April 25 - Oak and Ivy

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On April 25, 1895, Paul Laurence Dunbar paid $4 to the United Brethren Publishing House in Dayton, the firm that printed Oak and Ivy, his first book of poetry, years earlier.

Dayton, Ohio, April 25, 1895

Received from Paul Dunbar $4.00
For part pay binding 100 "Oak & Ivy"

Oct 2, 1893 Full amount $12.00

Balance due at this date $8.00

United Brethren Publishing House receipt, April 25, 1895.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).

Oak and Ivy was a self-published book, so Paul had to reimburse the United Brethren Publishing House for printing it, and after this payment he still owed the company $8.  A payment of $4 was equal to Paul's weekly earnings as an elevator operator.  Though he knew publishing a book would be costly, Paul was optimistic he could sell enough copies to cover the expense, as he explained to his friend James Newton Matthews.

I had determined to publish a number of my poems in book form and try to sell them.  I am not going into this without due consideration, nor am I rushing blindly into expense;  I will not print a single volume until I have written assurance of sufficient sales to cover all expenses, in the names of subscribers.  It will cost me two hundred dollars to run out one thousand volumes and I will sell them at a dollar a copy.  That I shall make a large profit is of less importance than that I should pave the way for better things.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to James Newton Matthews, October 12, 1892.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Prior to the printing of Oak and Ivy, Paul tried to get subscribers to promise to purchase a copy.  At least fourteen people signed his subscription list, which was written on stationery of High School Times, a student newspaper at Central High School in Dayton.  Paul had been a writer and editor for the paper before graduating in June 1891.

We, the undersigned, agree to buy at least one (1) copy of the volume of poems which Paul L. Dunbar will publish.

Subscription letter, October 28, 1892.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 4).

The dedication to Oak and Ivy reads:  "To her who has ever been my guide, teacher, and inspiration, My Mother, this little volume is affectionately inscribed."  Many years later, Paul's mother Matilda recalled how he sold copies of the book to elevator passengers.

Paul thought he would sell his books where he worked so he took them to the Callahan Building and every time he would take a passenger up on the elevator he would attempt to sell him a book.

"What is the price of your book, young man?" asked an elderly gentleman.

"One dollar, sir," returned Paul.

"That is pretty high for such a small book," said the prospective buyer.

"My book is intended to sell on merits and not on size," replied Paul.

"Mrs. Dunbar Pays Tribute to Mr. Blocher," by Kenton J. Jackson.  The Dayton Forum (Dayton, Ohio).  May 30, 1930.

In an autobiographical letter to a reader, and in an interview with a Detroit newspaper, Paul described the sales of Oak and Ivy

After graduation, there was nothing for me to do save to go into menial employment as other Negroes did.  I took the nearest thing -- an elevator.  A better thing could not have happened.  In the nearly two years which, altogether, I spent in the place, I improved the leisure between trips in studying and writing.  While working here I brought out my first book "Oak and Ivy" which was privately printed and sold well in a circumscribed plane.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to A. S. Lanahan, February 17, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).

After leaving school he secured a position as elevator boy in a large business house in Dayton.  He had collected a number of his poems under the title of "Oak and Ivy," and now endeavored to arrange with a Dayton firm for their publication in book form.  An advance of $100 was at first demanded, but upon consideration, the publisher agreed to wait for his compensation until the poems were sold.  They were brought out accordingly and the author, becoming his own agent, offered his wares to those he brought up and down.  At the end of two weeks the whole edition of 1000 volumes was disposed of.

"Won Success in Rapid Strides," by Gilberta S. Whittle.  Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan).  January 5, 1902.

Paul died in February 1906 and Charles D. Higgins became executor of his estate.  Higgins oversaw the payment of Paul's debts, including the final $8.63 to the United Brethren Publishing House.

Probate Court of Montgomery County, Ohio.
In the Matter of the Estate of Paul Laurence Dunbar, deceased.


First & Final Account of Charles D. Higgins, Executor.

Said Executor asks credit for payments made as follows:-

U. B. Publishing House 8.63

Charles D. Higgins being duly sworn, says that the foregoing is a true, full and correct statement and account of all moneys coming into his hands as Executor of the last will of Paul Laurence Dunbar, deceased, and that the disbursements and distributions were made as therein shown.

Final account of Dunbar estate, August 1908.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).