Monday, May 6, 2013

Anatomy of an Armed Services Edition book

Reprinted editions of books popular in the civilian market, The Armed Services Editions were donated to GIs fighting overseas in World War II. The design of these books was driven by a need for minimal size and minimal cost.

The ASEs were sent overseas in supply ships that carried essential military supplies. Small books meant more copies could fit into a shipment, more paper could be used for the military’s massive record keeping, and a soldier could more easily carry one on his person. The US government paid for all publication costs. As a contribution to the war effort printers reduced their fees, while authors and their publishers agreed to forgo royalties. But with millions of books to be published, the government wanted the most economical printing solution.
An example of two ASE books before trimming. From collector Brian Anderson.
Trim Size:

The Army’s graphic arts specialist in the Special Services Division, H. Stahley Thompson, proposed printing books in pairs on magazine/catalog size paper, binding, then trimming them apart horizontally. Many mail order catalogs were discontinued during the war years, so this left the equipment open to use. These roll-fed letterpress rotary presses were ideal for the ASE’s large print runs (50,000 per title).

Presses used to publish magazines like Reader’s Digest (5½ x 7¾ inches) could produce two books, each 5½ x 3⅞ inches. This was the size used for ASE books up to 320 pages. Books up to 512 pages were 6½ x 4½, which was half of a larger magazine or catalog.

5½ x 3⅞ inch ASE book from my collection.
Cover Design:

Illustrator/designer Sol Immerman was hired to create the covers of the Armed Services Editions. Sol ran a book design studio in Manhattan, and he was part-time art director at Pocket Books. His ASE book covers are interesting in that they were treated more like advertisements than actual book cover designs. The paperback cover depicted a photo of the hardcover’s jacket design with its title type treatment repeated to the side. The jacket photos were black and white, while the paperbacks’ background colors varied throughout the series. Sol earned $10 for each cover he designed. Unfortunately, I don’t know what his usual rate was.

Cover of an Overseas Edition.
Although I have not seen documentation explaining the ASE’s approach to cover design, I can use my own experience as a book cover designer offer some educated guesses. Following a simple template, these covers would be much faster to produce than a new cover. The purpose of a unique cover design is to attract the book buyer, but in this case there were no buyers. The Council on Books in Wartime, which published these free paperbacks, could easily have gone with a minimal two-color text-only cover as they did with their Overseas Editions. This approach would have saved even more time and money, but it would not be attractive to the intended readers: young GIs, many of whom were teens fresh out of high school. I’m guessing that it was Immerman who suggested that the printing budget be large enough to accommodate colorful covers.

American book publishers donated their titles to The Armed Service Editions (the publisher received only half a cent for each book printed). While, this contribution was in support of the war effort, I am sure that publishers saw these free books as promotion to future book buyers. If a GI enjoyed reading an ASE book, The Call of the Wild for instance, then it was hoped that he would buy the hardcover when he returned home. The fact that ASE book covers looked so similar to advertisements is probably no accident.

Typical Armed Services Edition back cover.

Interior Design:

Title page to The Armed Services Edition of The Call of the Wild.
The main thing to note about the interior design of the Armed Services Editions is that the text was not set in a single column as with a typical hardcover of the time. Composing the text in two columns was useful because it allowed more text to fit on each page (which means less pages and less paper needed). The text appears to be 10 point Caslon with 11 point leading. Comparing to some 1940s hardcover books I own, the ASE text is one or two points smaller.

Sample page from The Armed Services Edition of The Call of the Wild
Further reading:

Check out this website for a whole bunch of scans of ASE covers.

Schreuders, Piet. The Book of Paperbacks: A Visual History of the Paperback Book. Virgin Books, 1981. This book includes a bio of Sol Immerman, and a description of WWII era paperback book publishers.

1 comment:

  1. I have a photo of Bennett Cerf of Random House, ca. 1943, with the novelist Dawn Powell and a few others authors, one of whom may be Marjorie Rawlings. They are seated around a table with stacks of books on it. Microphones from CBS and WABC are present. It is a photo of the Council on Books in Wartime but I know nothing else about it. I wish to publish it in a book on Dawn Powell in an academic press. Random House, Corbis,, UPI, AP -- none of them owns the image. I am in touch with Princeton University which holds much of the material on the CBW but they don't seem to recognize the photo either. Can you help? Thank you!