About Us

A.pngpplewood Books was founded in 1976. We publish books for American cultural travelers. Applewood’s mission is to build a picture of America through its primary sources. We have over 2,500 titles in print. In 2010, Applewood Books purchased Commonwealth Editions, an award-winning regional publisher with strong roots in New England. In 2014, Applewood Books purchased the books of Museum Masterworks and renamed the line Grab a Pencil Press. Applewood Books also distributes the books of a number of historical societies, history publishers, regional publishers, and children’s publishers.

Please feel free to contact us at any time. Our hours are Monday-Friday 9 am- 5 pm Eastern. Call 800-277-5312 during these hours and a real person will be glad to help you. After hours, leave a message on our phone system, email us at customercare@awb.com, or fax us at 781-271-0056.

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The following questions were posed to Applewood earlier this year by the inspired cataloger Bas Bleu basbleu.com. We think the answers, written by our founder Phil Zuckerman, will tell you a bit more about us.

1. Tell us a little bit about the genesis of Applewood Books and its mission "to build a picture of America through its primary sources."
  Applewood Books began in 1976. I was dog sitting for my brother’s dog, Juno, in a town just outside of Boston. Juno and I were completely snowed in. After a few years of working in printing and publications around Boston, I had just decided to start a publishing company.

Two years before, I had graduated from college in Colorado with a degree in Literature and Classics and headed East to Boston in my ’53 Saab bringing a printing press, all my worldly possessions, and a spare engine. Most of my things ended up in my brother’s basement. But on this day, snowed in, my press downstairs, and lots of time to dream, I grabbed a printing block and carved an image depicting a wooden apple: Apple (the fruit of knowledge and my mother’s maiden name) and wood (a material for building). That weekend I named the company "Apple-wood Press." That was the genesis of Applewood Books and our first logo.

I hand printed and hand bound Apple-wood Press’s first book, a 100-copy limited edition of four courtly love poems from the 13th century. My girlfriend-now-wife Disty was traveling in China for the year, and I dedicated this first book of Middle English poems of separation to her: "My lefe ys foren in a lond./Allas, why ys she so?" On July 4, 1976, I finished binding those first books. It was America’s 200th anniversary, and not fully aware of the life path I was about to walk down, I finished and went to the Esplanade in Boston to celebrate America’s founding.

It took 7 years of experimenting with different kinds of content and formats, a "hyphen-ectomy" (Apple-wood Press became Applewood Books), and partnering with Ned Perkins, a college friend, before Applewood Books settled on its mission and my life’s passion: telling stories about the lives of Americans who came before us. Having published a book about writer’s homes, we realized the power of telling the stories of historic places. So, we began simply reissuing, without changing a word, a few timeless and overlooked copyright-free primary sources: The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child and The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin. These books are still two of our best-selling works. Each subsequent year we have expanded the geography, chronology, and subjects of the books we publish and distribute, all the while building a strong backlist and "building a picture of America." The printing press I brought from Denver still sits in the entry of our offices in Carlisle, Massachusetts - a reminder of the importance of building knowledge (apple-wood) with your own hands and making publishing a personal endeavor.
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2. You recently partnered with the American Antiquarian Society to rerelease a selection of children’s books from their collection. What do these books, some of which date back to the nineteenth century, offer readers that contemporary titles perhaps do not?
  Understanding what life was like in the past helps to inform our present and our future. This is why Applewood Books does what it does. A contemporary book connects with a modern reader, but does not raise the fundamental question that we are asked in reading books from the past. Are we that different from those who came before us?

The American Antiquarian Society collection gives us a window on what life was like in previous centuries for young people, their parents, and their teachers. Through these books that aimed to inculcate good values to children, we see what values were important to Americans in days gone by.

There are many things about the past and its books that rub against our sense of our selves and own social progress. Seen through our lens, reading these books aloud to young children will lead to conversation. Strange words. Different values. Political Incorrectness. Stiff formality. These children and adults from the past are so different. But how? And why? And really?

The 21st century child needs to better understand and appreciate differences to make our smaller world a better place. What better place than in the pages of children’s books from another time for a young child to discover how our differences in the end make us the same.
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3. Your books featuring the portraits of the presidents and first ladies were produced in partnership with White House Historical Association. How did that relationship come about?
  We are the exclusive distributors of the publications of the White House Historical Association. They produce some of the most beautiful and well-edited books published in America today. We did not co-produce these portraits of the presidents and first ladies, but we are very proud to partner with them now to sell these wonderful books.

For many years, we had been selling our books to the White House Historical Association. Because we are active vendor affiliates of the Museum Store Association, we have had an opportunity over the years to get to know the White House Historical Association buyer and for her to get to know us. Because of our very robust pipeline of distribution to many different customers of history, the White House Historical Association believed it would benefit their line to have us distribute their books. We do this for a number of other history-based publishers. It definitely helps us further our mission. We are very proud to be working with them.
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4. What other organizations have you partnered with on different titles?
  Partnering is a big part of our mission, because it gives us access to and helps us publish many more books from America’s living past. We have so many mission-based customers— museums, national parks, libraries, bookstores, corporations, and, yes, catalogers. Each of these has a story to tell, and many of these stories are based in their history and involve a book.

Most of our most important books come from partnering with history-based organizations, such as those we’ve partnered with over the last year: the Preservation Society of Newport County, New-York Historical Society, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, House of the Seven Gables, Harriet Beecher Stowe House, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Octavia Books, Orchard House, University of Florida, and Winterthur Museum and Library.

But many of our partners have been corporations: Disney, Pillsbury, Franklin Templeton, LL Bean, HP, Apple, and Montgomery Ward. These companies each have had a unique reason to join with us in our efforts, but each has contributed to creating a richer mix of content for all to enjoy.
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5. Is it common for Applewood to receive requests from consumers to reissue specific books, perhaps long-ago childhood favorites that are out of print?
  Yes. We receive many requests from consumers, and we are always looking for more. We are in the process of developing our brand using social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Our Facebook page provides a daily story that connects with one of our books. Where possible, we are linking to one of our partners’ retail sites for sales. These new and evolving ways of connecting with individual consumers are not necessarily intended to sell products but rather to build our brand and let our audience tell us what we should be publishing.

Our sales are mostly to companies who sell to others, so we often don’t hear about the books that people remember fondly from their past and would want to own. Finding ways to uncover more long-ago favorites for children and adults is an ongoing part of our publishing program. So suggest away. We’re listening!
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6. Printing techniques have changed significantly since some of your reissued titles were originally conceived. How do you authentically capture those vintage looks with modern technology?
  We are constantly reinventing our technological selves to keep current. But we are always trying to achieve the same goal: authentically capturing an original and transforming the resulting image to have, as much as possible, the look and feel of the original.

Before a book goes to press, we have many different ways of dealing with creating facsimiles and reprints, depending on the original material and the intended audience. Most of the work to get a book ready for print involves photographing or scanning an original and then improving the outcome. We primarily use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. The secret sauce is in blending the integrity of the original with the myriad possible ways to reproduce it.

Our printing, ninety-five percent of which is done in America, is now done in longer runs and runs of one book at a time, depending on the market. As with all technology, there are limitations. But for us, the limitations have been overshadowed by our ability to publish even more books for smaller audiences.
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7. In your opinion, what makes a story so timeless that it can be enjoyed by multiple generations?
  A timeless story is a great story told by a great storyteller. It must be filled with a character or characters that come alive. The story must raise our hopes, increase our fears, make us laugh, make us cry, cheat death, bring new life, teach us, touch us, give us a reason to cheer for the good guy and root against the bad. It must take place in our imagination. It must be carried with us long after it is read. It must imbed itself in heart, mind, and memory. It must be broadcast to others or it will fade. There are so many stories that are timeless that have been forgotten.
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8. How long have you been working with Bas Bleu?
  We have been working with Bas Bleu since 1998. Five years ago, Jill Christiansen joined Applewood Books as Sales Manager. Her passion for Bas Bleu and Applewood has yielded a wonderful working relationship.
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9. Which of your titles have proven the most popular?
  Our children’s books are definitely our most popular. In unit sales, we sold 11 million copies of a Walt Disney Bambi pamphlet. The original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, celebrating its 75th birthday in 2014, has sold about 3 million copies since 1990. We sold hundreds of thousands of the facsimile reprints of the original Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books we published between 1998 and 2010.

Our edition of George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, rules that George Washington wrote down when he was young, has sold over a million copies. It is part of a series of little leatherette books of American wisdom that all sell very well for us. The books in this series are used by many companies as a corporate gift.

Also very popular are the contemporary regional children’s books published through our Commonwealth Editions imprint: books by Ed Shankman & Dave O’Neill (I Met a Moose in Maine One Day, My Grandma Lives in Florida, Bourbon Street Band is Back, and others), by Martha Zschock (the Journey Around… series and the Hello! series), and the Find-the-Animals books by Sage Stossel (On the Loose in Boston and On the Loose in Washington, DC).
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10. With your keen eye for true classics, do you see any contemporary children's literature that's destined to become a classic in the future?
  I don’t get a chance to read contemporary children’s books, but you’ve now inspired me to start buying them for my future grandchildren and great-nieces and -nephews. I hope you’ll let me come back in a few years and answer this question. There would be no greater pleasure in the world than having time with the next generation to discover together the answers to this question, because there is no greater joy than sharing the stories in great books with the ones you love.