Pen and Sword: highlights from the Leo Cooper archive

The Leo Cooper archive is one of many publishers’ archives held at the University of Reading’s Special Collections. Leo Cooper worked in publishing for over thirteen years before setting up his own firm to publish books with a military theme, including regimental histories, escape stories and war memoirs. As a celebration of the completion of the cataloguing of the archive, this exhibition focuses on some of the highlights from the collection.

Leo Cooper

Leo Cooper started his career in 1955 in the invoicing department at Longmans, later moving to publicity. In 1965 he moved to Andre Deutsch, finally working at Hamish Hamilton between 1966 and 1968. During his time with Hamilton, Cooper proposed a small military history list, and in 1967 the Famous Regiments Series began. In 1968 Leo Cooper Ltd was born. Cooper had taken the authors and titles under contract with him from Hamish Hamilton and bought the Famous Regiments Series making The York and Lancaster Regiment by Donald Creighton-Williams the first book published under the new imprint. Tim Jacques, a former colleague of Cooper’s from Longmans, designed the distinctive pen and sword colophon which is still used today by Pen & Sword Books (see image above).

Shortly after the firm started Cooper was joined by Tom Hartman, his business partner and editor, working together for nearly thirty-five years. In 1970 Leo Cooper joined forces with the well established Seeley, Service imprint (Seeley was established in 1744). Seeley, Service & Cooper was bought by Frederick Warne in 1979 after the company went into receivership. In 1982 Leo Cooper moved under the umbrella of the Heinemann group – namely Secker & Warburg and later Heinemann. Eventually the Leo Cooper imprint was bought by the Barnsley Chronicle in 1990 who changed the name to Pen & Sword. Cooper stayed with them for a while before retiring from publishing for good in about 2002.

Leo Cooper: Authors & Books

Alex Bowlby Recollections of Rifleman Bowlby: Italy 1944

Leo Cooper was the seventeenth publisher approached by Alex Bowlby with his memoirs of his time spent in Italy in 1944 as a rifleman. The book became known as one of the finest memoirs of the Second World War, and an early success for the newly formed Leo Cooper Ltd in 1969. Cooper said of Bowlby "he had written a book about his service as a gentleman ranker first in the desert and later on in Italy where he saw some desperate fighting. He had written a classic of its kind… I still regard Recollections as one of the best books I have ever published."

George Charles Henry Victor Paget, 7th Marquess of Anglesey A history of the British cavalry 1816-1919.

The Marquess of Anglesey described the book himself as ‘my life’s work’ in a postcard to Leo Cooper. Eight volumes written by the same author, edited by the same team and published by the same firm over 25 years was an enormous feat and Leo Cooper’s proudest publishing achievement: "much to people’s surprise the books were received ecstatically by the reading public. It is of no surprise that the book received various prizes and awards".

Charles Whiting Hunters from the sky

Charles Whiting was the most prolific author published by Leo Cooper. As Cooper remarked "he wrote so many books that it became necessary to write under three pseudonyms – Leo Kessler, K.L. Kostof and Duncan Harding", and early on became the publisher’s house author. A meeting in a pub between Cooper and Whiting planted the seed for Hunters from the sky: a history of the German parachute regiment. Six weeks later Whiting handed over the completed manuscript for the book which went on to became a success in the U.K. and the United States. Cooper stated that "Charles Whiting was one of the most loyal and productive of the authors I have published".

The Leo Cooper archive boasts over 300 archive boxes largely consisting of editorial and related files (including production, publicity and review files), manuscripts, map and illustration artwork, business correspondence files, internal correspondence files and minute books, and miscellaneous files of correspondence, largely with potential authors. The catalogue for the archive will be available on our online catalogue Adlib which will available to access via this website.

This exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall at the Special Collections Service until 15 April 2011.

List of exhibits

Case 1:

1. Photograph of Leo Cooper at the Derek Bond launch party

2. Printing blocks and prints of the Pen & Sword colophon designed by Tim Jacques

3. Photograph of Leo and Jilly Cooper at the launch party for the publication Steady, old man! by Derek Bond

4. Photograph of Tom Hartman, Jilly Cooper and Tim Jacques (taken from Leo Cooper’s memoirs All my friends will buy it)

5. Letter from Basil Liddell Hart on receipt of The York and Lancaster Regiment

6. Design for The York and Lancaster Regiment dust-jacket

7. Letters from Curtis Brown and John Betjeman regarding a proposed book on Victorian architecture

8. A selection of Leo Cooper catalogues

Case 2:

1. Letter from Alex Bowlby (LC A/2/79)

2. Review of the publication Memoirs of Rifleman Bowlby (LC A/2/79)

3. Letter from the Secretary to the Ambassador of Jordon (Editorial file for Hunters from the sky)

4. Letter from Charles Whiting (Editorial for Hunters from the sky)

5. Dust-jacket artwork for Hunters from the sky (Editorial file for Hunters from the sky)

6. Letter from the Marquess of Anglesey concerning volume 1 of his History of the British Cavalry (LC A/2)

7. Postcard from the Marquess of Anglesey (LC A/2)

Case 3:

1. Line illustrations for chapter headings by Nerissa Jones for My longest night by Genevieve Dubosq

2. All my friends will buy it : a bottlefield tour, by Leo Cooper. Staplehurst, Kent : Spellmount, 2005.  Leo Cooper’s memoirs which chart his publishing career (a copy is available in the reading room reference book collection at the Special Collections Service at REFERENCE--070.50924-COO)

3. Artwork for The escaping habit by Jo Orna (Artwork files)

4. Reader’s report by editor Hugh Popham for The escaping habit (originally entitled Passport to freedom) (Editorial file for The escaping habit)

5. Letter from Jo Orna to Leo Cooper (Editorial file for The escaping habit)

6. Original artwork by Catherine Bradbury for the dust-jacket for Boy in the Blitz by Colin Perry and a copy of the dust-jacket (Artwork files; Editorial file for Boy in the Blitz)

7. Letter from Colin Perry regarding the dust-jacket (Editorial file for Boy in the Blitz)

8. Cartoon drawing by Biro (Miscellaneous file)

9. Selection of dust-jackets from books published by Leo Cooper. 

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