Jewish Publication Society Series

Publisher: Meridian Books / World Publishing Co. & Jewish Publication Society of America (1958-1963)

Years: 1958-1963

Related Series: Living Age Books, Meridian Books, Meridian Fiction, Meridian Giants, Meridian Library, Torchbooks, Torchbook Library Editions

Some JPSS titles were republished by Harper & Row as part of the Temple Library, a sub-series of the Torchbooks line. These titles were assigned Torchbook series numbers in the 800s to match their JP numbers (e.g., JP 23 became TB 823). There are gaps in the 800s range, as not all JPSS titles were republished in the Temple Library, which also continued beyond #33, with TB 834 through TB 840.

More Information

Meridian and Jewish Pubn. Society Launch New Series, PW, Feb. 17, 1958, at 81:

Meridian Books and the Jewish Publication Society of America will launch a new series of paperback books this spring. Six titles will be published annually in a library format, with cover designs by Elaine Lustig. The titles will be reprints from the Jewish Publication Society list; they have been chosen for the growing audience for books about Jewish culture and religion.

Kenneth C. Davis, TWO-BIT CULTURE 295 (1984):

In 1958, [Arthur A.] Cohen had been joined by Aaron Asher, whom he had hired away from Knopf (where Asher had been working on Vintage Books, which simply meant managing the smooth movement of Knopf titles into paperback), with the offer of more money and more editorial opportunity. At the time, Meridian was publishing a series called Living Age Books dealing with Catholic theology, which did not interest Asher. But soon they also had an agreement with the Jewish Publications [sic] Society for a series on Jewish history and theology.

Jonathan D. Sarna, JPS: THE AMERICANIZATION OF JEWISH CULTURE, 1888-1988 227-28 (Jewish Publication Society 1989):

The second agreement signed by the Society during this era involved a whole new style of book—the paperback—geared for use in college classrooms and adult education programs. By the 1950s the revolution that had made these cheaply produced volumes available to a mass-market audience at a fraction of their original cost was some two decades old. Yet the Society, like many small specialty publishers, remained wary. How, it wondered, would it market softcovers? Could it sell them in sufficient numbers to make a profit? Would they tarnish its dignified image? Might they destroy the market for its hardcover books?

Arthur Cohen, president of Meridian Books, a house that specializes in quality paperbacks, undertook to answer these questions and reassure the Society that its fears were groundless. He was a trusted friend from the days when he was a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and though still only twenty-nine, he had already made a name for himself as an innovative pioneer in the publishing field. Now, in 1957, he proposed a cooperative agreement whereby Meridian would produce and help market selected volumes from the JPS backlist in return for some advance payment and a share in the royalties. Some of the trustees, conservative as ever, had misgivings about the scheme, but Edwin Wolf 2nd was exuberant. He praised Cohen's "interest and restless intelligence," gave a tongue-in-cheek reassurance that the covers of the proposed books would "not seduce buyers by a colorful display of Marilyn Monroe playing Bathsheba in her bath," and signed a one-year renewable contract covering six titles.

Twenty-four months later, after the books had been out for a year, the Society knew that Wolf's decision had been right. Its investment was more than repaid, it experienced a 25 percent increase in its general sale of books, largely due to the new paperbacks (which, it turned out, did not diminish hardback sales at all), and it had the satisfaction of seeing some 60,000 inexpensive copies of its books distributed, mostly by Meridian. Over the next six years many additional titles were reprinted, including several originally published by university presses that were now brought under the Society's imprint for the first time. Then, much to everyone's disappointment, the agreement with Meridian was ended, apparently because of problems that occurred after Cohen sold the firm to World Publishing Company and left the enterprise. Having itself in the interim learned much about the paperback field, JPS was soon able to come up with a new co-publishing agreement, this time with Harper and Row's Torchbook series. But that too proved short-lived. Thereafter, following the general trend in publishing, it undertook to independently publish and distribute its own paperbacks, which it continues to market to members and nonmembers alike.