The Letter Edged In Black Press

Copley and an artist friend, Dimitri “Pete” Petrov, founded The Letter Edged in Black Press in 1968. The two would spearhead an innovative artist’s magazine known as S.M.S., (short for Shit Must Stop). Issues of S.M.S. arrived to subscribers in printed boxed envelopes that contained a folio brimming with painstakingly reproduced art facsimiles.

Inspired in part by Duchamp’s Boîte-En-Valise and Dieter Rot’s ambitious artist’s book produced for the William and Noma Copley Foundation, (referred to as the Copley Book), S.M.S. sought to circumvent mainstream publishing and commercial art models by supplying high-quality art for a modest price. In a letter to Joseph Cornell, dated June 26, 1968, Copley described S.M.S.’s mission:

“As you will see it is a mixture of many things. We are not trying to push any kind of art but rather to suggest how many different ways ideas can go. So we include the old and the new in a context that is meant above all to surprise and make of the box itself a sort of adult joy.” [1]

A total of six issues were produced and distributed in 1968, a brief span that nevertheless required manufacturing dozens of exactly replicated artworks, (around a dozen per issue), by upwards of sixty artists. Participants included Meret Oppenheim, Yoko Ono, Bruce Nauman, H.C. Westermann, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Enrico Baj, Hollis Frampton, Lee Lozano, Ray Johnson, Joseph Kosuth, Diane Wakoski, Mel Ramos and Hannah Weiner. (For a comprehensive digital survey of the multiples from S.M.S. please visit the Davis Museum’s dedicated S.M.S. website:

On September 12, 1968, William Copley wrote laconically to his old friend and colleague Julien Levy: “I’m having to fold the magazine which is bad, just got married to Stella which is good.” Just like the Copley Galleries twenty years earlier, S.M.S. had been long on ambition, short on financial sense – The Letter Edged In Black Press shuttered business within a year. ∎

[1] Joseph Cornell papers, 1804-1986, bulk 1939-1972. [General Correspondence, Box 2, Folder 3] Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.