Emanuel Haldeman-Julius : Pocket Series and the Little Blue Books

Resources for Collectors:
Dating The Appeal's Pocket Series and People's Pocket Series

Written by Jake Gibbs, Professor of History at Bluegrass Community & Technical College, Dating The Appeal's Pocket Series and People's Pocket Series was originally published in Big Blue Newsletter No. 11 (Winter 2008). The article presented here is an updated version prepared by Jake Gibbs in March 2009. Haldeman-Julius.org would like to extend our most sincere thanks to Mr. Gibbs, and to the publishers of the Big Blue Newsletter, for granting us permission to publish it here.

By Jake Gibbs

The Appeal's Pocket Series followed by the People's Pocket Series were the earliest versions of the E. Haldeman-Julius publications that eventually became the Little Blue Books. For readers unfamiliar with the books this article should serve to acquaint them with these little gems. For those of you who already appreciate them, this article will provide a chronology and some information that should be of help in collecting.

These books are worthy of interest. They were printed on higher quality paper than was used later and they display a variety of colored wrappers. So, many books are still in good shape and, to my eye, aesthetically pleasing. But most importantly, many of the titles issued in the first years were eventually retired, some quite quickly. A great many of the purged titles were works related to socialism by significant authors. For example: No. 5, Russia: A Challenge, by Upton Sinclair originally appeared in the Haldeman-Julius edited, socialist weekly The Appeal to Reason and reprinted in another magazine, but the Appeal's Pocket Series edition is the only separate printing. I expect it is much prized by Sinclair collectors. Also worth noting is that there are often stories and essays that were inserted in these works that are not in the book titles. The original No. 8 was A Trip to Plutopia, an attempt at edifying socialist fiction by E. Haldeman-Julius. (The story was reprinted in Big Blue Newsletter No. 6). The first edition of the book contains only the title story. But a later edition includes two other stories: "Hop Lee and the Pelican," by Gaylord Wilshire, and "Parable of the Water Tank," by Edward Bellamy.

Haldeman-Julius' experiment in selling inexpensive books began in early 1919. The publishing of a pocket sized Ballad of Reading Gaol was announced in The Appeal to Reason of February 22, 1919. The next week's issue carried an ad for The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam. The price was 25 and 15 cents, respectively - a far cry from the 5 cents of the Little Blue Books a few years later but still relatively inexpensive. Over the next few years ads appeared frequently offering more titles in the pocket format. By the time the People's Pocket Series name was abandoned almost 3 years later the series had 236 titles. During that period 24 titles, most of them with socialist content, were replaced. So the total number of books published in the two early series was 260.

While the books always had numbers on them, the numbers were not at first mentioned in the advertising in the Appeal to Reason. Likewise, the earliest catalog seen, one of 150 books issued in early 1921, makes no mention of numbers. The first ad in The Appeal to Reason that instructed buyers to order by number was on March 26, 1921, more than two years into the project.

It has been assumed that since The Ballad of Reading Gaol was advertised first that it originally was No. 1 in the series and later switched to No. 2. But as far as I know, these first printings have not been seen to verify this assumption. Given how erratic the issuing of titles was throughout the series and the fact that no other early titles were reassigned numbers I am not convinced that the assumption that there was a No. 1 Ballad of Reading Gaol and a No. 2 Rubiayat is warranted.

The scholarly literature contains very little about these books. The best source for information on the whole series is an excellent 1970 article by G. Thomas Tanselle and Richard Colles Johnson "The Haldeman-Julius 'Little Blue Books' as a Bibliographical Problem" (referred to hereafter as "Tanselle") that was published in the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America and reissued as No. 5 of the Big Blue Newsletter. But even here there are problems with the chronology of the series, which I hope to correct.

Tanselle and Johnson were working with a relatively small number of books and relying on, unreliable it turns out, information in advertisements in The Appeal to Reason. There are now huge collections of books that were not available in 1970. Through the kindness of friends and a travel fellowship from the Bibliographical Society of America I've been able to examine a vast number of books. By correlating what I'm reasonably sure is the first printing of a great many titles with the date of when the book was first advertised in The Appeal to Reason I propose a chronology that differs significantly from Tanselle's.

Tanselle estimated that the Appeal's Pocket Series lasted from February 1919 until July 1921 and that 201 titles (No.'s 1-200, 205) were published in the series. But it appears the Appeal's Pocket Series was actually of much shorter duration and probably fewer than thirty titles were issued in its brief lifespan. The only Appeal's Pocket Series I've been able to find (and often in multiple copies) are the following twenty-one numbers: 1-16, 24, 32, 33, 34, 36. An examination of the ads in The Appeal to Reason shows that these were among the first twenty-four advertised, all appearing in ads between February 22 and September 27, 1919. The only numbers advertised on September 27 or before that I have not seen as Appeal's Pocket Series are numbers 17 (September 11), 22 (September 6) and 30 (September 27). I have seen two examples of an Appeal's Pocket Series wrapper for number 30 but in both cases the wrapper was used for a later printing. Numbers 20 and 25 were advertised on October 4 so I think it quite possible they appeared as Appeal's Pocket Series.

Therefore, in addition to the twenty-one numbers located it seems quite possible that another three (17, 22, 30) were issued first as Appeal's Pocket Series because they were first advertised within the timeframe of the ads for the located numbers. Numbers 20 and 25 were advertised just a week after ads for located books it is quite possible they were published as Appeal's. Also, there are two other numbers - 18 and 19 - for which I have never seen a stated first edition; the stated second editions are in each case early People's Pocket Series. Therefore, it is possible that these were first printed as Appeal's. But for all other numbers below number 36 I have located stated first editions that were part of the People's Pocket Series and with one exception all those numbers were advertised first in late November or December. In sum, then, the Appeal's Pocket Series was comprised of the twenty-one numbers noted above that I have located plus, possibly, numbers 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, and 30. (See chart at the end of this essay)

So, I'm reasonably sure that the Appeal's Pocket Series gave way to the People's Pocket Series in autumn 1919, a mere half year or so into the enterprise. But it's easy to see why there has been confusion in dating. Inexplicably, the advertising in The Appeal and in the catalog mentioned above persisted in calling it Appeal's Pocket Series. And, interestingly, while the catalog calls the series Appeal's Pocket Series the catalog wrapper displays the circular device of a cowled figure that did not appear on Appeal's Pocket Series but rather some People's Pocket Series, and not the earliest of them. Even when they began to call it the People's Pocket Series they did not do so consistently. An ad in the June 18, 1920 issue of The Appeal to Reason was the first time the series was called People's Pocket Series in that periodical. But ads as late as October 20, 1920 still sometimes refer to the series as Appeal's Pocket Series.

It seems clear, then, that Tanselle's end date for the Appeal's Pocket Series of July 1921 is much too late. September, possibly October 1920 is the more likely terminal point and from that date the books were issued as People's Pocket Series. But Tanselle was correct in putting the end of the People's Pocket Series at "early 1922." At that point the series name was changed to Appeal Pocket Series.

The Appeal's Pocket Series was published for such a short period it is not surprising that there is little variation in the title page and wrapper designs. On the other hand the People's Pocket Series went through three distinct design phases and there is considerable variation within these.

The Appeal's Pocket Series has two different title page designs - I'll designate the original title page "A'sPS (a)" and the later one as "A'sPS (b)" (see photos below). All Appeal's Pocket Series have the same wrapper design. The inside and back of the wrappers are blank. With one exception every Appeal's Pocket Series I've seen has had a red wrapper, the exception being a yellow one. The red wrappers are of a heavier weight than wrappers employed later. The yellow wrapper is about the weight of the sheets and glossy.

Photo of The Appeal Pocket Series Yellow Wrapper
"A'sPS" wrapper
Photo of Title Page from The Appeal Pocket Series, Type A
"A'sPS (a)" title page
Photo of The Appeal Pocket Series, Type B
"A'sPS (b)" title page
Photo of The Appeal Pocket Series Yellow Wrapper
Catalog ca. March 1921

The People's Pocket Series is much more complex. It went through three distinct design phases. There are three title page designs, which I'll designate (a), (b) and (c). Design (a) looks just like the "A'sPS (b)" title page with the series name and the number on two lines at the top left and the edition number at the top right. The Appeal to Reason imprint is at the bottom. There is one variation seen on this style title page. Some very early printings give the company name in the imprint as "The People's Press." I estimate that the "PPS (a)" title page was used from around September 1919 until April 1920.

Design "PPS (b)" shifts the series name and number to the center of the top of the page. On the rare occasions when the edition is noted it is centered below the title. This title page was likely used from May 1920 to July 1921.

Design "PPS (c)" sees a change of all typefaces to roman style and the name of the publisher becomes "Appeal Publishing Company." Books with this title page were likely printed from July 1921 until early 1922 when the People's Pocket Series was replaced by the Appeal Pocket Series.

Photo of Title Page from People's Pocket Series, Type A
"PPS (a)" title page
Photo of Title Page from People's Pocket Series, Type B
"PPS (b)" title page
Photo of Title Page from People's Pocket Series, Type C
"PPS (c)" title page

People's Pocket Series wrappers have three basic designs that correspond to the title pages. These will be designated (1), (2) and (3). Within these basic designs there is a great deal of variation. Generally, there is a correspondence between the title page design and that of the wrapper in which the book was sold. In the vast majority of cases, a book with a "PPS (a)" title page will have a "PPS (1)" wrapper. Likewise, "PPS (b)" title pages usually have "PPS (2)" wrappers and "PPS (c)" title pages have "PPS (3)" wrappers.

There were frequently changes in the early books from printing to printing. Essays and stories were often added or deleted, advertising material in the last pages was varied, and the title pages were usually updated to correspond to the wrapper, But there are some cases, as was very common for the Little Blue Books, for books to be issued with no change to the printing plates from earlier printing but bearing a new wrapper. So on occasion books are encountered with "PPS (b)" title page and a "PPS (3)" wrapper. More rarely are found People's Pocket Series title pages with Appeal Pocket Series or Ten Cent Pocket Series wrappers. It's reasonably safe to assume that the wrapper is the best indication of when a particular copy of a book was printed. Like the "PPS (a)" title page the "PPS (1)" wrapper has some early printings that carry the "People's Press" imprint. The "PPS (1)" design looks identical to the "PPS (a)" title page except for a rectangle that encloses the printed spaces.

The "PPS (2)" wrapper shows the greatest number of variations. This wrapper design shares much with the "PPS (b)" title page. The title and number are centered at the top of the page, italic type is used for the series name, title and author. The Appeal to Reason imprint appears at the bottom and is italic type in the early printing, later giving way to roman. "PPS (2)" wrappers differs from the "PPS (b)" title pages in that all "PPS (2)" carry the circular device. The earliest of the "PPS (2)," like the "PPS (1)" have an enclosing rectangle. I've designated this design "PPS (2) rectangle."

Photo of People's Pocket Series, Type 1 wrapper
"PPS (1)" wrapper
Photo of People's Pocket Series, Type 2 rectangle wrapper
"PPS (2) rectangle" wrapper

I estimate that the "PPS (1)" wrapper was used from September 1919 to April 1920. The "PPS (2) rectangle" wrapper ran from about April 1920 to the summer of 1920 when the rectangle was phased out. But I've been able to discern no clear breaking point from the transition to the sans rectangle wrapper. All "PPS (1)" and some "PPS (2)" wrappers carried advertising in the form of a list of books in the series. Sometimes the list contained already published works and sometimes "Titles in Preparation." The list sometimes covered 3 sides of the wrapper but more often two, leaving the inside back or the back blank.

Photo of advertising on People's Pocket Series (1) and early People's Pocket Series (2) wrappers
Advertising on "PPS (1)" and early "PPS (2)" wrappers
Photo of back of wrapper for most later People's Pocket Series (2) wrappers
Back of wrapper for most later "PPS (2)" wrappers

In the summer of 1920 the rectangle was eliminated but no other change made. What resulted I refer to as simply "PPS (2)". Some of these have the list of titles described above while other wrappers are blank other than the front. I assume wrappers with the list were printed earlier than those without. Sometime in 1921, probably early summer, "Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius." was inserted below the circular device. From this point on all pocket books printed up to 1951 bear that statement somewhere. What I've designated "PPS (2) editor", sometimes has ads for books, one book per ad, on three sides of the wrapper. But most simply have an ad for the Appeal to Reason on the back, leaving the insides blank. Those with printing on all sides predate those with just the ad on the back.

Photo of People's Pocket Series (2) wrapper
"PPS (2)" wrapper
Photo of People's Pocket Series (2) editor wrapper
"PPS (2) editor" wrapper

Late in the summer of 1921 the "PPS (2) editor" style was phased out and replaced by the "PPS (3). "The PPS (3)" has all roman type faces. The editor line now appears below the line at the top with the series name and book number. The name of the company has been changed to "The Appeal Publishing Company." This style wrapper usually has the circular device but some examples do not. I designate them "PPS (3) circular device," and "PPS (3)," respectively. It seems logical that those bearing the circular device are the earlier ones. No "PPS (3)," circular device or not, wrappers carry advertising, three sides are blank.

Photo of People's Pocket Series (3) circular device wrapper
"PPS (3) circular device" wrapper
Photo of People's Pocket Series (3) wrapper
"PPS (3)" wrapper

The People's Pocket Series wrappers are a colorful lot. "PPS (1)" are most often red, but yellow and blue wrappers are also common. "PPS (2)" wrappers initially displayed a variety of colors - red, yellow, blue, gray, cream, brown, green, and purple - but by the end only blue was being used. All "PPS (3)" wrappers are blue.

The highest number book to appear as part of the People's Pocket Series was No. 236, Love Affairs of King Henry VIII which was issued in late 1921. No.'s 237-9 were never published as People's Pocket Series. They were first advertised in January 1922 and issued as part of the Appeal Pocket Series, a short-lived series that was replaced by the Ten Cent Pocket Series in April 1922.

I hope this article is useful and leads to an appreciation of these books. If you do collect these books the good news is that People's Pocket Series books are often available on Ebay and from online booksellers, and often are not particularly expensive. The bad news is that Appeal's Pocket Series books are extremely hard to find. In ten years of searching Ebay I've located only three titles.

Jake Gibbs
Professor of History
Bluegrass Community and Technical College
Lexington, KY

Book no.First ad in Appeal to Reason
All dates 1919
Wrapper type of earliest example located
179/11PPS (1) Second Edition
1811/1PPS (2) rectangle, Second Edition
1910/18PPS (2) rectangle, Second Edition
2010/4PPS (1) First Edition, People's Press
2111/22PPS (1) First Edition
229/6PPS (1) Second Edition
2311/29PPS (1) First Edition, People's Press
2510/4PPS (1) Second Edition
2611/22PPS (1) First Edition, People's Press
2711/29PPS (1) First Edition
2811/29PPS (1) First Edition, People's Press
2912/27PPS (1) First Edition
309/27A'sPS (title page PPS (a))
3112/27PPS (1) First Edition
3510/18PPS (1) First Edition, People's Press
3712/27PPS (1) First Edition
3812/27PPS (1) First Edition
3912/27PPS (1) First Edition
Tanselle (1970)
SeriesApproximate datesBook numbers first issued in series
Appeal's Pocket Series1919-July 19211-200, 205
People's Pocket SeriesAugust 1921-early 1922201-204, 206-239
Appeal Pocket SeriesEarly 1922No new titles.
Gibbs (2009)
SeriesApproximate datesBook numbers first issued in series
Appeal's Pocket SeriesFebruary 1919-September 19191-16, 24, 32, 33, 34, 36
Earliest located copies are PPS but suspect they were first issued as A'sPSOctober-November 191917, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 30
People's Pocket SeriesOctober 1919-early 192221, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 35, 37-236
Appeal Pocket SeriesJanuary 1922-April 1922237-239
People's Pocket Series, Gibbs (2009)*
Wrapper styleApproximate datesNumbers with earliest located example bearing this style wrapper
PPS (1)September 1919-April 192017-23, 25-29, 31, 35, 37-55
PPS (2) rectangleMay 1920-late summer 192056-89
PPS (2) (no editor line, list of books on inside and back wrapper)Late summer 192090-106
PPS (2) (no editor line, no advertising)Late summer- early fall 1920107-143
PPS (2) editor, (with advertising on 3 sides of wrapper)Late summer 1920-early summer 1921144-205
PPS (2) editor (with advertising only on back)Early 1921-July 1921Most, possibly all, are second or later printings
PPS (3)Late summer 1921-early 1922206-236

* The dates and book numbers on this chart are offered as tentative. There are still editions yet to be located. Also, there are many anomalies. I expect there was considerable overlap in wrapper styles.