Sunday, August 24, 2014

Photos of WWII GIs Reading

I found couple nice photos of GIs reading in the National Archives collection. It looks like the guy above is reading a Pocket Book paperback. Here's the original caption: Enlisted men at the transmitter pool of the signal section of the US Seventh Army in Germany, relax by reading and playing cards in the enlisted men's quarters. January 3, 1946. (I cropped out the guys playing cards)

Original caption: These men of the 3rd Constabulary Regiment are shown as they make use of a few of theor off-duty moments in the mobile library which is being used at their station until the new library is ready for use. The 3rd Constabulary Regiment is located in Wetzlar, Germany, where they are in training for occupational duties. April 24, 1946.

Monday, July 28, 2014

London Bookstore During the Blitz, 1940

Photographer George Rodger took this shot of a W H Smith & Son bookstore in London, 1940. I found the image in Magnum's collection.

From UK National Archives.
In September 1940 the German Luftwaffe launched a campaign of terror bombings on cities in Southern England. The British government put regulations in place that required citizens to cover up their windows at night. All outdoor lighting was extinguished as well. The blackout made getting around in public difficult (and often dangerous) after sundown, so it was easier to simply stay home and read. The blackout restrictions did not end until Germany's defeat in the spring of 1945.

The sign in the photograph's foreground tells customers that newspapers and magazines are available only to subscribers. This was due to the strict paper rationing during the war years. The military had tremendous needs for paper, so publishers had to carefully conserve their paper allotment.

Shire Publications has a lot of nice small histories about The Blitz and the British homefront. Check out Wartime Britain by Mike Brown, The Blitz and The 1940s Home by Peter Doyle.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

World Book Night and the Armed Services Editions

About this time last year I noticed a lot of bookish people on Twitter talking about World Book Night. Founded in 2011 in the United Kingdom and 2012 in the United States, World Book Night is an annual April 23rd giveaway of thousands of free paperback books. As I read more about the program I recognized many parallels with the Armed Services Editions book giveaway program during WWII. Despite the similarities, the founders of WBN were not actively following the ASEs as a model.

These days the memory of the Armed Services Editions resides mostly in the minds of vintage book collectors. So, this year I thought it would be interesting to compare the two book giveaway programs. Today’s World Book Night is an international event (US, UK, and Ireland). The Armed Services Editions program of the 1940s was limited to Americans, so I’m focusing my comparison to World Book Night US.


World Book Night US is run by an independent nonprofit organization. World Book Night UK also began as an independent charity, but now it is one of several programs run by The Reading Agency. In 1943 the Armed Services Editions was one of many programs managed by a US nonprofit organization, the Council on Books in Wartime. In January of 1944 it was spun off into its own independent nonprofit corporation under the name Editions for the Armed Services, Inc. Although it was then legally separate from the CBW, the same people staffed the two organizations.

The organizations managing the book giveaways in the 1940s and today were headed by book publishing professionals. Members of the Board of Directors of World Book Night US include executives from major publishers, book distributors, and book sellers (see staff listing on their website). The Board of Directors for the Council on Books in Wartime was filled with the similar publishing leaders, often representing the very same publishers then as today (see the full list in my earlier post).

Selected Titles

World Book Night and the Armed Services Editions have both taken existing popular books and repackaged them as specially-branded paperbacks to donate to people unused to reading recreationally. The book selection process for the two programs appears to be very similar. The 30 to 35 WBN US books each year are chosen by a panel of librarians and booksellers. Books chosen for the ASEs (30 to 40 each month) were decided by a special committee of publishing staff, librarians, and booksellers. Because the ASEs were destined for the troops, the selection committee also included a representative from the Army, the Navy, and the government’s Office of War Information.

World Book Night titles are recently published fiction and nonfiction books, along with some classics. Likewise, the titles selected for the Armed Services Editions were new general trade books with classics that were not already available as paperbacks. Both organizations have sought to pick quality books that would likely be entertaining to people who are not in the habit of reading.


The World Book Night website says that their books are given to people, “who don’t regularly read and/or people who don’t normally have access to printed books, for reasons of means or geography.” The same could be said of the Armed Services Editions program. While WBN US donates books to the public across the United States*, the ASEs were distributed by the military to Americans serving abroad. Red Cross and USO clubs, permanent military bases, and large navy ships sometimes had a small library, but the selection was limited. These military library books reached only a small percentage of American troops, and as one officer in the Army Library Service wrote,  “The collections varied from mediocre to bad.” GIs in the field or at sea had virtually no ordinary access to books. Having grown up during the Great Depression, many of the GIs were reading recreationally for the first time thanks to the ASEs.

*WBN US also donates books to the military through individual volunteers and by partnering with Operation Gratitude.


Authors and publishers involved in WBN agree to forgo royalties. The publishers of books included in the list are responsible for their respective printing costs. Further funding is provided by donations from various members of the publishing industry (see list of 2104 WBN Partners) and individuals. Volunteers distribute the books locally.

During WWII the US government paid for the production, storage, shipping, and distribution of the ASEs. There was a 1 cent royalty for each copy. Half a cent was paid to the author and half a cent to the publisher. ASEs were shipped overseas along with other military supplies.

Armed Services Editions from my collection alongside a couple titles from the 2013 World Book Night US.


Both the World Book Night books and the Armed Services Editions were printed specifically for the giveaways. Books from both programs were printed as paperbacks (hardcover books would be more expensive to produce and ship). WBN and ASE books were printed with specially-branded covers. While WBN paperbacks are the same size as general trade paperbacks (6 x 9 inches, 5½ x 8½ in, etc.), ASE paperbacks were printed much smaller (5½ x 3⅞ inches or 6½ x 4½) in order to fit in a GI’s pocket. In a previous post I wrote a detailed description of the production of ASE paperbacks.

Print Runs

In its first year the World Book Night in the UK was called, “the biggest book giveaway ever” (see “World Book Night giveaway goes international” on The Guardian). In 2011 WBN UK distributed one million copies in Britain. The next year WBN UK printed one million books again, and WBN US debuted with 500,000 for American readers. That’s a combined 2,500,000 books in two years’ time. In 1943, the first year of the Armed Services Editions program, a whopping six million free books were printed for distribution to GIs.

In 2013 WBN UK reduced its print run to 500,000 copies, and this year they halved it again to 250,000. In 2013 WBN US distributed 500,000 copies, and it moved up to 550,000 for 2014. So, after four years the combined number of US and UK books given away will be 4,300,000. From 1943 to the fall of 1946 123,535,305 ASE books were put in the hands of GIs. ASEs continued to be printed for the US troops who served in post-war Europe and Asia. By the summer of 1947 the final total of books printed was 108,512,000. With the backing of the US government at war, the Armed Services Editions is likely to remain the biggest book giveaway ever.

A recovering GI getting a haircut and reading the Armed Services Edition of Hell on Ice, by Edward Ellberg.

Readers’ Reactions

World Book Night has had a passionate response from book-lovers. Tens of thousands of people volunteer every year to be the book givers who distribute the free books. Givers follow up with the recipients, and you can read some of their reader feedback on the WBN US website.

In World War II, homesick American GIs were delighted to have books to distract them from military life. Colonoel Trautman, the Army representative on the ASE selection board, reported that “The only complaint the boys have about the books is that there just aren't enough of them.” While, the New York Times Book Review called ASEs, “more popular than pin-up girls.”

Effect on the Publishing Business

When World Book Night debuted there was concern from some booksellers that the free books would hurt their sales. Some authors thought that the giveaway would devalue the public perception of books. Yet, it is ordinary for the book publishing industry to give away thousands of free books every year as advance reader copies. Free books create word-of-mouth, which sells more books. The hundreds of thousands of books given away on World Book Night are actually good for business. Publishers’ Weekly reported that the titles included in the 2013 WBN US saw a 32% sales increase after the giveaway.

Considering the millions free books involved in the Armed Services Editions giveaway, publishers in the 1940s were very wary of flooding the market. Their agreement with the US government stipulated that the ASEs were not to enter civilian hands. Initially the ASEs could only be distributed outside the United States. This rule was relaxed somewhat when the Council on Books in Wartime allowed ASEs into military hospitals on US soil (but the books had to be destroyed after reading). The flimsy paperback books themselves were designed to be disposable. When the war ended excess stock in government warehouses had to be pulped. The ASE program was very good for business. It cost publishers almost nothing, and the free books encouraged the habit of reading to millions of men in the military. This is thought to have been one of the reasons for the boom in book buying in the later 1940s and 1950s (see my post on The Great Gatsby).

Additional References A great resource devoted to ASEs.

The Guardian has numerous articles about World Book Night.

A History of the Council on Books in Wartime, 1942–1946. New York, 1946. The CBW published this history before the nonprofit corporation was dissolved in 1946.

Jamieson, John. Books for the Army: The Army Library Service in the Second World War. Columbia University Press, New York, 1950.

Jamieson, John. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc.: A History, Together With the Complete List of the 1,324 Books Published for American Armed Forces Overseas. New York, 1948.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Transit passes advertising the 1942 and 1943 Victory Book Campaign

On eBay this week I found a 1942 St. Louis transit pass to go along with my 1943 find from last year. They both advertise for the Victory Book Campaign, a book donation program for GIs in WWII. See my previous post describing the VBC.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Board of Directors for the Council on Books in Wartime

The Board of Directors of the Council on Books in Wartime included some of the most important American publishers of the decade. The long list of various publishers and booksellers illustrates just how much the industry was committed to doing their bit for the war effort. Many of these names and companies are still familiar today.

1943 Board Members 

William Warder Norton (Chairman of the Board), founder of W. W. Norton & Company
John Farrar (Vice-Chairman), co-founder of Farrar & Rinehart (after WWII he co-founded Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
F. S. Crofts (Treasurer), F. S. Crofts & Co.
Malcolm Johnson, Doubleday, Doran & Co.
Nicholas Wreden, The Scribner Book Store
Pat Beaird, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press
David S. Beasley, The University Press
Clarence B. Boutell, G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Martin M. Foss, McGraw-Hill Book Co.
Donald P. Geddes, Columbia University Press 
Franklin F. Hopper, New York Public Library
Howard C. Lewis, Dodd, Mead & Co.
Alfred R. McIntyre, Little, Brown, and Company
F. L. Reed, Grosset & Dunlap
S. Spencer Scott (became Treasurer in October 1943), Harcourt, Brace & Co.
Richard L. Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster
Meredith Wood, The Book-of-the-Month Club (a man, despite the name)
Stanley P. Hunnewell, Book Publishers Bureau
Robert M. Coles, American Booksellers Association
Janet Lumb, executive secretary

1944 Board Members

William Warder Norton (Chairman), founder of W. W. Norton & Company
Richard L. Simon (Vice-Chairman), co-founder of Simon & Schuster 
S. Spencer Scott (Treasurer), Harcourt, Brace & Co.
Pat Beaird, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press
Marshall A. Best, The Viking Press
A. J. Blanton, The Macmillan Co.
Bennet A. Cerf, co-founder of Random House
Robert F. De Graff, Pocket Books
C. Halliwell Duell, Duell, Sloan & Pearce
Benedict Freud, Gimbel Brothers Bookstore
George A. Hecht, Doubleday, Doran Book Shops
Curtice N. Hitchcock, Reynald & Hitchcock
Franklin F. Hopper, New York Public Library
Henry Hoyns, Harper & Brothers
Malcolm Johnson, Doubleday, Doran & Co.
Josephine Kimball, Young Books (one of only two woman on the board)
Joseph W. Lippincott, J. B. Lippincott Co.
Elliot B Macrae, E. P. Dutton & Co.
Alfred R. McIntyre, Little, Brown, and Company
Stanley M. Rinehart, Farrar & Rinehart
William Sloane, Henry Holt & Co.
Datus C. Smith, Jr, Princeton University Press
James S. Thompson, Whittlesey House
Richard J. Walsh, The John Day Co.
Meredith Wood, The Book-of-the-Month Club (a man, despite the name)
Mrs. Robert M. Coles, The American Booksellers Association (one of only two woman on the board)
Carl H. Milam, American Library Association

1945 Board Members

William Warder Norton (Chairman), founder of W. W. Norton & Company
Richard L. Simon (Vice-Chairman), co-founder of Simon & Schuster
S. Spencer Scott (Treasurer), Harcourt, Brace & Co.
Marshall A. Best, The Viking Press
Marion Beacon, Vassar Book Shop
Pat Beaird, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press
A. J. Blanton, The Macmillan Co.
Robert F. De Graff, Pocket Books
C. Halliwell Duell, Duell, Sloan & Pearce
George A. Hecht, Doubleday, Doran Book Shops
Franklin F. Hopper, New York Public Library
Malcolm Johnson, Doubleday, Doran & Co.
Hugh Kelly, Whittlesey House
Alfred A. Knopf, founder of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Henry Laughlin, Houghton Mifflin Co.
Joseph W. Lippincott, J. B. Lippincott Co.
Frank S. MacGregor, Harper & Brothers
Elliot B Macrae, E. P. Dutton & Co.
Joseph A. Margolies, Brentano’s
Alfred R. McIntyre, Little, Brown, and Company
Charles G. Proffitt, Columbia University Press
Stanley M. Rinehart, Farrar & Rinehart
William Sloane, Henry Holt & Co.
Richard J. Walsh, The John Day Co.
Meredith Wood, The Book-of-the-Month Club
Mrs. Robert M. Coles, The American Booksellers Association
Carl H. Milham, American Library Association

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mayor La Guardia Rescues Captain America from American Nazis!

Mayor La Guardia narrating comics on the radio during a 1945 newspaper deliveryman strike. Photo from my collection.

Captain America in 1941

Shortly after the introduction of the Captain America comic book in 1941, creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and their coworkers were disturbed by telephoned death threats and physical intimidation by American Nazi groups. Mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia came to their rescue.

In the spring of 1941 the United States had not yet joined the war raging in Asia and Europe. While the British implored the US government for help, much of the American public expressed a strong feeling that they should remain neutral. Captain America number one was released in March of that year, roughly 8 months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The villain of that first comic was none other than Adolf Hitler himself. The cover shows Cap slugging the F├╝hrer, while the story inside warned of Nazi spies working at sabotage within America.

Cover of Captain America #1
“Beware, Nazi spies! Beware, fifth columnists! Beware, all the enemies of the U.S.A.! Beware the wrath of Uncle Sam's greatest secret agent—the mythical Captain America.” —from the short story, Captain America and the Soldiers’ Soup 

In his 2003 book The Comic Book Creators, Joe Simon explained, “the opponents of the war were all quite organized. We wanted to have our say too.” Members of the German American Bund didn't like what he was saying. This pro-Nazi group had formed on US soil in the 1930s with direction from Germany. The group was especially strong in New York. It was common to see Nazi flags hanging in windows of Yorkville homes and businesses (in the Upper East Side). In 1934 a pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden attracted twenty thousand people. In their eyes, the anti-Nazi message of Captain America—a comic written and illustrated by Jewish Americans—posed a real threat to the young German government.

The political opinions of a kids’ comic book might seem inconsequential, but Captain America had substantial influence. Comics reached a large audience, and they were eagerly read by teenaged boys who were close to reaching military age. As the US increased military production, the unemployment of The Great Depression dissipated. Families had more disposable income, which meant kids could buy comics. By early 1942 both Publishers Weekly and Business Week estimated that 15 million comic books were sold in the US each month. At the end of 1943 that number expanded to 25 million per month.

Coincidentally, the US government’s Lend-Lease act was signed into law in the same month as the publication of the first issue of Captain America. This program leased American military equipment to the allies fighting Germany. Worried at the US government’s involvement in the war, it seems the New York Nazis decided to harass Simon and Kirby. Joe Simon remembered: “We were inundated with a torrent of raging hate mail and viscous, obscene phone calls. The theme was ‘death to the Jews.’ At first we were inclined to laugh off their threats, but then, people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building on 42nd Street and some of the employees were fearful of leaving the office for lunch.”

Eventually someone at the comics studio called the police for help. You might think that the police wouldn't be able to do much, but Simon and Kirby had a fan in City Hall. Police officers were assigned to make regular patrols of the office and hallways. As the police protection began Joe Simon was surprised with a telephone call from the mayor of New York. Fiorello La Guardia told Simon, “You boys over there are doing a good job. The City of New York will see that no harm comes to you.” Protecting Joe Simon’s studio fits in perfectly with the mayor’s reputation of personal involvement with his city.


Mayor La Guardia Rescues Comics!

Like Captain America, La Guardia hated bullies and took pride in fighting for the little guy. As a congressman in the 1920s he had pushed to end restrictions on Jewish immigration to the US. During his 1933 mayoral campaign and throughout his terms in office he strongly denounced the antisemitism of Hitler and the Nazis. In the planning for the 1939 New York World's Fair he insisted Germany was excluded from participating, and he even proposed that the fair include an exhibition on the horrors of “that brown-shirted fanatic who is now menacing the peace of the world.”

About two years prior to Joe Simon’s call for help, the German consulate in New York contacted the police with a similar but contrasting situation. A dignitary from Hitler's government was visiting, and they demanded a police guard to protect him from New York City Jews. La Guardia got involved in this situation as well. He told the police commissioner to send guards, but to make sure the officers were only the biggest and toughest Jews on the force.

After Japan’s December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany’s declaration of war on the US, pro-German opinion in America disappeared. The Captain America comic went on to sell close to a million copies each month during the war. The New York Times reported that comic books made up a third of all magazines shipped to GIs overseas. In 1945 Mayor La Guardia would defend comics once again. In late June and July there was a newspaper deliveryman strike. The mayor went on the radio each day to read the funny pages to the kids so they wouldn't miss the story.

Mayor La Guardia autographing the illustration of a cartoon idea he submitted at an exhibition of cartoons concerning lost hours in war production, sponsored by the Office of War Information, June 1943.

In January 1942, Mayor La Guardia joined Hollywood stars at The New York Public Library in a ceremony to promote the Victory Book Campaign.

Further Reading:

Jeffers, Paul. The Napoleon of New York: Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Wiley, 2002.

Simon, Joe and Jim. The Comic Book Makers. Vanguard Productions, 2003.

Wright, Bradford. Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

The excellent The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon includes a fictionalized re-telling of this real-life comics history.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Illustrator C. B. Falls and the Victory Book Campaign

"Kate Smith, honorary chairman of the radio board of the Victory Book Campaign with the nationally known illustrator C. B. Falls, who designed the official poster. Mr. Falls also designed the official poster for the book drive during the last world war." —original photo caption from January, 1943. Photo from my collection.
To design their official Victory Book Campaign poster of 1943, organizers hired an accomplished illustrator and poster artist, Charles Buckles Falls (1874–1960).

C. B. Falls’ poster design for the Victory Book Campaign in World War II.
Falls’ poster was most likely paid for by The Office of War Information. The VBC’s annual report for 1943 says, “The O.W.I. Graphic Division also provided for the design and printing of 100,000 colored posters for the campaign.”

C. B. Falls was fond of woodblock prints, which this 3-color VBC poster appears to be. He didn’t trust the wood carving skills of printing shops, so he cut the blocks himself. I think he came up with a fun and engaging poster. The lettering is all hand-done. His rendering of the GI’s M1 helmet doesn't look right, but I'll admit those curves are hard to draw. He signed this poster with his initials and full last name, but his work was often signed with a simple “F” in a box.

Falls began designing posters around 1910. His first clients were theaters in New York City. During the First World War he volunteered for the Division of Pictoral Publicity, which was part of a government propaganda agency known as the Committee on Public Information. Falls joined their group of artists who produced graphics for the government and civilian organizations during the war.

C. B. Fall's poster design for the American Library Association's book drive in WWI.

The most circulated poster of the war was Fall’s design of a smiling Marine holding a stack of books urging the American public to give books to the troops. A miniature version with different text was pasted into the books donated to the military. This poster was commissioned by the the American Library Association, and its success lead to the ALA (then co-sponsoring the Victory Book Campaign) approaching him again during WWII. The image is still popular today. It’s often shared by book lovers online, and at the Last Book Store in Los Angeles I recently saw a sculpture based on his poster. At the end of WWI Falls continued to design recruitment posters for the Navy and Marines, and he taught art lessons to disabled veterans.

Another book drive poster for WWI.

Falls worked on book design early in his career. After leaving his home state of Indiana, he got a job with the Decorative Designers in New York City. This firm created designs to decorate the cloth bindings of books in the days before designed dustjackets were common. After two years with the firm Falls left to became a freelance artist (sometime around 1903).

A black and white photo of Falls’ case stamp design for the binding of The Flight of a Moth, 1904.
Illustration and title page for All's Fair in Love, 1904.
His work on books expanded to include interior illustrations, endpapers, and title pages. Most of this work was for children's books, school texts, and history books. He was often commissioned to illustrate bookplates for individual book collectors. His woodcut and his pen illustrations appeared on magazine covers and their interiors. Falls continued illustrating books and book jackets until his death in 1960 (at age 86).
ABC Book by C. B. Falls (1923) on display in the Random House office lobby in NY.

The First 3,000 Years book jacket lettering and design by C. B. Falls. Viking, 1960.

A collection of Falls’ sketches, scrapbooks, and printed samples is held at the Chapin Library at Williams College.

The Library of Congress has a collection of some of Fall's posters.

The Graphic Art of C. B. Falls: An Introduction. Chapin Library Williams College, 1982. This was a booklet published to go along with an exhibition of Fall's work held in 1982.