Sunday, July 29, 2012


From: Deke's Collection

In this post-analogue age I doubt that there's any room for the accidental creation/evolution of a new book format. The very name itself, "Big Little Books," was the sort of inspired branding that gainsays premeditation.

"[...] In 1910, the name of the company was changed to Western Printing and Lithographing Company and moved into rented space in the Dr. Claredon I. Shoop’s building at State Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Dr. Shoop made patent medicines in the building, and Western printed labels for his bottles. When Shoop retired in 1914, Western took over the entire building. It remained the firm’s main office for several years.
     In 1915, the company was making a comfortable profit, but because the printing jobs were sporatic and in some cases seasonal, there were many weeks when the shop and workers had nothing to do. To resolve the problem, E. H. Wadewitz began to look for 'fill in' work. One of his 'fill in' contracts was the Hammerung-Whitman Publishing Company, a Chicago based publisher that specialized in children’s storybooks. Western contracted to print several thousand newly developed titles, but after the books were printed, Hammerung-Whitman ran into financial troubles and defaulted on payment for the books. Western, which had no experience in distributing books, found itself with a warehouse of titles for which it would not be paid. Wadewitz had to either write off the cost or figure out a way to sell the books to recoup expenses. Wadewitz decided to sell the books, thus Western took its first step toward adding a publishing and distribution component to its printing business. Over the next three years, Western recouped its costs by selling the books to book and department stores.
     In 1918, a second event took place that brought about an important change in Western’s development. The company received its first printing order from a retail firm, S. S. Kresge Company, a major five-and-dime chain. Although the order was for dozens of children’s books, a foreman working on the order confused the 'dozens' to mean 'gross' quantities, and twelve times the correct number of titles were printed. Too many for S. S. Kresge to use, Western was again faced with a decision of whether to write off the error or to try to sell the books. [...]
     During the depression, Western had success with two inexpensive Whitman products. One was its jigsaw puzzle line; the other was the Big Little Book® line. The Big Little Book® was created in 1932 when Sam Lowe conceived of a special book that would be bulky but small so that it could be easily handled and read by a young consumer. He made up three samples using cover and paper stock that would be used in the printing. He had the Art Department do black and white drawings and insert keyline text so that the dummy samples could serve as prototypes. Taking the prototypes to New York, he presented them as a ten-cent retail item, packed one dozen per title in a shipping carton. Retail buyers were intrigued with the concept and were particularly impressed with the titles. Lowe returned to Racine with more than 25,000 books pre-ordered."

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