consider myself an avid reader, book-nut or reading addict. I have
to be to keep writing columns each week. Recently, I discovered
a type of book I had never heard of before. They are called the
"Armed Services Editions."
ASEs were published
by a firm called Editions For The Armed Services, Incorporated,
a nonprofit group established in 1942 by The Council On Books In
Wartime. Made up of publishers, librarians and booksellers, they
chose and oversaw the printing of 120,000,000 volumes to be distributed
exclusively to members of the American Armed Forces in wartime.
Classed as U.S. Government property, these books were not to be
sold off-base or made available to civilians. To prevent mistaken
identity, ASEs took on a different form from the common paperback
books of the day.
The covers were not adorned in color but left plain. The books were
regular size paperbacks but the text and covers were printed horizontal
form instead of the regular vertical format. Containing 200 to 300
pages, each had two columns of text instead of one like the regular
A total of 1324 titles were produced and distributed from 1943 to
1947. The government paid six cents each, splitting a one-cent royalty
with authors and the regular publisher when the work was not in
the public domain.
ASEs found today are not that expensive but are somewhat scarce.
Among the many reasons for this include the restriction-to-base
rule. Most were shipped overseas with only a few kept in the home-based
USO and Service Canteens. All were passed around time and again
and some were carried into battle under dire conditions.
When the victory bells tolled in 1945, the fate of the ASEs was
drawn. As camps, bases and training facilities began shutting down
it was not feasible to ship most military equipment back home. Much
was burned, buried or dumped at sea. Thousands of these paperback
Probably a few caches survived along with those arriving back home
in returning soldier's bags. Few ASEs found today are in mint condition.
Those few are probably literary classics not preferred by the average
young man in uniform or titles published after the war and distributed
in post-war bases.
Research tells us the first paperbacks in America appeared in number
about 1930 to 1940. The fore-runners to paperbacks were the "pulp"
magazines named for the rough, porous quality of cheap paper used
in the pages. The subjects of these early efforts were mostly western,
romance or mystery stories.
When the need for ASEs came, the lightweight, cheap cost and small-size
paperback filled the need. A few classics were chosen but the publishing
group quickly learned the young men of the military preferred stories
of danger, intrigue, passion and adventure. Favorite ASE authors
were Earle Stanley Gardner, Jack London, Rex Stout, James Oliver
Curwood, John Steinback and Ring Larder.
Reading ASEs was a favorite pastime for lonely young men thousands
of miles from home. Reading also helped relieve the tensions of
war and no doubt many of these little books were literally "read
to shreds" during the conflict.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
November 27, 2007 Column
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