Tucker's Unique Book Shop
Tucker's Unique Book Shop was an anarchist book store in New York City, owned and operated by the individualist anarchist writer and publisher Benjamin Tucker from 1906 until his store room and printing equipment were destroyed by fire in 1908. During its brief existence, the bookshop, which was opened on Fourth Avenue and later moved to Sixth Avenue, became an important intellectual and cultural space within the New York anarchist milieu.
Tucker opened the book shop in at the Parker Building, 225 Fourth Avenue, in 1906, publishing advertisements in his own newspaper Liberty and other Anarchist publications such as Mother Earth. In the initial advertisement, Tucker wrote:
- BENJ. R. TUCKER
- Publisher and Bookseller
- has opened a Book Store at
- 225 Fourth Ave., Room 13, New York City
- Here will carried, ultimately, the most complete line of advanced literature to be found anywhere in the world. More than one thousand titles in the English language already in stock. A still larger stock, in foreign languages, will be put in gradually. A full catalogue will be ready soon of the greatest interest to all those in search of literature.
- * Which, in morals, leads away from superstition,
- * Which, in politics, leads away from government, and
- * Which, in art, leads away from Tradition.
(Quoted in Peter Glassgold, Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's MOTHER EARTH, p. xviii.)
In 1907, Tucker rented a ground floor store front at 502 Sixth Avenue and moved the bookshop to it, continuing to use the space on Fourth Avenue. Customers at Tucker's Unique Book Shop included the young playwright Eugene O'Neill, as well as New York anarchists such as Emma Goldman. In January 1908, a fire broke out at the Parker Building on Fourth Avenue; Tucker's printing equipment and 30-year collection of books, pamphlets, and papers were destroyed in the blaze. His stock had been completely uninsured, and after an attempted fund raising drive by friends of Liberty failed to save the enterprise, Tucker closed his bookshop and Liberty, moving to France to live on his remaining means.
From Peter Glassgold, Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's MOTHER EARTH, 199:
- Although no radical activist, [Eugene] O'Neill was nevertheless on the periphery of the of the anarchist movement, which strongly influenced his work. He discovered anarchism as a college dropout in New York, attending occasional lectures and plays at the Ferrer Center and browsing in Benjamin Tucker's Unique Book Shop at 502 Sixth Avenue, where first he discovered Mother Earth and became an avid reader of the magazine.
From Wendy McElroy, "Benjamin Tucker, Liberty, and Individualist Anarchism," Part 2:
- Liberty came to a sudden, tragic end.
- In 1907, Tucker rented a ground floor space at 502 Sixth Avenue in New York City which housed 'Benj.R. Tucker's Unique Book Shop'. Some blocks away, at 225 Fourth Avenue in a structure known as the Parker Building, Tucker stored the stock of the books he published and the equipment to set print for Liberty. On January, 1908 the Parker Building was consumed by a fire which he described in what was to be the last issue of Liberty.(11)
- Tucker, who had been publishing and stockpiling material for thirty years, had pursued a deliberate policy of not holding insurance in order to protest the artificially high premiums which were propped up by the legal system. To offset the total loss, friends of Liberty launched a fund raising drive, and Tucker continued to sell the stock that had survived by virtue of being at the Sixth Avenue address.
- The efforts to salvage Liberty were not successful, however, and Tucker was forced to conclude, "It is my intention to close up my business next summer, and, before January 1, 1909, go to Europe, there to publish Liberty (still mainly for America, of course) and such books and pamphlets as my remaining means may enable me to print."(12)
- These plans never materialized. The April 1908 issue of Liberty was the last. Tucker moved to Europe, living first in France until World War I erupted, then settling in Monaco where he died at the age of eighty-five on June 22, 1939. Born seven years before the start of the Civil War, he died the same year that World War II began. For the last decades of his life, Tucker's writing efforts were largely limited to correspondence with friends and acquaintances.
- (11) The date of the fire is reported in the usually reliable tome Men Against the State by James J. Martin as being April, 1908, and as January 10, 1908 in Paul Elzbacher "Benjamin R. Tucker" in Anarchism: Exponents of Anarchist Philosophy. Actually an account of the fire was published in the April, 1908 issue of Liberty in which Tucker announced ambiguously, "No later than January 10 this composing room, together with the entire stock of my publications and nearly all my plates, was absolutely wiped out by fire." (p.1)
- (12) "On Picket Duty", Liberty XVII (April, 1908), 1-3.