It is most convenient when attempting to construct a sweeping overview of the 50+ year history of the Little Blue Book publishing enterprise, to impart the sentiment that these diminutive pocket books were forged as a tool for the self-education of the working-class. It is equally easy to leave one with the impression that Emanuel Haldeman-Julius began his efforts driven by a nobility of goal, possessed by an altruistic spirit that aimed to better all mankind. Emanuel Haldeman-Julius was no doubt a progressive thinker, self-aligned with the socialist movement, and a great advocate of the emerging technologies and cultural philosophies of his times. But to inadvertently put forth the idea that his publishing efforts stemmed from a desire to lead the masses to self-education would be unfortunate. In his own words:
I have said that I am a business man and not a philanthropist ... I do not print these educational books because I think the public ought to read them - but because there is tremendous demand for them, and I find myself hard pushed to keep up with that demand. > Emanuel Haldeman-Julius1
Be that as it may, there is little question that these booklets, right from their earliest incarnations, found benefit in marketing a spirit of autodidacticism. Catalog List of 239 Books at 10 cents each, issued for the Ten Cent Pocket Series, does well to document this platform:
"The Library was started with the thought of putting the best literature within reach of the masses." it reads,
"... they are not intended to decorate shelves but to enrich minds."2 On the opposing page is found a phrase that would set the demeanor of the series for the next five decades,
"To have the entire set is to have a University in Print."3
For the next few years catalogs would continue to promote the series (to varying degrees) as a vehicle for personal enrichment. A Catalog of 350 Great Books In Fit-the-Pocket Size At Five Cents Each merely mentions a
"... conscientious regard for the creation of better and nobler standards for the people who want to read material of lasting benefit."4 A later catalog issued by the Little Blue Book Store in Detroit, Michigan, at a time when series inventory sported some 500 titles, makes a more emotional plea when it states
"Your duty to yourself is to add to the treasures of your soul. It is your duty to explore the worlds of thought, looking in here and there in the search for truth."5
The birth of the Little Blue Books as a vehicle for more practical and rigorous self-education arguably did not truly start until late in the 1920's, nearly a decade into series production. It is only then that catalogs begin to introduce an official category of "Self-Education", and with this we begin to see a more instructional form of the Little Blue Book emerge.
Around the time The First Hundred Million hit the streets, Haldeman-Julius began a diligent marketing effort which aimed to position a set of sixty Little Blue Books as the autodidactic equivalent of a high school education. These books, christened the "High School Educational Course" were sold for $2.98 a set (postpaid) and were said to sport some 825,000 words of text in 8pt type, spanning 3,488 pages of copy.
"Every book in this 60-volume set", reads an advertisement in the January 2nd, 1929 edition of The Oakland Tribune,
"is self teaching - that is the plan that underlies them all, to make no instructor necessary."6
The High School Educational Course supported a potpourri of topics ranging from proper writing to foreign-language instruction, economics to commercial law, and mathematics to American history. Works assembled were attributed primarily to LBB mainstay authors like Lloyd E. Smith, Leo Markun, Miriam Allen deFord, Hereward Carrington, Joseph McCabe, and John Cowper Powys. The precise inventory of titles, as announced in newspapers across America from December 1928 to February 1929 were listed as follows:
The inventory of titles would seem to have remained consistent until at least January of 1930, as evidenced by an advertisement run January 17, 1930 in the San Antonio Express13, save for the fact John Cowper Powys' The Secret of Self Development was now being marketed as The Secret of Self Improvement.
Of course, things are rarely so cut and dry in the Haldeman-Julius universe. In My Second 25 Years, Haldeman-Julius alternates between describing a
"50-volume set of High School Books" and a
"High School set of 60 booklets"14. Advertisements run from December 1928 to January 1930 do feature a small call-out column which remarks
"we are including 10 additional volumes with each set - the set originally contained only 50 volumes - at no extra cost to the public." Whether this was just a part of the overall marketing strategy for the sixty volume set, or whether a real fifty volume set predated it, is not obvious. Should someone surface with an ad culled from some Haldeman-Julius publication documenting the existence of the fifty volume version it would hardly be surprising.
What is certain is that the inventory listed above does not represent the full breadth of titles distributed as a part of the High School Educational Course. While discussing Little Blue Book author Leo Markun in My Second 25 Years Haldeman-Julius states that the five titles in the High School Educational Course attributed to Markun were,
"never [included] for the entire sale, because the titles in the sets were varied for reasons too complicated to discuss here."15 Obviously, this indicates that despite the consistency of the title list represented in advertising, some variation did occur. Haldeman-Julius documents sales figures for some specific titles of the
"High School books", and from this a couple of titles not listed above can also be attributed to the set:
The success of the High School Educational Course is also without question. In My First 25 Years Haldeman-Julius mentions
"I was able to produce 240,000 books each 24 hours, were we to work three shifts, which we did only once, about 10 years later when I hit the country with a set of High School booklets at $2.98 and sold 300,000 sets in about 10 months."18 Assuming sixty titles a set this represents the sale of some 18,000,000 booklets, but a small fraction of the hundreds of millions of booklets which are said to have been sold over the lifespan of the Little Blue Book series. The impact this represents for the specific titles involved, however, is staggering. Titles sold as a part of the High School Educational Course often doubled or tripled a respective authors other booklet sales; in some cases it surpassed them by an order of magnitude.
While the High School Educational Course was a relatively short-lived experiment, it seems to have greatly solidified Haldeman-Julius' opinion that marketing self-education was a winning proposition. Catalogs that followed continue to popularize the category, eventually evolving sub-categories which included "High School Subjects", "College Subjects", and several others. Long-standing titles in the series were reassigned, and a slew of new titles emerged throughout the 1930's that served to swell the ranks of this category so that, in time, multiple pages were required to present it in its entirety.
Series growth during the 1930's was but a fraction of that enjoyed in the previous decade. The impact of the Great Depression, coupled with the international political chaos that announced the coming of WWII, did much to reduce the fervor of the Haldeman-Julius publishing empire. Whatever lust for self-improvement and self-education was present in the American public simply could not compete. Whatever hope of reprieve Haldeman-Julius may have wished for must have seemed a distant vision once America was finally and violently spurred into joining the War effort. The first five years of the 1940's, like much of the decade previous, bared little resemblance to the glory years of so long before.
Regardless of the turmoil and tribulations of the War years, perhaps even because of them, Haldeman-Julius would return to the well of self-education with the hopes of providing renewed life to his enterprise. Around 1943, with the help of his good friend and often-proclaimed "pet", Joseph Martin McCabe, a lengthy and sequentially-numbered run of titles, the longest crafted by a single author in Little Blue Book history, would be developed and come to be called The Self-Educator.
To say The Self-Educator existed to fulfill a role similar to that of the High School Educational Course would be gravely incorrect. Certainly The Self-Educator offered a variety of titles which provided the reader with factual, instructional information on topics like chemistry, zoology, botany, and literature. But the driving force behind The Self-Educator seems more like an indulgence of Haldeman-Julius' and McCabe's mutual beliefs than any solidified effort to bring educated tutelage to the masses. Amidst the texts on science, history and literature we find a great number that serve only to "debunk" organized religion, societal prejudice, and sexual puritanism. The full range of titles tells the story best:
While this wealth of material may lack the focus of a firm curriculum, and speaks but vaguely to education in the purely academic sense, it does speak volumes of the type of education Emanuel Haldeman-Julius felt the general public so richly deserved. The common folk needed to be lead to freethought, to rationalism, and to be liberated from the arbitrary external control of church and societal prudery. Self-education in any other terms was but a variable in the equation.
To some extent, the progression of The Self-Educator run is representative of a return to the roots of the Little Blue Books, and with the end of WWII we find a circle complete. The statement "A University in Print" may have been crafted in the earliest years of the series, but it is only around the close of the War that we see it emerge as an actual brand. Readers would soon find, brazen on the wrappers of innumerable Little Blue Books, a circular logo presenting the expression "A University in Print Read the World Over", and containing a scholarly-looking globe with its nose pressed into the pages of a Little Blue Book. This symbol would grace wrappers for years to come.
Whatever inspirations and purposes may have driven the Little Blue Book series at its inception, they were simple and mild when viewed against the aspirations Haldeman-Julius would attribute to the effort near the end of his life. In My First 25 Years, published 1949, Haldeman-Julius says:
Somewhere in this land there's a 17-year old boy or girl who'll read this record of the work and achievements of a so-so fellow, get the point of it all, find the opportunity and means, see the job as interesting and worth doing. That 17-year old lad will perhaps do in a few years what took me 30 years to accomplish, and then build a mighty edifice, a monument to mass-education, civilized entertainment, culture, thought and beauty. > Emanuel Haldeman-Julius19
Emanuel Haldeman-Julius passed away on July 31, 1951, roughly two years after publishing these words. His publishing empire fell in the lap of his son, Henry J. Haldeman, who was neither seventeen years old, nor a lad who could do in a few short years what took his father some three decades to accomplish. An airline pilot by trade, Henry did what little he could to continue his father's publishing dynasty, but very little to enhance it.
Catalogs issued under the leadership of Henry J. Haldeman continued to present the Self-Education category, along with its related sub-categories, and did so in the exact fashion set forth by his father. The Self-Educator would also remain a fixture of these volumes. But it should be noted that Henry prompted at least one minor effort to market the educational merits of the Little Blue Book series with the creation of a new wrapper, specifically designed to appeal to educational institutions. These wrappers sported a handy "Property of" stamp on the cover, and came equipped with a line or two on which the student could inscribe their name. These wrappers, as far as can be determined, were limited only to works by (and perhaps regarding) William Shakespeare. Schools that ordered such for their classes were granted a "Free Desk Copy" to sweeten the deal.
Alas, it is hard to imagine that much enthusiasm could have been generated by this initiative when, on the very same catalog pages that promoted the offer, the Bard's own name was spelled "Shakeapeare", and the available inventory was described as
"Evevything [sic] he ever wrote"20. Typographical errors aside, the latter statement was also untrue - roughly half a dozen or so of Shakespeare's works were never issued as Little Blue Books, and an additional title Pericles, Prince of Tyre had been discontinued years prior and replaced by E. Haldeman-Julius' own What the Ford Five-Day Week Really Means (Little Blue Book #267)
The specific titles mentioned by several "15c Books" catalogs, of which half a dozen or so can be proven to have been issued with the above mentioned wrappers, are as follows (spelling and titles corrected):
|1||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, First Hundred Million, Angelican Press Vancouver, 2008, Pg. 33. Originally published by Simon & Schuster, New York, 1928.|
|2||Catalog List of 239 Books at 10 cents each, Haldeman-Julius Company, circa 1922, Pg. 4.|
|3||Catalog List of 239 Books at 10 cents each, Haldeman-Julius Company, circa 1922, Pg. 5.|
|4||A Catalog of 350 Great Books In Fit-the-Pocket Size At Five Cents Each, Haldeman-Julius Company, circa 1923, Pg. 16.|
|5||Free Catalogue Containing list of Five Hundred Great Books in Fit-the-Pocket Size at Five Cents Each, Little Blue Book Store, 2031 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Mich., circa 1924, backside of front cover.|
|6||The Oakland Tribune, "Only 10,000 Sets Left To Be Sold!", January 2, 1929, Pg. 15|
|7||Assumed to be the Lloyd E. Smith version of this title, rather than the previous version attributed to Henry Alexander due to the number of other titles by Lloyd E. Smith in this set, and the dates involved.|
|8||Some speculation exists that this might have actually been #1003 How to Think Logically by Leo Markun. The booklet by Arthur Schopenhauer is more likely, however, as the title matches more closely, and the contents of the book seem more appropriate to the overall inventory of the set.|
|9||Booklet is cited as "How to Enjoy Good Reading" on page 88 of My Second 25 Years.|
|10||Some speculation exists that this might have actually been #725 Zoology Self Taught by Vance Randolph as this title appears in several catalogs under the category of "Self-Education". The Carroll Lane Fenton title has been used as it more closely matched the title mentioned in the advertising.|
|11,12||Josephine Headen's Who, When, Where and What? A Book of Questions and Answers contains 600 questions. Interestingly, the newspaper advertisements for the set provides the description "What do you know?" for this title, which is actually the canonical title of a similar LBB quiz book attributed to Clarice Cunningham. The Cunningham title, however, does not contain 600 questions.|
|13||San Antonio Express, "Last Call! Positively Your Last Chance! Act Now or Never!", January 17, 1930, Pg. 7|
|14||For example, mention of a fifty volume set can be found on page 88, and mention of a sixty colume set can be found on page 101.|
|15,17||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My Second 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography, Haldeman-Julius Company, 1949, Pg. 88|
|16||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My Second 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography, Haldeman-Julius Company, 1949, Pg. 101|
|18||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My First 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography, Haldeman-Julius Company, 1949, Pg. 14|
|19||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My First 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography, Haldeman-Julius Company, 1949, Pg. 6|
|4||15c Books, Blue Book Co., Pg. 62. Date unknown, but last title listed in catalog is #1912 Ledger. Reference copy also sports a small address sticker complete with zip code, indicating issue after 1964, more likely after 1967.|
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