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Sylvester & Orphanos Collection and Archive: An Introduction

The Library of Congress holds the complete catalog of publications and related archival materials from the LGBT publishing firm of Ralph Sylvester (1934-2018) and Stathis Orphanos (1940-2018). This guide provides an overview of these materials.


Stathis Orphanos, photographer. Ralph and Stathis. Sylvester & Orphanos Collection and Archive. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Sylvester & Orphanos was a Los Angeles-based publishing firm that was active from about 1976 to 2006. It was established by Ralph Sylvester (1934-2018) and Stathis Orphanos (1940-2018) who met in Los Angeles in 1960. Ralph was from Derry, Pennsylvania and moved to California when he was stationed at Fort Ord. Stathis was from Greensboro, North Carolina and moved to California to attend the California State College (now university). He met Ralph while taking a summer course at the University of California, Los Angeles. Their budding romantic relationship, detailed in Elisa Rolle's book Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History, One Story at a Time (2014), turned into a business partnership when they began selling books. In addition to the book trade, Orphanos was a writer and photographer, and he built an expansive collection of his photography of literary figures, athletes, and activists. An associate of Orphanos suggested that given his extensive contacts gained over the years through the book business and his photography of literary figures—including a close friendship with Christopher Isherwood—that he and Ralph should begin producing their own books. In 1976, the couple launched their publishing business, Sylvester & Orphanos, starting with the release of their first edition of Christopher Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind.

Mark Manivong, photographer. Stathis Orphanos with his collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. 2015. Sylvester & Orphanos Collection. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Over the next thirty years, they would go on to publish 26 books by major writers. In their production, they employed noted printers, artists, and binders, such as Patrick Reagh, Lillian Marks, Grant Dahlstrom, Achilles Droungas, Vance Garry, and Warren Chappell among others.

In 2014, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress acquired the full catalog of Sylvester & Orphanos publications, the firm's archives, and Stathis Orphanos's personal Christopher Isherwood collection.  In 2015, Stathis Orphanos donated 281 of his photographs and a selection of his personal papers.