The Ruin of Rich Sons

Sabin Joseph

Joseph Sabin, Bibliophile

In May of 1880, Anthony Comstock descended on the New York bookstore of Joseph Sabin, a revered figure in the book trade. Sabin was the compiler of the multi-volume Dictionary of Books Relating to America and publisher of The American Bibliopolist, “a literary register and monthly catalog of old and new books, and repository of notes and queries.” He also acted as an agent for wealthy clients who were acquiring or dispersing entire libraries.

His sons, Robert T. Sabin and William W. Sabin, also worked in the business and it was William who was arrested by Comstock for selling obscene books and prints. Unbeknown to his father, William apparently had a backroom sideline in erotic woodcuts and “imported” books. After a clerk was fired by the Sabins, he took his revenge by sicking Anthony Comstock on the family.

In the raid, Comstock seized more than 300 pictures and 25 books, and said that the collection “surpassed in absolute filth” any previous lot he had ever seized. “In this place,” he wrote in his arrest ledger, “rich men’s sons supply themselves with the most obscene and filthy matter. Many complaints had been received and at last they were arrested. One book they sold was without exception the very worst I ever saw. It had a parody of ‘Rock of Ages.’ Most damnable.”

At the arraignment, Comstock said he had proof that Sabin had “ruined hundreds of young men” with his business. The Sabins, accompanied by attorneys and friends, posted bail immediately.

When William Sabin’s case finally came to trial at the end of 1880, he failed to appear. He forfeited his $2,500 bail, and it was rumored he was in Europe where the family had many friends in the book trade.

Joseph Sabin died in June of 1881, his reputation untarnished.

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