By the early 1930s, Ira Schnapp was making a living as a freelance letterer and designer, doing show card lettering, as seen above, for movie theaters and probably other clients. There was actually lots of work then for a person skilled in lettering. “Show card” lettering, or large display lettering done on card stock, was used in many businesses from the front windows (“show” windows) to shelves and displays inside. Clothing retailers, grocery stores, every kind of shop used such signs. Much of the advertising seen in magazines and on posters and billboards also used show card lettering.
A popular book about how to do it, “The Speedball Text Book” by Ross F. George, was first published in 1915, and had gone through 14 editions and dozens of printings by 1941, so clearly there were many artists making a living doing that kind of work, or trying to.
Image © DC Comics, from DETECTIVE COMICS #326, April 1964
Unfortunately, none of Ira Schnapp’s show card lettering survives, as far as we know. We can only infer how it might have looked based on the dozens of varied, stylish and exciting house ads he did for DC Comics later, like the one above.
It was the depression, and I’m sure Ira Schnapp was happy to take any kind of freelance lettering work he could get. Pulp magazines were then a cheap and popular form of escapist entertainment for the masses, and a number were being published by partners Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz starting around 1929. Liebowitz was related by marriage to Ira (more on that soon), and they knew each other through family connections. Ira’s son Marty remembers that, in the 1930s, his family would rent a bungalow for the summer in Edgemere, Queens, near Rockaway Beach, and one summer in the mid ’30s Jack Liebowitz came to stay with them there. Like Ira, Donenfeld and Liebowitz were both born in eastern Europe, Donenfeld in Romania in 1893, and Liebowitz in Ukraine in 1900, and both followed a similar path of emigrating to New York City as children and living on the Lower East Side. Donenfeld began as a clothing salesman and opened his own store, but that business failed, and he joined his brothers in a printing business. Harry ran with a tough crowd, developed mob connections, and reportedly built up the business through them, soon pushing his brothers out and taking control. Before long he was printing pulp magazines for others, and when Liebowitz joined him to handle the bookkeeping end of things in 1929, began printing his own pulps, often of an erotic or “spicy” nature.
Though I have no firm evidence, I believe Ira Schnapp was working for the Donenfeld-Liebowitz pulps doing logo designs and cover lettering at least by 1934. I’ve written extensively about that beginning HERE, trying to identify Ira’s involvement through style clues.
For instance, this logo and cover lettering certainly looks like the work of Ira Schnapp to me, not to mention foreshadowing the famous SUPERMAN logo he’d be doing for Donenfeld and Liebowitz a few years later. Comics historian Jerry Bails wrote that Ira was working for the pair’s Trojan Publishing pulp magazine company beginning in 1934. He didn’t give a source for that information, but I find it born out in the work. While new cover logos were not called for that often, if Ira was doing the cover lettering for the magazines, that could have supplied him with steady work and income.
Before we continue with Ira’s work, let’s catch up with the rest of his extended family. In the 1930 census, Ira’s parents Max and Sadie have moved to 865 Walton Avenue, the Bronx, near 161st street, close to Yankee Stadium. Max’s occupation is listed as proprietor – retail groceries, and at age 65, he’s still working.
In 1925, son Joe was again listed as living with them, with the occupation of partner – delicatessen. He was probably working at The Tip Toe Inn on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The Inn was opened in either 1915 or 1918 at Broadway and 80th Street, later moving to 86th. It was one of the earliest classic New York delicatessen restaurants, known for great food and large portions. Joe worked there for many years. Marty Schnapp remembers the entire family dining there together. A 1965 version of the Tip Toe Inn was recreated for the “Mad Men” TV series, above. Joe married Claire Goldstein on June 27th, 1926, and their daughter Norma was born in 1927. Moses (Mo) is living with his parents both times, and continues working as a printer.
In the early 1920s, Lena (Lee) married Morris Iger, who later went by the name George Iger. They lived at 2244 Grand Avenue, the Bronx in the 1925 census, and their son Frederick was less than a year old in then. Fred Iger grew up to have a career in the comics business, which I’ll be covering later. In the 1930 census, George Iger is a restaurant proprietor, and they have a second child, a daughter Toby born that year. George began packaging and selling prepared horseradish as the Arrow Horseradish Company, later the Regis Foods Company. (I’ve been unable to find any photos of these.)
From “The Wave” of Rockaway Beach, Sept. 6th 1923
By the summer of 1923, Shirley has become Sharlye, the name she went by the rest of her life. She was the winner of a local beauty contest in Averne, near Rockaway Beach, Queens, as reported in the article above, though her name is misspelled as Sharyle. Note that the previous year’s winner was her cousin Hilda, more on that later. Sharlye married Saul Herzfeld on June 12, 1925, and must have left the family home that year. Saul also spent time at Rockaway Beach, and probably met Sharlye there. Saul and his younger brother Nathan had a very successful business selling rugs as Stephen Rug Mills, though there was no mill, all their rugs were imported. They also invested elsewhere, including Yonkers Race Track. By the 1970s, Saul was described as a multi-millionaire.
The youngest daughter Minnie is now Nina (pronounced Nine-ah) in the 1925 census, the name she went by the rest of her life. She married Jacob Naguid on June 24th, 1928. Except for brother Sam Schnapp, all the Schnapp siblings continued to live in the same area of New York City and remained close. Sam and his wife Imogene moved to Cleveland, Ohio some time in the 1920s, where Sam worked for the May Company department store as a clothing buyer. That allowed him to make frequent trips to New York, where he often visited his family. Their daughter Dorothy was born on June 14th, 1926.
The 1930s brought more changes for the Schnapp family, but before we get into those, there are a group of Schnapp cousins living in New York that I’d like to look at more closely. We’ve already met a few, the Israel Schnapp who lived with Max’s family for a while, Joseph Schnapp who, with Israel, vouched for Max on his Naturalization Papers, and Sam Schnapp who lived with the Schwadrons. We’re not sure how these and some other Schnapps are related to Max’s family, but here’s what we know. As you’ll see, there are some interesting comic book connections.
Samuel (Sam) Schnapp, the one who we think lived with the Schwadrons, was born in Sassow, Austria on Sept 6th, 1889. For clarity, I’m going to call him Sam 2. He married Celia Chinitz on June 24th, 1922. Celia was the daughter of Aaron Chinitz, the founder and owner of the Tip Toe Inn, that Jewish deli restaurant where Max’s son Joe worked much of his life. Above are photos of Sam and Celia from a 1922 passport. Celia was born on May 19th, 1902, and tragically died on May 6th, 1928, at the age of 26. We don’t know the cause of death. They had a son, Robert. After Celia’s death, Sam 2 lived with his in-laws and continued to rise in the family restaurant business. He must have known Max’s son Joe well, and was probably his boss. More information about that family is HERE.
Sam 2 had a younger brother named (in various documents) Saul, Solomun, Salomun, or Sol, born in Sassow, Austria in 1892. He arrived in New York in 1912 and was a delicatessen owner by 1917. On June 12th, 1925 he married Faye Liebowitz. Faye was the sister of Jack Liebowitz, the business partner of Harry Donenfeld (beginning in 1929). As described above, Donenfeld and Liebowitz published dozens of pulp magazine titles. I believe Ira Schnapp designed logos and cover lettering for their pulp magazines, at least from 1934, and knew Liebowitz through connections to Ira’s own family. Here’s that connection. On Sam 2’s passport application, his father’s name is given as Wolf Schnapp. We don’t know if Wolf was the brother of Ira’s father Max, but it seems likely. If so, Jack Liebowitz’ sister Faye was married to Ira’s cousin Sol. There are no records of a Wolf Schnapp in America, so perhaps he stayed in Austria. Austria was one of the countries in Europe visited by Sam 2 and Celia on their 1922 vacation trip.
Sol Schnapp and his wife Faye (Liebowitz) Schnapp had three children. Daughter Lorayne was born in 1927. Son Jay was born on July 31, 1928. Jay Schnapp later changed his name to Jay Emmett, and began working for his uncle’s comic book business in the late 1940s. Eventually he founded the Licensing Corporation of America, an important division of Warner Communications, then owners of DC Comics. Sol and Faye’s daughter Carol was born in 1934. She married Irwin Donenfeld, the son of Harry Donenfeld, in the 1960s.
Next we have two brothers who are also related to Max, probably his cousins, though possibly his brothers or nephews: Adolph and Joseph Schnapp. Adolph was born in Austria in 1871. He married Rose, born in the 1880s, and they had three children, Herman, Charles and Freda.
Alex Jay and I believe Joseph or Joe Schnapp is the man who vouched for Max on his Naturalization Papers. For clarity, I’ll call him Joe 2. He was born in Czernowitz, Austria on March 18th, 1876. Above is a passport photo from 1920. He married Hanna, and they had five children: Hilda (born April 20, 1905), Irving, Florence, Ruth and Shirley.
Hilda was the 1922 winner of the Arverne Beauty contest in Rockaway Beach. Above is her contest-winner photo from the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” on Aug. 30th, 1922. Hilda married Nathan Herzfeld in 1927, the brother and business partner of Saul Herzfeld, the man who married Max’s daughter Sharlye. Both Herzfeld brothers spent time in Rockaway Beach, and must have met their brides there. The Herzfelds were in the carpet business under the name Stephen Rug Mills. We know that Hilda Schnapp and Sharlye Schnapp were cousins and must have known each other because of the Sept. 6th, 1923 article in “The Wave,” a local paper of Rockaway Beach, pictured earlier. Depending on how Hilda’s father Joe 2 is related to Max, Hilda and Sharlye were either first or second cousins.
Another cousin, already mentioned, is the other Israel Schnapp. He was born in Austria on August 10th, 1886 and married another Rose. He was still living in Manhattan in 1942, and had his own business, but we don’t know what kind. He had a brother named Abram. We have no other information about them. So, we have three pairs of brothers. They may all be brothers or cousins to each other, we don’t know, but it’s likely all these Schnapp men knew Max’s children, including Ira, and as you can see, there are many business connections.
On April 2nd, 1936, Max Schnapp died suddenly at home in the Bronx. He was 70. The family took visitors at the home of Saul and Sharlye Herzfeld. Marty Schnapp remembers his grandpa as being retired, so Max did have a few years at the end where he wasn’t working. Afterwards his widow, Sadie, took up residence with George and Lee Iger. By this time, most of the family had relocated to Manhattan’s Morningside Heights and Upper West Side, with Jack and Theresa Schnapp at West 111th Street, Joe and Claire Schnapp on West 81st Street, Ira and Beatrice Schnapp on West 110th Street, George and Lena Iger (with mother Sadie) on West 113th Street, and Saul and Sharlye Herzfeld on Central Park West near 104th Street. Moses (Mo) Schnapp married Bessie Seidman on June 25th, 1933, and they still lived in the Bronx on Sherman Avenue. Bessie was also deaf, and they probably met at the special school.
Nina Naguid lived further south in Manhattan on Seventh Avenue near 22nd Street according to the 1940 census, and seems to have been separated or divorced from Jack Naguid by then. An interesting entry for 1938 in a biography of African-American writer Ralph Ellison has a Jack and Nina Naguid in a different location, see above. This could be another couple, but it seems possible it’s our Nina. Brother Sam and his family were still in Ohio, but Sam visited New York often through his job as a clothes buyer for the May Company, according to newspaper articles found by Alex Jay.
This period is one that Marty Schnapp remembers fondly. Every Friday night the entire Schnapp family would gather at the home of George and Lee Iger at 113th Street off Broadway where mother/grandmother Sadie Schnapp also lived. “If there was no phone call, that Friday night you went to see Grandma, and if you weren’t there, you were probably dead,” Marty joked. “We all lived on the Upper West Side. I was born and grew up at 601 West 110th Street, then we moved to 515 West 110th Street. Most of the family lived within that area until Lee and her husband George Iger moved to Cedarhurst [in 1942], and that broke up the Friday nights.” Marty remembers lots of talk and laughter at the family gatherings. The adults would sit together in the living room, while the children played together in another room. Mo and Bess had two children, Lewis and Brenda. They communicated with their deaf parents by sign language. Marty’s sister Teddy was about seven years older than him, and he doesn’t remember her coming to the family gatherings very often. When she did, she and Fred Iger, were about the same age and would have played together. Marty remembers playing with Toby Iger, his age. Joe Schnapp’s daughter Norma was very friendly with Toby. Saul and Sharlye adopted a son, Michael, born in 1937. Marty doesn’t remember his aunt Nina being there very often, and does not recall ever meeting her husband Jack. He does remember his uncle Saul entertaining the kids with magic tricks, like pulling coins out of their ears.
On his childhood on 110th Street, Marty remembers, “It’s where I lived until I got married. My school, PS 165, was a block away. We were middle class. Growing up, I never felt we were poor. The friends I had at that time, the parents couldn’t move since there was a war on [referring to World War Two], so we all went to public school and the Bronx High School of Science together. I can’t say my father and mother really knew my friends’ parents, even though we were in the same class. I kept in touch with my two best friends until they passed away.”
With his family grown to four and lots more family nearby, Ira Schnapp continued to find employment as an artist in Manhattan, and some time in the late 1930s, he began work on a personal project that he hoped would become a syndicated feature in newspapers. Titled “Art of the Ages,” each article featured a famous work of art — a painting or sculpture — reproduced in pen, ink and textured shading by Ira, as well as a portrait of the artist. A description of the work, and a brief biography of the artist, we assume written by Ira, fill out each article, and show him to be a good writer and very knowledgeable on the subjects he chose. This project was unknown to comics and art fans until Alex Jay found 24 weekly episodes in the “Toledo Blade” newspaper of Toledo, Ohio in 2012. We’ve found no evidence that the series was printed anywhere else, and there’s no syndication information in the articles, so how it got to this paper is a mystery. The series began in the January 23rd, 1940 issue, and the final one appeared in the July 2nd issue. Art covered runs from ancient Greek sculpture like the Venus de Milo through Renaissance masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Rafael to more modern works. This clearly was a labor of love for Ira, though probably one he didn’t make much, if any, money from, and so was unable to continue. Reproducing famous art for the poor printing in a newspaper was a tough job, and at times Ira’s versions are uneven and hard to understand, but often it’s amazing how much of the original work he’s able to capture in line and shading.
Ira signed his name proudly to some of the art (though modestly small), and I’m sure he was disappointed it did not go further. You can read my own article on this project HERE, and see the entire 24 entries on Alex Jay’s blog HERE. These are the only works to see print with Ira Schnapp’s byline, as far as we know.
Next time we’ll begin with Ira’s entry into the comics business, his 1940 design for the SUPERMAN logo. Other articles you might enjoy can be found on the LOGO LINKS and COMICS CREATION pages of my blog, with other chapters of this article on the latter.