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Notes on Paul Romaine (1906-1986), bookseller of Chicago

Paul Romaine, the Chicago bookseller, was born in St. Louis and moved to Chicago. Romaine is said to have been much respected among Chicago booksellers. One bookseller with whom I spoke in early 2000, called him "legendary" in Chicago bookselling circles.  Romaine is said to have freely helped young booksellers. For example, Henry Noyes recounted on ChinaBooks.com how in the early 1970s he was encouraged by Paul Romaine, who ran "the only independent bookstore in the Chicago Loop.") Hemingway wrote two letters to Romaine, cited in the Collected Letters of Ernest Hemingway.

One of Romaine's more notorious claims to fame was for his prosecution under Illinois' obscenity laws for selling a copy of the eighteenth century novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, a.k.a., Fanny Hill, by John Cleland.

Obscenity Court Case

Romaine was convicted of violating an Illinois obscenity statute, as described by Justice Schaefer of the Illinois Supreme Court, on appeal:

A jury found the defendant, Paul Romaine, guilty of the offense of obscenity (Ill.Rev.Stat.1963, chap. 38, par. 11--20), because he sold a copy of the book 'Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure', better known as 'Fannie Hill'. He was fined $1,000 and placed on probation for two years. He appeals directly to this court primarily on the ground that his conviction violated the State and Federal constitutions because the book is not obscene; he also urges that many errors, alleged to have occurred during the trial, also require reversal. Under the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, we find it necessary to consider only two issues: first, whether there was an element of pandering in the sale of the book, the second, whether the book is obscene.

John Skinkus, a Chicago police officer, testified that he entered the defendant's book store and 'asked Mr. Romaine if he had a book entitled Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure,' and Romaine replied that he did. He then asked Romaine 'if that was the Fanny Hill book,' and Romaine replied 'that it was taken from the text of a 17th [sic -PR] century novel, (of) which there are several on display in several museums of the different countries.' Romaine picked up the book and gave it to him. He gave Romaine $6.00 and some cents for the book and left the store. The book had been lying on a table marked 'New Books'. It is not illustrated and there are no pictures on its dust jacket, which referred to the book as 'an outstanding literary curiosity.'
-Summation of the case People v. Paul Romaine, by Justice Schaefer, 231 N.E.2d 413-14. (Citing Supreme Court of Illinois. Docket No. 39487, 30 Nov. 1967).

Was it a significant case? No, not really, from the perspective of constitutional law. Justice Schaefer based his decision on existing case law from the Supreme Court.

Since people (especially from Chicago) ask: I'm no relation to Paul Romaine the bookseller, but I'm glad to be a namesake.





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