LEVIATHAN: The Story Behind The Book

By Frank O. Braynard

The mighty LEVIATHAN. Photo: Frank Braynard collection.

Frank Braynard is curator of the American Merchant Marine Museum and is regarded as one of the foremost authorities about passenger ships.

Way before I began school, I read articles and cut out newspaper pictures about the LEVIATHAN, then being restored to become the "world's greatest ship," as her owners liked to describe her.

Today, 60 years later, I still collect things about this great liner, and speak about her and write about her and draw her picture, not to mention collect­ing memorabilia of her. It has been great fun, and there is a case history in this story for others who have a particular fondness about one ship - or one anything for that matter. Let me try to tell you how my LEVIATHAN volumes happened, so you can do the same with your favorite subject.

After a long time of collecting and writing and drawing LEVIATHAN, 1 decided in 1968 to really begin my book. It was to be the first volume of a series of 20. I had fun fitting into the series all my favorite liners.

As it turned out, I have written six LEVIATHAN volumes and the 20-book concept has changed considerably. With so many fine photos, artifacts, news clippings and LEVIATHAN things on hand and so many people who knew and loved her to interview, I determined early in the effort that it would have to be a four-volume work.

This denied me the help of a commercial publisher; no go, although several said they would do a single volume book for me. I decided to do it myself, somehow.

I was working at the South Street Seaport Museum and was encouraged by Peter Stanford there, the founder and president. Specifically this meant that I could use the Seaport's name as my "publisher" although raising the money was my responsibility.

I had just finished writing the biography of William Francis Gibbs, and his brother, Frederic H. Gibbs, was most interested in my LEVIATHAN book project. He became a "patron" to the tune of several thousand dollars.

I started a LEVIATHAN Newsletter and sent it to all those who had helped me or who I thought might be interested. I sent it out monthly at first, listing new LEVIATHAN discoveries, questions and reporting progress.

I would have 1,000 copies run off by the cheapest local photo offset man and then would invite my best LEVIATHAN friends in to my office to help fold the newsletters and stick them in envelopes. I used the Seaport's old and battered addressograph machine and made addressograph plates for the addresses of my mailing list.

At the same time I had printed a flyer about the LEVIATHAN. My friend Harvey Brouard of the Adams Group, who had printed my Gibbs book, was a partner in the LEVIATHAN project from the beginning.

He provided the printed flyer about the projected series of volumes. I developed a new concept to induce patrons to participate. I asked them for $100 (it is now $250) on loan at no interest.

In return, I promised them news­letters, all the volumes as they came out, their name to be listed in each and - as a very special and unusual gimmick -I pledged to return their full loan from the proceeds of the final volume.

I looked on the project as a long term non-profit roll-over type of thing. The first volume would be paid for by my loans from patrons and by one goodsized gift from the Gibbs Bros. Foundation.

Then, when it was out and selling, I would use the income for the second volume, salting in, I hoped, a few new patrons. And this is the way it has worked. I now have 300 patrons.

There is still room for more and their names will be included in volume VI. It will naturally take some time to pay them all for their contribu­tions, but it will be done in the order in which they become patrons. I might add that about 80 of my patrons have said that they do not want their money back. Wonderful!

I have produced 2,000 copies of each volume so far and have sold or given away about half of all printed. With four volumes out, this means that of the 10,000 books published (5 vols) there remain 5,000 or so in my cellar.

Naturally the first volume has been out the longest and sold the most. I have only 450 of this volume left (there was a 2,300 run for this first volume, fortunately for me). Storing them has been a problem but they have survived. Needless to say, having unsold volumes in the cellar is quite a sight.

Everytime our electricity meter-reader comes down, he comments about the masses of boxes. Some people compare it to inside the pyramids.

With each of the first four volumes I increased the number of pictures and pages, reaching a high point of 78 pages of photos and a page count of 424 in Volume IV. Because of inflation my fifth volume is only 320 pages, but it does include a 64-page photo section.

Volume I cost about $18,000. Volume II cost $23,000. Volume III cost about $29,000. Volume IV, with the aid of another real grant from Gibbs Bros., cost $41,000. The last volume cost $36,000. I paid every penny of these costs, using my own money to a slight degree here and there.

I have had to pay the postage and cost of book mailers right along. I originally priced the books much too low, but have recently raised the prices as follows: $30 for Volumes I, II, and III, and $45 for Volumes IV and V.

A British bookseller told me that each of the volumes should be selling for close to $100, based on normal publishing profit levels and proceedures. In my case I do not expect to make any money and certainly am not making it at the moment.

The whole effort is a labor of love, and a wonderful fun adventure  Even the packing of the volumes and the mailing of them each day.

At this writing (December, 1981), I am just about finished with the first draft of Volume VI. It will undoubtedly be close to 400 pages with many photos. I have some great shots of the LEVIATHAN'S last years, and a few of her scrapping in 1938-1939.

I believe that this will be the most interesting and dramatic of all the volumes. The story of her last voyage to the scrapyard is well worth an entire book.

A final fillip: the generosity of my many LEVIATHAN friends has been tremen­dous. Countless good people have reached back into their memories, pulled things out of scrapbooks and sent me choice menus, artifacts, etc. for the book.

I have made several thousand good friends all over the world and get one or two letters every day of the year from them. It has been a most exciting and wonderfully satisfying experience.

by Frank O. Braynard

The most ambitious and complete history of a single ship, THE LEVIATHAN, is docu­mented in this 4 volume series. Trace the life of this famous ship almost day by day. Each volume is printed on high quality paper and contains hundreds of rare photos.

Vol. 1 — (Sold only with complete set)
Vol. 2 — $30.00
Vol. 3 — $30.00
Vol. 4 — $45.00
Vol. 5 — $45.00

Special — Vol. 1-5, $160.00 postpaid Send check or money order to:



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