By Jason Ramsay-Brown
For any collector of the various Haldeman-Julius Pocket Series and/or Little Blue Books, one particularly troublesome issue arises time and time again: describing wrapper designs. Given the sheer volume of design permutations implemented over the fifty plus years these booklets were produced, the potential wealth of variations is nothing short of staggering. While there were occasional moments where wrapper design seemed driven by logical, sober influences, there are just as many moments where designs appeared to be the result of an organic and ad hoc process, driven merely by whim and what seemed like a good idea at the time. As a result, attempts to formalize classes of wrappers from the myriad of available examples is a process somewhat akin to extispication.
In academic or bibliographic situations, identification of wrapper design is vital as it can provide very strong clues that allow historic information and dates to be effectively asserted. Traditionally, the need to identify and reference wrapper designs is a problem most often solved contextually. In any particular article or essay, the author asserts a temporary convention such as "PPS 1a" or "Wrapper 6." More often than not, such classifications are supported by example images and thus comparative identification is relatively simple. In these situations this technique is very appropriate and remarkably effective. However, such systems impose some significant limitations when one attempts to use them outside of their original context. First, remembering these abstract identifications requires a great deal of mental effort. Secondly, their effectiveness depends heavily on shared experiences - all parties must have equivalent knowledge of the source work (or equal access to it) as the classes themselves offer no descriptive properties in their own right. Lastly, for most systems encountered to date, they are based upon a hierarchical and/or co-related sequence that is dependant on a qualified scope of relevant design styles.
The issue of wrapper classification became of great significance to haldeman-julius.org as we began preparation of materials for our Gallery of Haldeman-Julius Pocket Series and Little Blue Book Wrappers. Over the years, we have encountered thousands of representative examples from a variety of sources, including private and public collections, auction listings, articles and essays, picaweb galleries, flickr pools, etc. In such an inventory one can note hundreds upon hundreds of distinctions between various booklet wrappers: layout and composition, design motifs, element inclusion, typographical treatments, and stock selection to name only the most obvious. For our wrapper galleries to prove most useful, some form of classification system was clearly imperative. We quickly realized, however, that following the more traditional approach established by academic or bibliographic research efforts would prove frustrating, if not entirely useless, for our visitors.
Reliable identification of wrapper designs is not exclusively of academic or bibliographic interest. Effective wrapper classification is equally desirable in more informal situations as it empowers meaningful conversations about our collections and allows accurate information to be passed between individuals in a variety of forums. Thus, there is a strong need for a more universal and friendly classification system, one that overcomes the limitations and difficulties described above. To this end, we began to envision a system that would utilize named classes, with names that would allow for meaningful visualization of the wrapper independent of a visual example and with little or no dependance on chronology, sequence or scope. Similarly, we determined that the total number of named classes is this system must be as small as possible so as to simplify lookup and facilitate ease of recollection. We hoped that our system of classification would prove useful not just in the context of our website, but elsewhere on the web and in the "real world."
To design such a system, and support the goals and requirements envisioned above, a general process spelled itself out:
Determine which elements and factors could safely be ignored in order to further comprehension and keep the total inventory of names within reasonable limits.
Identify the various elements and components that are typically present across a multitude of wrapper examples.
Establish criteria for determining when a particular design is worthy of designation as a unique wrapper class.
Apply such criteria to a sample group of wrappers and attempt to craft meaningful names for the resulting wrapper classes.
The remainder of this article articulates the results of this endeavor. We will continue to expand and refine the various elements and considerations outlined below as we further development of our Gallery of Haldeman-Julius Pocket Series and Little Blue Book Wrappers.
If any system of classification were driven by every possible difference in wrapper design, while it might be fantastically useful in theory, it would be an unwieldy mess in practice. Ultimately, this would defeat the goal of classifying these wrappers in the first place.
Our first decision was that front and back of wrappers should be treated as distinct. While evaluating front and back together is highly useful, and downright obligatory in many circumstances, the need to do so is frequently driven by a specific research goal and is not particularly relevant to more generalized use. Treating them as distinct has the obvious advantage of greatly reducing the overall number of possible permutations, but it also allows for much more powerful opportunities to compare and contrast front and back designs. The first iteration of this classification system deals exclusively with front wrapper designs. No attempt to classify the back side of wrappers will be attempted at this point in time (but will in the future).
Next, we compiled a list of factors that, while often useful for the purposes of dating a particular booklet, are of little influence in terms of classifying wrapper design under less specific circumstances:
Materials used to create wrappers vary greatly, even across editions of the same booklet that otherwise exhibit identical wrapper designs. Choice of materials, it would appear, was rarely an aesthetic or design decision, and more often than not seemed to be driven by material availability and/or price point. Perhaps the best evidence of this is found with the "Apologetic Variants" of the Little Blue Books, which actually bear a short message apologizing for the quality of wrapper stock used at points during WWII
The color of material, inks and/or the background texture/pattern of most wraps seems equally arbitrary. While the earliest incarnations of a particular wrapper style might have been envisioned to utilize a particular color scheme or background pattern, any proof of this is virtually non-existent and variations can be discovered with little to no effort.
Subtle changes to typefaces and font are pretty commonplace on the various Pocket Series and Little Blue Book wrappers. While this may have been an intentional design decision at various points in time, it is very unlikely that this was the case universally. Consider the following: over the years, Haldeman-Julius himself frequently mentioned that the size of type would be altered within booklets to ensure that the length of copy could be accommodated by the number of pages made available for a particular edition. It's not a far stretch to speculate that, at least from time to time, such decisions might have influenced the wrappers as well. In "The Making of Little Blue Books" (Haldeman-Julius Weekly, June 2, 1928) Clarice Cunningham reveals that Little Blue Books were printed using plates "done by an electroplating firm in Kansas City." Likely, such a firm would have had at least some say in typefaces, fonts, etc. as well. Whatever the catalyst or cause, subtle changes in typeface and font, in our opinion, were as likely to be arbitrary as intentional. Thus, in circumstances where these do not fundamentally alter the overall wrapper design in any meaningful way, such differences can be safely ignored. Of course, substantial changes in typeface and/or font (particularly size) may be viewed as a fundamental alteration of the overall wrapper design, and need to be evaluated accordingly.
Various aspects of wrapper design appear to have been formulated in relation to predictable variations imposed by the contents of the booklets themselves. For example, while sharing the same fundamental wrapper design, booklets containing the work of a sole author might carry the author's name while booklets containing material by several authors might not. Similarly, works issues in multiple volumes might sport a volume number on the front wrapper while self-contained works might not. In such cases, these omissions or enhancements can be considered a planned part of the overall design and thus would not impact classification.
From time to time, examples can be found where particular words were abbreviated, often for no readily apparent reason. For example, some wrappers exist where the Publisher's Stamp (Imprint) uses "Girard, Kansas" while others of an identical design will use "Girard, Kans." In circumstances where such abbreviations do not fundamentally alter the overall wrapper design in any meaningful way, such differences can be safely ignored.
During the lifespan of the Appeal's Pocket Series and People's Pocket Series, Haldeman-Julius had occasion to print the edition number on the front wrapper. At least two distinct locations for this have been noted, but the change in location otherwise seems to have had no impact on the rest of the associated design. This, coupled with the relatively short lifespan of their appearance, allows them to be excluded from evaluation.
The number of staples used in the construction of a booklet was likely a decision made in the Haldeman-Julius bindery, and one that almost certainly had nothing to do with wrapper design. Factors such as target price, number of pages in the book block, and the stock used for the wrappers themselves would have been the predominant influences and as none of these are considered during wrapper classification, the number of staples used can safely be ignored as well.
With a variety of considerations now removed, the next logical step was to compile a list of wrapper elements which could reasonably be expected to remain consistent in any particular design. Qualifying such elements required a certain objectivity. While hindsight has afforded us the knowledge that a particular element appeared and/or disappeared over time, we had to question whether or not the design creators might have anticipated this. A guiding factor in making this decision was consideration of the intended purpose in adding or removing the element in question. For Major Elements, all typically served to describe booklet contents and/or the ways the booklets relate to one another. Both considerations, we felt, suggest an expectation of longevity.
Seven types of wrapper elements made the cut: Series Title, Book Number, Series Editor Statement, Book Title, Publisher's Stamp (Imprint), Brand Graphic and Subseries Declaration. Representative examples are provided below to help ensure clarity:
Similar to the efforts mounted in determining the Major Elements of wrapper design, a variety of Minor Elements were also identified. These can be considered as mere attributes of a particular design, and as such we believe it likely that in most circumstances a reasonable expectation existed that such elements would be optional or transient, appearing only as needed, or to accommodate some predictable external pressure.
Five types of wrapper elements qualified: Subtitle, Attribution Statement, Volume Number, Price and the Typographical Union Label. Representative examples are provided below to help ensure clarity:
Finally, all that remained were a collection of elements that we dubbed "Aesthetic Design." These elements, while strongly decorative in nature, could not be ignored as we do with stock material, pattern and color as they were often used to visually represent or augment the contents of a particular booklet, or to serve a definite compositional purpose that persevered regardless of what materials, colors etc. were used. While there are hundreds of unique examples, they can be grouped by general form as follows:
An extended definition of "Wrapper Framing" and "Wrapper Boxing" is in order. While specific elements were frequently framed or boxed on wrappers (Book Titles, for example), this treatment can, for the most part, either be considered a part of the primary cover art or reconciled with the apparent rules governing a specific design style. Here, Wrapper Framing (double outlines) or Wrapper Boxing (single outlines) refers to decorative borders that contain the entire content of the wrapper, not those local to a specific element. In addition, any borders that exist on wrappers containing other Aesthetic Design Elements (ie., Illustrations or Photographs) would be considered part of the primary cover art and not as Wrapper Framing or Wrapper Boxing.
The development of criteria for deciding what might qualify a wrapper design as a Named Design Style was driven by two overarching ideas: First, the criteria needed to make as much intuitive sense as possible. Secondly, the criteria had to conveniently and effectively support many of the broadly-accepted wrapper designs used by the collector community today. So, for example, as it is commonplace to hear collectors speak of Illustrated Wraps or Photographic Wraps, the criteria must acknowledge this organic definition if it was to prove most useful. Neither premise, however, could be allowed to impose odd exceptions or compromise the overall effectiveness of the final system. A bit of a balancing act? Certainly.
The following is the formal set of criteria used for deciding when a wrapper might merit classification as its own unique Named Design Style:
Perhaps the easiest one to agree upon. A wrapper that does not display a Publisher's Stamp (for example) is fundamentally different from one that does, even when all other aspects are identical. Similarly, a wrapper that carries the "Self Educator" Subseries Declaration is fundamentally different from one that does not. The rationale is not just that the visual appearance is notably different, but also that the intent of the wrapper is notably different.
"Book Title" elements require some special attention. In cases where a specific booklet contains several unique works, it is possible that the wrapper will list some or all of them on the front wrapper. Other books sharing the same wrapper design may not. This difference should not be considered reason to suggest a new wrapper design style. Evidence suggests that the potential for such variation was a consideration when establishing the design, and that the design was expected to be accommodating.
Further, presentation of the Series Editor Statement, "Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius," cannot be treated as strictly as other Major Elements. Following the death of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius this statement was eliminated from many wrappers, but not all of them. There are occasions where wrappers of an identical design style may or may not have a Series Editor Statement, likely a consequence of cost-saving measures and/or mediocre quality assurance efforts.
Two wrappers that are identical in all ways save for the presence of specific Minor Elements can, by this system, be considered the same design. However, a change in the location of such would likely indicate a new design style.
Subtitles and Attribution Statements require some special attention. In cases where a specific booklet contains several unique works, it is possible that the wrapper will list some or all of them on the front wrapper. Other books sharing the same wrapper design may not. Thus, it is possible that where multiple works are represented on a wrapper, multiple Subtitles and Attribution Statements may also exist. This difference, while visually substantial, should not be considered reason to suggest a new wrapper design style. Evidence suggests that the potential for such variation was a consideration when establishing the design, and that the design was expected to be accommodating.
Note: this criteria may not be applicable in cases where the wrapper supports certain Aesthetic Design Elements. Please see criteria #5 below.
The wording of this criteria is a bit vague, but the idea is simple. In circumstances where two designs are identical in terms of general layout and element presentation, but are driven by a notably different purposes, these wrappers may be viewed as distinct design styles. Consider, as an example, a case where two wrappers are identical except that Booklet #1 bears a Publisher's Stamp, while Booklet #2 supports a full declaration of copyright presented in an identical fashion as the Publisher's Stamp is on Booklet #1. Publisher's Stamps represent a well-understood convention, and thus this variation can be considered a change in the design intent, even if it produces little substantive aesthetic difference. Clearly, this criteria is dependent on understanding what constitutes a convention in the first place. Further definition of such conventions is likely required.
Aesthetic Design Elements, as described above, can come in a wide variety of forms. Regardless of form, however, their mere introduction to a pre-existing wrapper design would likely represent a substantial and obvious change. Determining whether a specific example is representative of a known form or whether it is something different may be a relatively subjective exercise in some cases.
This criteria was, perhaps, the hardest to phrase. To understand why, consider that most wrappers bearing illustrations or photographs require that Major Elements such as the Title or Book Number be placed in locations that would not negatively obscure the image, yet would also remain legible. Strictly speaking, this is a substantial change in the general structure of the wrapper when compared to other wrappers bearing identical elements. Regardless, no one was willing to accept that the end result constituted a unique class of wrapper. What could be agreed upon was that the movement of these elements were driven by a predictable and observable set of rules, and adherence to such rules indicated that these wrappers were all of the same design style.
Note: this criteria impacts interpretation of criteria #2 above.
Finally, the design must be proven to apply to more than one booklet if it is to be able to claim a Named Design Style. In the event a wrapper design qualifies, but no other examples can be found, that wrapper design needs to be added to a "candidate pool" so that future wrappers can be compared against it for similarity. Logically, this will happen each and every time a new wrapper style is encountered. Additional information regarding Candidate Design Styles will be presented later in this article.
Naturally, validation of all of the assertions and conclusions described above required application using actual, real-world examples. It seemed most logical that validation should start with a baseline wrapper design to which subsequent examples could be compared. This idea lead to the first challenge to the classification system: dealing with series changes.
While the wrappers above clearly follow the same basic design principles, in day-to-day usage collectors often make a distinction between wrappers from different series. Designating all of these as a "Standard" wrapper design, however accurate this may be in design terms, might fail to re-enforce the way collectors instinctively speak about them. Should these wrappers all be identified as following a cross-series "Standard" design, or should they be considered unique because of their series?
Originally, we had decided that a change in the name of the series should be considered as criteria for defining a new Named Design Style. However, after staring at the baseline wrapper design for a while, the correctness of this decision was severely eroded. In the end, series changes were eliminated from classification criteria and replaced instead by a agreeable usage convention: whenever referencing a Named Design Style, it should be prefaced by the series in question. Thus, while the design style itself should be named "Standard," in common use it should appear as "Pocket Series - Standard," "Little Blue Book - Standard" etc. unless situational usage warrants otherwise.
With that out of the way, we set about applying this system to a sample group of roughly 500 wrappers. These were taken from a variety of digital sources including collector-submitted scans, ebay listings, picaweb galleries, flickr pools, and sample images used elsewhere on this site. Digital assets were chosen over physical specimens as we (correctly) imagined that the process would involve a lot of sorting, grouping, rearranging, etc. - acts much more easily accomplished using digital files. The results of our validation efforts can be explored on the next page.
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