Maurice J. Speiser

Maurice J. Speiser
 Maurice J. Speiser, photo by
 Soichi Sunami, Algonquin, 
 New York City, c. 1930.


Maurice J. Speiser (1880-1948) was a young attorney in Philadelphia when he first encountered the stirrings of modernism. During regular trips to Europe in the 1920's, Speiser met Ezra Pound, Hemingway, and others. With his wife Martha Glazer Speiser, he was a patron of music and the theatre, a discerning collector of art, and a friend to many significant writers. During the 1930's, in addition to general legal practice, Speiser developed a special interest in the legal business of artists and writers.

Photograph of the Speisers with Hemingway,
Paris, c. 1932.

Identity card
from Speiser's Paris visit in 1925.

Brancusi v. United States, U.S. Customs Court, Third Division, November 26, 1928. Charles J. Lane, M. J. Speiser and Curie, Lane & Wallace for the Plaintiff.

When Constantin Brancusi's sculpture "Bird in Flight" was brought into the United States, the collector of customs ruled that it was not a work of art (duty free under paragraph 1704 of the 1922 tariff act), but a "manufacture of metal," assessed at 40% of value (under paragraph 399). The court sustained Brancusi's protest, commenting "whether or not we are in sympathy with these newer ideas and the schools that represent them, we think the fact of their existence and their influence on the art world . . . must be considered."

[Constantin Brancusi's "Bird in Flight"  is housed at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.]

e.e.cummings on Maurice Speiser.
"Maurice J. Speiser, goosing the devil of Corruption & trampling the serpent of Vice, as he embraces the stripteaser of Law." Original pencil sketch, 1937.

Robert Homburg,
Legal Rights of Performing Artists.
Translated and annotated together with an addendum, by Maurice J. Speiser. New York: Baker, Voorhis & Company, 1934. Dedicated to Martha Speiser.

In his preface, Speiser notes the emerging problem of pirate recordings taken from broadcast concerts, and his forty-page addendum on recent decisions argues that "modern jurisprudence has not afforded the protection to the interests of performers that it has to those of authors." Homburg's book was originally published in Paris as Le droit d'intérpretation des acteurs et des artistes executants.

The Speiser Hemingway scrapbooks
"Pair of Authors Go To Mat Over Hair on Chest. Hemingway and Eastman Stage One-Round Battle in Scribners Sons' Office," New York Herald Tribune, August 14, 1937.

With associated stories from New York Times,Philadelphia Record, and Philadelphia Inquirer. The Speisers kept clippings from Hemingway's press appearances, filling four volumes.

Maurice J. Speiser and contemporary musicians

Speiser's papers include letters from George Antheil (1900-1959), Aaron Copland (1900-1990, including a 1941 letter about music for the film of For Whom the Bell Tolls), George Gershwin (1898-1937), Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977),  Igor Stravinksy (1882-1971), and Edgar Varese.

Maurice J. Speiser and contemporary writers

Writers represented in Speiser's correspondence include James T. Farrell (1904-1979), James G. Hunneker (1857-1921), Eric Knight (1897-1943), Carson McCullers (1917-1967), Henry Miller (1891-1980), Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972), Ezra Pound (1885-1972), and Edmund Wilson (1895-1972).

Also included are thirty letters from e.e. cummings (1894-1962), including one to Ford Madox Ford, dated November 14, 1923, about cummings's typographic requirements for the appearance of a poem in Ford's new Transatlantic Review.  An undated cummings letter to Speiser concerns employment in Hollywood.

The archive contains a letter from William Faulkner (1897-1962) to an unknown correspondent containing two textual changes for Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, one incorporated in later editions, one apparently not.  A handwritten 1931 letter from Faulkner to Speiser is also included, with its original envelope.

A May 26, 1929 letter from D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) to Maurice J. Speiser concerns Speiser's offer to track down U.S. pirated editions of Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Loverand his story Sun.  Lawrence responded with details of the three he knew.

Correspondence with Martha Gellhorn (b. 1908) includes a January 11, 1938 letter to Speiser, with a related telegram and letter from Speiser to Gellhorn. Gellhorn, on a speaking tour to American women's clubs in support of the Spanish Republican forces in the war, invites Speiser to "come and get drunk with me in Brooklyn. . . . I can't seem to find Phila on my itinerary."

A letter from Ernest Hemingway to Maurice J. Speiser was written when Wilson was preparing the posthumous F. Scott Fitzgerald collection, The Crack-Up.  Wilson sought Speiser's clearance on Hemingway material, and Hemingway took the occasion to give Speiser his views on Fitzgerald.

Maurice J. Speiser and contemporary artists

Speiser's correspondence with artists includes letters from Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), and Edward Steichen (1879-1973).  There are several letters from Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), including one with a receipt acknowledging payment for two bronze heads, and one from Brancusi and Martha Speiser written in pencil on a menu from the Restaurant du Pavillon Roumain, at the Paris International Exposition of 1937. The inside of the menu is decorated by Brancusi with notes and drawings.

Raymond A. Speiser

One gauge of Hemingway's position in literature is that he was a collected author from the inception of his career. The Paris publications that preceded his first American book have a high survival rate because of his early-won reputation as a comer. The bibliographical material bearing on the publication of his work over four decades is abundant because collectors and bibliophiles such as Maurice Speiser recognized his stature early and preserved the evidence. In the years after Maurice Speiser's death, his son Raymond A. Speiser sought out missing items, especially foreign editions and translations, added new publications, and had the most valuable editions professionally boxed.

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