Paul James Duff of Chicago was a successful author and publisher of such titles as A Siren’s Wiles, Rosa’s Confession, Gilded Vice and Scarlet Sin. In February of 1897, George Oram, an agent of Anthony Comstock, visited the New York bookstore of Henry R. Prowell and asked if P.J. Duff’s latest, Tessie’s Temptation, was worth reading.

Prowell said, “For those who like that sort of book, it’s the sort of book they like. If it don’t please you, bring it back and I’ll allow you forty cents on it.” Oram bought the book, read it cover-to-cover and found these pages to be indecent: the outside cover (Tessie was not “in street dress”), pages 115 to 124, 127, 129 and 132, and the picture between 116 and 117.

Two days later, Comstock and Oram descended upon the Prowell’s store with a warrant for his arrest and confiscated 40 copies of Tessie’s Tempation. They then took the liberty of seizing Boccaccio’s Decameron, Queen Margaret’s Heptameron, Balzac’s Droll Stories and many other Comstock favorites, three cases of books in all.

At the arraignment, a press report noted, “Comstock had a big bundle of books he had seized, which he handled as gingerly as if the thought he would be infected by them.”

I can find no final result of the arrest, but Henry Prowell continued to sell books. In November of 1904, he held an impromptu sale when a gas explosion blew out the front of his store, showered a passing street car with books, and “several newsboys took the occasion to lay in a supply of penny dreadfuls.”

Paul James Duff continued to flourish.



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