And The Sad Lament.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl, And Other Poems. City Lights (1983). Includes introduction by William Carlos Williams.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Roman Poems. City Lights (1986). Translated By Lawrence Ferlinghetti And Francesca Valente; Preface By Alberto Moravia
Shepard, Sam. Fool For Love. City Lights (1988). Includes The Sam Lament of Pecos Bill on The Eve of Killing His Wife; Foreword by Sam Shepard and music by Sam Shepard and Catherine Dunn.