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Ownership of ‘The King in Yellow’

Bill of Sale for title and all rights in "The King in Yellow" and "In The Quarter" to Publisher Frank Tennyson Neely for $300.00, signed by Chambers and Neely 10 June 1895, and related documents.

30 April 1894 to 18 June 1902.

Price: $30,000.00

About the item

Folio and smaller. Ownership of ‘The King in Yellow’. Old folds. Provenance: R.W. Chambers, his widow Elsie, and son R.E.S. Chambers.

Item #368245

The original agreement for the sale of title and all rights to The King in Yellow (reserving U.S. dramatic rights) made between F. Tennyson Neeley and Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933), signed “RW Chambers” 10 June 1895, in four payments totalling $300. With a separate assignment of copyright, signed “Robert W Chambers” on the same date.

The King in Yellow is a cornerstone of modern horror and fantasy and a book that has fascinated authors from H.P. Lovecraft to James Blish and also gained currency in recent years as a source of the True Detective series. “One of the most important works of supernatural horror between Edgar Allan Poe and modern horror fiction” (Bleiler). Chambers was a prolific and perennially popular author of historical romances set in France during the Franco-Prussian War and in rural New York during the American Revolution. The King in Yellow was his only contribution to the genre.

F. Tennyson Neely (1863-1941) began publishing in 1893 and quickly gained a name for himself for issuing popular novels and skating close to scandal. He published Vizetelly’s translations of Zola (for which the publisher had been jailed in England) and Chambers’ stories of artistic Paris in 1894. The King in Yellow was published in 1895. The following year, Neely was taken to court by one of his authors for non-payment of royalties. As the Bill of Sale demonstrates, Chambers had sold his titles outright so no royalties were accrued to him. But in 1899 Neely filed for bankruptcy in acrimonious proceedings.
On 14 November 1899, copyrights to Chambers’ books were bought from the bankuptcy trustee for $110 “to us in hand paid”, and filings were initiated by the author’s father, William P. Chambers, to secure assignment of the copyrights to Robert W. Chambers. This is documented in four carbons of letters sent by Wm. P. Chambers, with two letters from Thorvald Solberg, the Register of Copyrights, and the registrations in Chambers’ name at the Library of Congress dated 8 March 1900. The publishing contract for the Harper & Brothers edition of The King in Yellow is dated 18 June 1902; two copies of the Harpers edition were received at the Copyright Office on 4 June 1902. The original publishing agreement between Neely and Chambers dated Chicago 30 April 1894 is also present, together with the copyright filing for that first book (deposit dated 1 May 1894). Other letters and documents relating to the subsequent explotation of the copyrights (and a renewal agreement with Appleton, executed by Elsie, dated 13 November 1937)