In the late 1920s, when Charles Scribner, Jr., was but a boy, his father, the third successive Charles Scribner to head the family firm, took him on a tour of the Scribner printing plant. There, just a few blocks south of the Scribner offices and bookstore at 597 Fifth Avenue, sets of Henry James and Edith Wharton, and best-sellers by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, not to mention the monthly Scribner’s Magazine, were printed and bound and shipped out of town. “It was so big,” remembers that boy, now almost seventy, “and there were so many people—It was an awesome experience for a child. It was a little frightening, too, to reflect that all this meant Scribners. I felt terribly diminished by the scope of the operation and the thought that I was expected to play some role in it. I was intensely aware that I was next in line.”

This note, struck early on in Mr. Scribner’s...


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