Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

One volume I recently stumbled upon shed an interesting perspective on the book trade in the Hebrew market in the inter-war era. This copy of “Dramas” in Hebrew by Peretz Hirschbein (1880-1948), a Yiddish-language playwright, novelist, journalist, travel writer, and theater director, was published in Warsaw in 1922 by the Stybel publishing house.

Stybel, had been founded five years prior by Abraham Joseph Stybel (1884-1946), a patron of Hebrew books and tireless promoter of Hebrew literature. Interested in the world of books from his youth, he became wealthy via his business dealings in Russia during WWI. In 1917 he founded the Stybel publishing house and hired David Frischmann as his chief editor. They began the systematic translation of some of the world’s best literature by leading Hebrew writers. When Russia’s revolution resulted in the prohibition of Hebrew printing, he moved the operations to Warsaw, then to Berlin and New York and finally to Israel. He escaped Poland just before the outbreak of WWII and passed away in New York in 1946.


This volume was published in Warsaw but includes an unrecorded two pages preceding the title page, describing the hardships of the state of affairs for publishing and the unscrupulous people that were challenging Stybel’s survival. The text describes the wildly fluctuating currencies and the inability of the publisher to even cover their cost in most countries they are selling their publications due to the unstable currency exchanges. The only possibility of coming out even was by their profit of the volumes sold in the United States where the currency was stable and the exchange rate favorable.

The issue Stybel encountered was crooked book dealers who were buying quantities in Poland at reduced rates and then selling them in the States at a reduced price relative to the price Stybel was attempting to sell it at.

As an attempt to resolve the issue, Stybel notated any copies that were destined to the States with a stamp and signature of the publishing house’s head indicating that this copy was permitted to be sold in America. Whether this solution succeeded is unknown, but Stybel’s economic situation had deteriorated to the extent that within a few years he was forced to sell his publishing rights and manuscripts to N. Twersky in Tel Aviv.


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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].