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

Resources for Collectors: Dating Little Blue Books

Written by Jake Gibbs, Professor of History at Bluegrass Community & Technical College, Dating Little Blue Books was originally published in Big Blue Newsletter No. 4 (2004 Q-IV). 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

Determining when a particular copy of a Haldeman-Julius pocket book was published can be difficult. In a great many cases it is only possible to fix an approximate date. Most books were reprinted many times from the same setting of type with few or no changes to the text. In many cases the name of the series on the title page was not changed even though that series was no longer issued. For example, many title pages label the book as a Ten Cent Pocket Series while the wrapper is of the Little Blue Book series and clearly from twenty years or more after the Ten Cent Pocket Series was discontinued. Therefore, usually the best way to identify the various printings and attempt to date them is by examining the wrappers which, unlike the text of the book, do show a great deal of variation. What follows is an attempt to provide some guidelines for dating a particular book, in most cases by examination of the wrapper.

Emanuel Haldeman-Julius began issuing "pocket books" in Feb. 1919. His series went through a number of name changes until the name Little Blue Books was settled on in late 1923. In their 1970 article "The Haldeman-Julius 'Little Blue Books' as a Bibliographical Problem" Richard Colles Johnson and G. Thomas Tanselle provide a chronology of the Haldeman-Julius pocket books project. Below is their chronology except for adjustments to the Appeal's Pocket Series and People's Pocket Series made as a result of my research.

Appeal's Pocket SeriesFebruary 1919-September 1919
People's Pocket SeriesAutumn 1919-early 1922
Appeal Pocket SeriesEarly 1922
Ten Cent Pocket SeriesApril 1922-September 1923
Five Cent Pocket SeriesSeptember 1923
Pocket SeriesOctober-November 1923
Little Blue BooksNovember 1923-end

With the Appeal's Pocket Series, Appeal Pocket Series, Five Cent Pocket Series and Pocket Series there was only one wrapper design for each series. Dating books from any of those series can be done by referring to the chronology above. For example, a book that has an Appeal Pocket Series wrapper was very likely issued in 1922. Dating the People's Pocket Series and Ten Cent Pocket Series is more complex. The People's Pocket Series was issued with a great variety of wrapper designs over a relatively short period. Establishing the sequence of that series' wrappers is complicated and must be left for another time. The Ten Cent Pocket Series wrappers all have the same front but there are three possibilities for the back. Those with blank backs are the earliest printings. Books with advertisements for two Haldeman-Julius publications came next. Those with three advertisements were the last in the series.

In late 1923 Haldeman-Julius began to issue pocket books as the Little Blue Books. The earliest version of these displays the book number in the same size type as the words "Little Blue Book No." which precedes it, i.e., about 2mm in height. It should be noted that many books with this small number present the author's name in upper case letters. Also, the wrappers, like the late Ten Cent Pocket Series, Five Cent Pocket Series and Pocket Series have the company imprint at the bottom front of the wrapper and ads for three Haldeman-Julius periodicals appear on the back.

Sometime in 1924 this first wrapper design of the LBB was abandoned and a new basic design was used that persisted until the late 1930's. I refer to this design as "the standard" since it was the wrapper during the heyday of the series. These wrappers have the series number increased to 5mm and the backs are blank (except for "Made in the USA" stamped on some). These books were all issued with blue wrappers.

This "standard" was of long duration. While a great many of the books from this era carry a copyright date that date does not pinpoint the issue of a particular book. Most of these books were reprinted many times from the same plates. In most cases there is no way to discern a wrapper printed in 1925 from one printed in 1935. However, within this standard design there are some variations that can offer tips on distinguishing an early from a late printing. For example, some wrappers with the large number and blank back maintain the company imprint. It is assumed that these were printed shortly after the switch to the larger numbers since the imprint is a carry-over from the small number design. Likewise, some standard wrappers have the author's name in upper case letters. Again, since this in an apparent carry-over it is assumed that these are relatively early printings, i.e., 1925-6. (Upper case was again used for author's names much later in the series. Books numbered in the 1700's often have upper case author lines.)

There is one minor variation in the standard design that may give dating hints. Several books have wrapper titles in a sans serif type face. Sans serif wrappers have copyright dates ranging from 1925-29. It is likely that these are earliest printing of a title.

In the early 1930's an addition was briefly made to the standard design. Judging from the relatively small numbers of books bearing this wrapper the style was not employed for long. The bottom third of this front wrapper carried a new version of the company imprint. The initials "hpj" surrounded by an oval bearing the words "Haldeman-Julius Publications (the name the company adopted in 1927, abandoning the earlier name Haldeman-Julius Company), Girard Kansas". The oval is surrounded by a ring of foliage. Below that are two lines of type between three solid lines. The first line bears the company name, the second the location. It's likely that most wrappers with this new imprint were issued in 1933-34. However, I have seen a few books that have the imprint but the non-blue color and logos on the back indicate they were printed in the late 1940's.

When confronted with more than one copy of a title with the standard wrapper an examination of the text may help determine if one copy is from an earlier printing. Haldeman-Julius often reduced the number of pages for a title. For example, some books that first appeared with 64 pages were later issued with 32 pages. It's safe to assume the shorter version is the later. Also, the advertising matter on the last few pages of some books can yield clues. Often a Little Blue Book published in the first few years of the series carried a list of other titles in the series while a later printing of that number may leave those pages blank. It seems reasonable that the blank page versions began being printed around 1927 or 1928 since by then there had been many replacement titles rendering the original lists obsolete.

An interesting wrapper variation appeared in 1939. For around two years Haldeman-Julius tried selling books from vending machines. The books produced for this endeavor have a rectangle on the lower half of the wrapper noting "Published for Automatic Libraries" followed by the name and address of the distribution company. Below the box is an 11 mm wide "union made" label. This union label had been used on some Appeal's Pocket Series and People's Pocket series but not again until the late 1930's. All Automatic Libraries issues have blue wrappers.

At some point in the late 1930's the "standard" design was abandoned. I've not been able to determine the date. I can say with certainty that it happened after 1934 and before 1941. My guess is that the shift came in 1938 or 1939.

The first wrappers to vary from the standard have a smaller version (7 mm wide) of the union label than the one used on the Automatic Libraries wrappers. The union label sometimes is accompanied by the number one to its right. The wrappers bearing the union label on the front appear in various colors, some still blue but more commonly yellow, orange and white. This is the first time anything but blue had been used since the days of the People's Pocket Series (a very few Appeal Pocket Series titles had white wrappers). At some point the union label was moved to the back. Once on the back both sizes of the union label were used. There does not seem to be a clear sequence in the use of the two sizes. I'm reasonably sure that they were used at the same time on different books.

At this point we need to introduce the topic of staples. Since 1919 pocket series books had been bound with two staples. Sometime after the switch to colored wrappers the books received a single staple. (The company changed back to two staples in the 1950's. That will be discussed below.) All Automatic Libraries have two staples so it seems clear that the change in staples came after that series was discontinued in 1940. All books with the union label +1 have two staples. I have seen a collection of 38 books in the original box dated March 1, 1941. All the books had two staples. All were either standard or had the front union label. This is a rather small sample but it leads me to believe the switch to one staple had not come about by March 1941.

Some books with just the union label on the back have two staples (the color of these wrappers is almost always peach or light green) but most have one. It is reasonable to assume that the staple switch came while they were issuing wrappers with the union label on the back, the double staple versions, obviously being earlier.

It seems clear that the switch to one staple came sometime between 1941 and 1943. 1943 is the copyright date on #1762 by Joseph McCabe. It was the first of a string of McCabe titles running up to #1811, all dated 1943 or 1944. All had a single staple. (Most of these display the large union label on the back but on a few have the union label on the front. They are the only one staple books to have it located there.)

Given the number of books issued with one staple and union label (small or large) on the back that design must have been used for quite some time. My guess is that it lasted from 1941-45. One interesting variation of this basic form is that a number of books were published in thin gray or brown wrappers that carry an apology for the paper quality. These books were surely issued during American involvement in WW II, most likely 1943.

The small union label without any other logos was also on the back of the Haldeman-Julius periodicals Fillers and The Critic and Guide which were issued in 1947 and 1948. These publications were also part of the Little Blue Book series. It's not clear if this design was revived for use on the backs of these or if the company continued to issue books with just the union label at the same time it used other designs. Clearly by the time the Fillers were being issued new wrapper designs described below had been introduced. My opinion is that the Fillers and Critic and Guide were the only books issued in the late 1940's with just the union label.

By 1946, possibly a year or so earlier, a series of major changes began. There are a few books copyrighted in 1946 that in addition to the union label bear a new logo, the circular University in Print device (UIP). At the time the UIP was introduced Haldeman-Julius also began issuing illustrated wrappers as well as wrappers that indicate the book was in the Self-Help Series. These wrappers have the book number and the editor line moved to the back.

Shortly after the introduction of the UIP a portrait of the editor, E. Haldeman-Julius, appeared on the wrapper back. The portrait shows the head and upper torso. The same portrait was printed in three different sizes, 37mm, 46mm and 51mm in height, the variations coming as a result of enlargement, or in a change in how much of the torso was displayed. The 46 mm version has what appear to be initials inscribed just below the drawing, presumably those of the artist. On the 51 mm version the initials are blocked out. On the 37 mm version the area that showed the initials is cropped out. My guess is that the portrait was used from around 1947 to 1951. It seems likely the sequence was 46mm portrait was used first, then the 37mm, followed by the 51mm. The portrait was always used in conjunction with the union logo, and sometimes with the UIP.

In the early 1950's the wrappers began to evolve in another direction. Not long after the death of E. Haldeman-Julius in 1951 a shift was made back to two staples. At about the same time mention of E. Haldeman-Julius began to disappear from the wrapper. The portrait was retired, and soon after the line that stated "Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius" which had graced the wrappers since the later versions of the People's Pocket Series in 1921 disappeared. With the reintroduction of the double staple the union label was relegated to the trash heap.

These new style wrappers often use a lighter weight paper than the card stock that was traditionally employed. In most cases the paper is white but with the front coated in a different color, usually in a tight crosshatch pattern.

The first of the new two staple versions have the UIP logo, usually on the back, and these retain the editor line. Given the small number of copies seen in this style it is assumed it was short-lived, possibly limited to 1951-2. Soon the two staple books were stripped of the editor line. There is a great variety of wrappers styles that have in common the lack of any reference to H-J (H-J was also being removed from the title and copyright pages in many cases). Many of the wrappers have illustrations, but almost always these wrappers have the number on the front as opposed to the illustrated wrappers of the late 1940's that placed the number on the back. A very few of the new wrappers have wrappers with a single photograph on the front (e.g., #1616 How to Improve Yourself Physically bears the photograph of a bathing beauty). In some cases these two stapled books have blank backs but more frequently they carry lists of other books in the series on the back wrapper, and sometimes on the inside wrapper as well. On some books the back has a mail-in coupon for the request of a catalog (This encouraged reader to ruin the wrapper by clipping the coupon. I take it as evidence that the new editor was something less than a bibliophile. I am happy to report that I have never seen a book with the coupon clipped.). Some wrappers carry advertisements from printing services and for various types of merchandise (e.g., Hernia belts, razors.)

Any Little Blue Book with a copyright 1952-55 (1955 is the latest I've seen) has a wrapper of the two staple variety described above. It is assumed that reprinted numbers with the late two staple designs began to be printed during this time and were issued until the company ceased printing. As noted above, books bearing the UIP device were the earliest of this type. There may be a sequence of the various backs of the late two staple books (blank, list of books, coupons, printing and merchandise ads) but so far I've not been able to discern it.

The company - no longer known as Haldeman-Julius Publications but rather The Little Blue Book Company - continued to sell books until its destruction by fire in 1978. But it is likely the presses had been idle for sometime before that. The latest printing I can discern is #1372, Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell. Above the title it states: "The Famous Philosopher Bertram Russel (sic) writes...". Below the title is an address that includes a zip code. Zip codes became mandatory in 1967. I have seen only this one book with a zip code so it seems very few were issued. I expect the company did little printing for the decade before the fire.

I hope that some collectors and librarians find this essay helpful. Many clues will no doubt emerge to allow more precise dating as interest in these books grows. I'd be very interested to hear from anyone who comes across such clues.

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

Summary for Little Blue Book Wrappers
Small number, blue, two staples:1923-4.
Large number, blue, two staples:1924-late 1930's.
Haldeman-Julius Company imprint and/or the author's name in upper case letters are likely early printings,1924-6.
Wrappers with sans serif type face,1925-29.
Haldeman-Julius Publications imprint on front,1933-4.
Automatic Libraries, blue, two staples:1939-40.
Small union label on front (often accompanied by a 1), various colors, two staples:ca. 1939-1941
Union label (small or large) on back, various colors (most commonly peach and light green), two staples:ca. 1941.
Union label (small or large) on back, various colors, one staple:ca. 1941-1945.
UIP logo and small union label on back, various colors (these include the first illustrated wrappers), one staple:ca. 1945-47.
H-J portrait (three sizes, 37mm, 46mm 51mm), union label (usually small but on occasion large), UIP sometimes, various colors, one staple:ca. 1947- 51.
UIP logo (front or back) without union label, various colors, two staples:ca. 1951-52
Editor line removed, various backs (blank, list of books, merchandise ads, mail-in coupon), various colors (often white with another color coating the front), two staples:ca. 1952 - end of printings.
Zip code in address on front wrapper:ca. 1967 - end of printing.