Scope and Content Note
The Portents collection, compiled and donated to Archives and Special Collections by Ann and Samuel Charters, is comprised of manuscripts, personal correspondence, sound recordings, printer proofs, photographs, limited edition press materials, and publications. It includes the work of Jack Kerouac, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Larry Eigner, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg and documents the activities of the press and the community in which the artists lived and created.
- Majority of material found within 1951 - 1978
- Charters, Ann. (Person)
The Origins of Portents, First a Record Label, Then a Small Press (by Ann Charters): The idea of Portents first emerged in the spring of 1963, when Sam and Ann Charters visited their friends Deena and Ted Puffer in their small rented house on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. They sat around on the back porch, drinking scotch and ice, waiting for the lobsters they'd caught earlier in the afternoon to boil for their supper, and talking about how they wanted to start their own record company. They decided on the name "Portents" because they loved the Herman Melville poem about the martyr John Brown that opened his book "Battle Pieces." To Melville, "Portents" were the vital signs in the mid-19th century that the Civil War was imminent in the United States. A century later, they believed the word suggested the social and cultural revolution they were trying to encourage by promoting those whom Allen Ginsberg would later call their "secret heroes." These ranged from the unheralded African-American composers of classic ragtime and country blues to the then-obscure American composer Charles Ives and Beat writer Jack Kerouac. A few years earlier two New York friends, the record collectors Pete Whalen and Bill Givens, had produced a long-playing record titled "REALLY the Country Blues" on their OJL label (Origin Jazz Library). It was their answer to the long-playing record that Sam had produced for Folkways, "The Country Blues," an LP of reissued classic blues made originally on 78's by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, etc. which accompanied Sam's 1959 book of that title. At the time Whalen and Givens had shown Sam how to start his own little label too -- they'd given him the names of record pressers, printers, etc. on the Lower East Side. After their encouraging talk with the Puffers, Sam and Ann began to feel that all they needed to do was get back to New York City and START. (Ann had been teaching English at Colby Junior College in New Hampshire since the fall of 1961). But it actually took awhile longer.
10.5 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
Portents, an independent record label and small press, was established by Ann and Samuel Charters in 1963 and operated until the early 1980’s. The name given to the imprint by the Charters was derived from the Herman Melville poem about the abolitionist John Brown that opens the book Battle Pieces. “To Melville, ‘portents’ were the vital signs in the mid 19th century that the Civil War was imminent in the United States. A Century later, we believed the word suggested the social and cultural revolution we were trying to encourage by promoting those whom Allen Ginsberg would later call our ‘secret heroes’,” remarked Ann Charters. The Charters’ aim was to make more widely known, read and heard, through the publication Portents, the work of their ‘secret heroes’ -- writers, musicians, composers, graphic artists and printers.
Acquired as a gift of Ann and Samuel Charters in November 2007.
NOTE ITEM NOT INCLUDED IN TRANSFER TO ARCHIVES: Portents 2: "Rural Blues on Skid Row: One String Blues" (LP Record) [LP not included in jacket], 1964
- Portents Records
- Under Revision
- Archives and Special Collections staff
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description