top of page

The Mystery of George F. Jowett's Vanity Press

Captains Log, July 23, 2021.

It was a week of exceptions and mystery. It started with the exception. I avoid acquiring Bibles and dictionaries. It is one of my rules, no Bibles, avoid dictionaries. Somehow I ended up with both this week. One of the exceptions is leather. More leather books have arrived and continue to arrive. Stop on by the store to find your treasure.

The mystery started on Saturday afternoon when a collection of books entered the Captain’s Book Shoppe. The books appeared to be from the 1930s.

The initial question when I spotted six vintage booklets from the 1930s, was “is this the entire set?” The advertisement in the back of the book answered the question. We were missing MOLDING MIGHTY MUSCLES.

Photo is the back coupon page from the Orange colored MOLDING A MIGHTY BACK by George F. Jowett published by the Jowett Institute of Physical Culture, Inc. in 1931.

George Jowett is credited with authoring numerous books. The exact number is a mystery. He wrote in the 1900s “under the pseudonym of John Bradford.” Under that identity “he edited the American Continental Weight Lifters’ Association Notes where he was able to engage in unrestrained self-praise” of strongman George Jowett.[1.] Jowett was a skilled writer, editor, and superb organizational promoter. He was a P.T. Barnum with muscles. Before Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno, there was the father of strongmen in the 1920s, George Jowett. John D. Fair, Ph.D. Auburn University at Montgomery examined George Jowett’s place in wrestling, weightlifting and bodybuilding history entitled Father-Figure or Phony? George Jowett, the ACWA and the MILO Barbell Company, 1924-1927. Despite all that research, there was still a mystery to solve once George Jowett entered the store. [2]

How Does One Note a Jowett First Edition?

Short answer, it remains a mystery. Longer answer is Jowett was a controversial figure that may have wanted things to be murky. His works are the textbook definition of Vanity Press. Meriam-Webster's definition is:

"vanity press: a publishing house that publishes books at the author's expense— called also vanity publisher."[3]

Fair's article highlighted questionable publishing and business transactions by Jowett. "Jowett allegedly plagiarized an article Pullum had written on Arthur Saxon and published it in Strength."[4] I may never really determine the definitive facts, but Jowett remains an intriguing, collectable author.

What is Known

George F. Jowett was a muscle man credited with organizing the weightlifting sport in the United States while setting weightlifting records. He was a showman that sold the sport. As the editor of Strength Magazine (1924-1927), he promoted himself. He organized weightlifting and published rules for competitions. Many of those publications were published by and advertised as mail order items in Strength Magazine. The books not only contained standardized rules for the competitions, they also listed weightlifting records. The editor, George F. Jowett, published a list of feats and accomplishments about himself. Some people in the business questioned if George F. Jowett legitimately performed all of those feats and records. Jowett is a controversial historical figure in the weightlifting and publishing community. Strength Magazine fired George Jowett in 1927. Once dismissed from Strength Magazine he self-published his works through a firm known as Jowett Institute of Physical Culture Inc.[5]

Undated photo of George F. Jowett in the 1931 MOLDING A MIGHTY BACK. The photo was in five of the books from the Jowett Institute termed the Strong Man's Library. (The photo was not in the green colored 1930 MOLDING A MIGHTY ARM.)

Are these booklets collectable / valuable?

My general opinion is controversy adds to the value of a book. This rule has exceptions, but Jowett's case is one where his original booklets are items weightlifters collect.

John Wood’s Old Time Strongman website states:

"In 1930, George Jowett came out with some of his most popular training materials in the form of the “Molding” courses.

Each of these courses was devoted to one specific aspect of training: Molding a Mighty Arm, Molding a Mighty Chest, Molding Mighty Legs, Molding a Mighty Grip, Molding a Mighty Back and ending with Strongman Stunts Made Easy. Hundreds of thousands of these courses were sold all over the world during the Jowett Institute’s heyday.

While the rest of these booklets are currently out of print and very hard to come by…"[6]

Individual modern reprints of each booklet were se