Swan American Bookstore - Havana, Cuba

With Cuba in the news recently, as the Obama administration lifts certain restrictions and explores lifting others, here is a topical piece of bibliophemera from my collection--a 1943 cover from the Swan American Bookstore in Havana, Cuba.

The Swan American Bookstore, as the name would imply, stocked only American books printed in English. If you were looking for a Spanish language book here in 1943, lo siento, pero todos los libros son en Ingles.

The bookstore was still in business in 1949 and was referenced in a 1949 St. Petersburg Times article about bookstores in Havana. Obispo sounds like it was the street to do business on. According to the article, "Calle Obispo is a narrow, busy street as full of bookstores as Central Avenue is of fruit stands in the tourist season."

The environment along the street amid shopkeepers and book browsers appears to have been laid back: "Proprietors and clerks don’t mind if customers stand around reading their books."

Six years earlier during World War II, however, attitudes ran counter to "laid back," as evidenced by the "EXAMINED BY" adhesive tape running along the left edge of the envelope. A bit of censored postal history in concert with the bibliophemera. And there's an interesting cancellation to boot--COMPRE AZUCAR CUBANO with the English translation underneath: Buy CUBAN SUGAR.

I can't find anything to indicate how long the Swan American Bookstore stayed in business, but there's no signs of life today, of course. If it was still in business when Castro came into power, I'm sure it didn't last long after that.

On the other hand, the addressee on the envelope--College Book Co. of Columbus, Ohio, is still around, though the last decade has seen them morph into a Barnes & Noble university bookstore. Their full name was Longs College Book Company and they were a publisher as well as a bookselling concern. In 2000, they were purchased by Campus Partners at Ohio State University. Under an agreement with Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Long's was combined with the University Bookstore.

Maybe somewhere in the company archives, if Barnes & Noble didn't trash them, there is a letter--my cover's contents-- that a World War II era censor read and then sent on to the bookstore in Columbus, Ohio. It would be interesting to see it and see if it had been worth the bother of the censor's actions. Of course it wasn't.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. One of my relatives, Harry Elvans Swan, owned this store.

  3. Hi:
    I'm doing a research about the Swan Bookstore in Havana, and I think I may be able to provide you with some data about it. If you're interested send me an e-mail to cubalogos(at)gmail.com.
    Best regards.


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