Little Blue Books

November 26, 2013

You may have seen works in the Little Blue Book series around in bookstores and at garage sales, flea markets, and the like. These small booklets were the result of one man’s desire to turn everyone into a socialist.

Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889–1951) purchased the Appeal to Reason newspaper, the leading socialist newspaper in the world, in 1919 and decided to try a new way to bring information to the masses. He began with titles that inspired him, works of literature and nonfiction. Later, he expanded into all subjects, resulting in titles ranging from How to Psycho-Analyze Yourself to How to Take A Good Photograph and to various books on sex, jokes, and more controversial topics such as religion, politics, and everything in-between.

EH-J was convinced that by educating the masses, they would want to turn to socialism. The books themselves were approximately 3.5 x 5 inches and were made to fit into the average workman’s shirt pocket, making the books portable. The cost of each booklet was initially 25 cents apiece but later was reduced to 10 cents and even 5 cents apiece.

The series’ name changed along with these details. Originally called the Appeal to Reason Library, the name changed to the People’s Pocket Series and then the Ten Cent Pocket Series. Eventually, the series became what we know it as today—Little Blue Books—because EH-J had adopted blue-grey covers.

Titles of the works were frequently changed to boost sales and reflect the new series title when it debuted, so there some titles with the same content that had several different covers. Also, each was numbered in the corner of the cover, and sometimes the same number was used for books with different content. There at least 1,800 titles, and about the same number of variants. EH-J sold millions of copies of these works throughout his life.

EH-J also started many other publishing ventures. American Freeman was a newspaper he founded; his company, Haldeman-Julius Publishing, also created Big Blue Books and The Keys to Culture (a thirty-volume set of encyclopedia-style booklets) with Joseph McCabe, one of EH-J’s most prolific writers.

EH-J wrote about the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the late 1940s, after the FBI deemed many of the titles subversive, especially the writings on atheism and socialism. He was tried and convicted on income-tax evasion in 1951 and died mysteriously in his swimming pool a few weeks afterward. The company continued on through 1978, when a fire destroyed the printing plant and ended the publishing company.

Because millions of these booklets were sold, they have no really significant value, for the most part. There are collectors out there and even websites devoted to EH-J and his publishing empire. We have approximately 3,200 of the potential 3,600 (with variations) here at CFI.