Monday, November 12, 2012

The LSD Library Goes To Harvard

by Stephen J. Gertz

FABRICE, Delphi. L'Opium A Paris.
Paris: La Renaissance Du Livre, 1907.

The Ludlow-Santo Domingo (LSD) Library of rare books, the world's first, largest, and most distinguished collection of the literature of psychotropic drugs, has been placed at Harvard's Houghton Library on long-term loan after extended and highly sensitive negotiations with the family of the late Julio Mario Santo Domingo, Jr (1958-2009), the eldest son and scion to the fortune of Columbian business magnate Julio Mario Santo Domingo (1923-2011) and omnivorous collector of books associated with the 60s Counterculture in the U.S. and Europe.

Sex, drugs, and rock n' roll was not an area of book collecting that the family, particularly his  wife, Vera, from whom he was estranged, found edifying; it was, apparently, a source of embarrassment, and since Mr. Santo Domingo's death the family had worked hard to disburse his collection with discretion through intermediaries who insisted upon the highest degree of secrecy from potential buyers - institutions, dealers, and auction houses - and negotiations with all were, reportedly, difficult.

WILLIAMS, Fred V. The Hop-Heads of San Francisco.
San Francisco: Walter N. Brunt, 1920.

It was, then, something of a shock when Harvard formally and by name announced acquisition of the major part of the Julio Santo Domingo collection - over 25,000 books, manuscripts, works of art, audio recordings, and films - on September 28th of this year. When I inquired close to a year ago while chasing a rumor Harvard refused comment.

As did The Roll N' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum & Library and Archives which coyly responded, "no comment at this time," a non-confirming confirmation that they had acquired a chunk of the collection. And as did every auction house suspected of being involved in negotiations. (A slice of Santo Domingo's magnificent collection of fine erotica and Baudelaire was recently offered by Christie's-Paris without provenance; highly familiar with the collection, I recognized a few singular items). And last year a selection of books on '60s Counterculture from the collection was discreetly acquired by Maggs in London; journalist Susan Halas recently interviewed Carl Williams of Maggs about  Santo Domingo's Counterculture library for Americana Exchange.

FOLEY, Charles. Kowa, La Mystérieuse.
Paris: Editions Pierre Lafitte, 1920.

The cornerstone of the LSD Library - however large just one part of Santo Domingo's huge book collection - was the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library of the literature of psychotropic drugs, which Julio (we knew each other) acquired in early 2002 from its founders and curators, rare book dealers Michael Horowitz and William Dailey, along with Robert Barker and Michael Aldrich  Ph.D, who established the collection in the early 1970s in response to the dearth of historical resources and research materials on a controversial subject at the forefront of public consciousness and discussion. It was, and will now remain, the pre-eminent book collection on the matter.

VAUDÈRE. Jane de la. Folie D'Opium.
Paris: Albert Méricant, n.d. [c. 1910].
Unrecorded; the only known copy.

But before Julio bought the Ludlow, William Dailey (with my assistance as his cataloger/manager) was sending low- to high five figure shipments of drug-related books to Julio's offices in Geneva every other month or so. Julio bought just about anything you offered  related to his area of interest. I recall that, early on, Dailey sent Julio a very long list. He returned it with only a few items checked off. Bill and I were stunned - this was great, gotta-have stuff. It turned out that Julio had merely indicated the books he didn't want - only because he already had copies.

(I think that shipment was worth $88,000; if not, it was another air freight-load to him for that sum - I died a thousand deaths in the course of arranging its pick-up and shipment. After 9/11, moving large quantities of rare books on illegal drugs out of the country actually became easier. By then, the office guys at Swiss Air freight and those on the dock had become old friends of Dailey Rare Books and we were granted "known carrier" status after an airline official took a quick look-see through the shop. Our shipments no longer required time-consuming piece-by-piece inspection and too much paperwork; now, two quick phone calls and a fax).

Julio would visit L.A. once or twice a year and take Bill and me out to lunch. What did we talk about? Uh, books; Julio couldn't get enough of the subject. He was a hip bazzionaire and always appeared in crisp white shirt, pressed faded jeans, sharp blue blazer, and black tassled loafers, a casual ensemble of uncasual quality and cost to the average citizen. He was a rock n' roll jet-setter; he had personal relationships with rock n' roll's royalty and routinely vacationed with them.

Nick Carter Weekly No. 136: Une Fumerie d'Opium. An Anarchist Plot.
New York: Street & Smith, c. 1905. French edition.

Once, while at Dailey Rare Books, I picked up the phone. It was Julio, calling from Geneva, Paris, Berlin, somewhere in Europe. We chatted for a moment then I passed the call over to William.

"Hi, Bill," Julio said, "say hello to Yoko."  Yup, that Yoko. Mick Jagger was also a friend on a long list of luminaries that were his genuine pals.

When I sold my small yet precious collection of drug literature to William Dailey in 1999 it wound up in Julio's collection. When Julio invited me to Geneva to catalog the enormous number of drug paperbacks in his collection (alas, not realized) I looked forward to seeing those old friends.

Feral House, 2008.

When I was preparing my book, Dope Menace (2008), Julio generously opened his collection to me, and had his staff in Geneva - Beatrice Rodriguez, Natasha Antonini, and Flavia Aulieri -  send requested book images for inclusion into DM, which was the first and last volume to cite the Ludow-Santo-Domingo Library as a reference source. Julio was supportive and proud of the project and looked forward to its publication. He was, sadly, extremely ill at the time of the book's release and while I sent him a copy I'm not sure that he saw it before he died.

Dr. [Julius] Cantala.
The Idol: Opium, Heroin, Morphine, and Their Kingdoms.
[N.p.]: Botwen Printing, 1924.

That the Ludlow-Santo Domingo Library is now at Harvard is a relief to those who spent decades assembling its core and those associated with it. We were afraid that the collection would be broken-up and cast to the winds. There is only one other significant collection of this material in the world, in private hands, yet it's a handsome dwarf compared to the LSD. Now, scholars will have access to the finest, broadest, and deepest collection of books, art, and ephemera related to psychotropic drugs on Earth.

I think I speak for all with their hearts in the collection when I thank the family of Julio Santo Domingo, particularly his widow, Vera, for keeping the LSD Library whole and placing it at Harvard, where the collection, once the bastard step-child of the book collecting world - years ago, William Dailey was denied membership in The Grolier Club because of his involvement with the Ludlow - is now recognized for its significance and takes a deserved place of  honor alongside Harvard's other distinguished special collections.

Work and Win No. 275: Fred Fearnot's Trip to Frisco, or
Trapping the Chinese Opium Smuggler.

New York: Frank Tousey, March 11, 1904.

Julio Santo Domingo, Jr.  is surely smiling, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Brian Jones, Jerry Garcia, Marc Bolan, Nico, Harry Nilsson, Jim Morrison, Elvis, etc. at his side because Julio has no doubt become best friends with all of them. And they're likely talking about this, what the Harvard Gazette called, A Collection Unlike Others.

"We got the sex and drugs," said Leslie Morris, curator of Modern Books & Manuscripts at Houghton Library, of the Santo Domingo Library.

And now, a stately procession of ignoble books of the sort that Julio loved and owned, copies of many now,  presumably, on deposit at Harvard, the most respected institution of higher learning in the world. 


All images from Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975, each, save the cover image, courtesy of the Ludlow-Santo-Domingo Library.


  1. Harvard wins, wonderful (and in its entirety) . . . I'm high just thinking of it. mal E (downunder)

  2. Just to learn about the background regarding the aquisition of this magnastic collection has been rather..... entertaining! Thank you; & I can only imagine how thrilled so many must be to be able to explore and enjoy it all. I have to wonder how such an incredible piece of history could have caused so much shame for the boggles the mind. .....
    Thank you Santo for having had the insight to put such a wealth of knowledge about human behaviour and experience together.
    Sincerely, Dana Orlando


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