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(Courtesy of Les Adams)

(Courtesy of Les Adams)



(Courtesy of Les Adams)


(Courtesy of Les Adams)


(Courtesy of Les Adams)


(Courtesy of Bill McCann)

Big Little Books, etc.

by Les Adams



In the years from 1940 through about 1946 I bought Big Little Books new. In the decade of the 60's I bought used Big Little Books to replace the ones my Mother tossed out about 1949, in addition to the ones I never had. The first effort was what a kid did and it was pure fun and filled with moments of discovery. The second effort was more like a goal --- to get them all before somebody else woke up to the fact they weren't making them anymore --- and it was also filled with discovery, albeit laced with anxiety and, consequently, not near as much fun. The latter was a collection effort while 1940-46 was, again, what a kid did. (You are more than welcome to point out that the 60's re-collection effort also bordered closely to what a kid did. If memory serves, my wife may have mentioned that once or twice although not in recent years. And, yes, we are still married ... to each other.)

Why I quit buying and acquiring Big Little Books in 1946 is because that was the time I begin to wonder why Li'l Abner Yokum was always running away from Miss Daisy Mae Scragg. Priorities change ... along with hormones.

While this is not a primer on the history of Big Little Books or the publishers or the artists, I will mention that, while I employ the term Big Little Books, it is strictly generic and refers to the whole genre, and I am well aware of the other names and terms and descriptive titles. Put it this way: while, in 1942, I may not have known why, I knew there was a big difference between westerns made by Republic and those under the PRC banner and that this same difference/awareness carried over between Whitman and Saalfield Big Little Books even though, strictly speaking, Saalfield didn't publish Big Little Books.

Forget the re-collection effort. Let's talk about the buying-them-new years. That was part and parcel of a Saturday morning ritual. The usual Saturday was a walking trip to downtown Lubbock with a first stop at the Triple S drug store on the corner of Main and Texas to check out the new comic book arrivals and decide which few --- if any --- could be purchased that week. "If any" was the operative term and had to do with the dimes one had or, most of the time, didn't have.

The next step was, for lack of a better term, the theater check. This was not to find out what was playing as the one, two and three column ads in the Avalanche-Journal supplied that information. The purpose of the theater check was to purely ogle the posters (one and three-sheets usually) and the lobby card display stands. While I have acquired a few of those in recent years, none of them look as good as they did displayed in front of the theaters. The theater-check trek was up Texas Avenue to the Lyric, cut left on Broadway to the Texan and the Plains with side excursions off Broadway to avenues G and H and the Chief, Arcadia and Cactus theaters. These houses had westerns as the bill of fare and, consequently, there was no need to go on and check out the Lindsey, Palace, Broadway, Tech, Tower or Midway because they didn't play westerns. Well, once in a while, maybe something such as THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, but while not being an exceptionally bright child, I was smart enough to know that Errol Flynn at the Lindsey for a quarter was not as good a buy as the Johnny Mack Brown and Roy Rogers double feature with chapter 10 of JUNIOR G-MEN for nine cents at the Arcadia. No, the choice came down to the nine-cents theaters and the choice between them was most often decided by who had the best looking posters. That the film itself didn't always deliver what the poster promised was often experienced. Did I learn from this? Of course not. Did I mention not being an exceptionally bright child?

Enter the buying of Big Little Books. After the film, there was a hot path beaten back to Broadway and visits to Kress, Woolsworth and Levines (a west Texas version of the first two). The sights, sounds, smells and delights to be found in 1940's five-and-dimes doesn't exist anymore but that's another story. Kress, Woolsworth and Levines was where 'new' Big Little Books were sold. You couldn't buy them all and sometimes you couldn't buy any but the pure enjoyment of picking up a brand new, never-been-flipped Gene Autry BLB escapes my descriptive abilities.

But sometimes you could buy, especially if a set of over-indulgent grandparents had been visited recently, and that is where the pure-agony decision-making started. I loved newspaper comic strips and western movies and the choice between the new Dick Tracy or the Range Busters BLB would bring sweat beads to my nine-year-old brow. (The rest of me was also nine.) I may as well confess. I chose which western to see based on the posters; I chose which BLB to buy based on the cover. Which one would look better displayed in my apple-crate bookcase is basically what it came down to. (I'm not going to explain apple-crate bookcases.)

And the purchase of BLBs carried the same economic elements as the choices between quarter and nine-cent movies. While the five-and-dimes sold brand new Big Little Books, there was a used comics book section in the back half of a barber shop located between the Arcadia and Chief theaters that also sold used Big Little Books. Some of them two-for-a-nickle. At the most for five cents each. The fact that my apple-crate bookcase(s) contained a great many of the early 30's titles published long before my time gives a pretty good indication of the direction I often followed. I confess again ... I was more into quantity than quality. That some of what I bought for quantity purposes then have more quality value today does not redeem me.

And, while I hesitate to bring it up, I had one more BLB source in those years. Street and Smith had a comic book character called Supersnipe, the kid with the most comic books in the world. Up the street from me lived the real Supersnipe. This kid had more comic books, Big Little Books and marbles collected under one roof than existed anywhere. He liked the marbles best of all. He liked to play marbles for "keeps". He couldn't shoot marbles worth a darn. I could. I had one bucket of marbles, he had dozens. He wanted mine. We would draw a circle in the dirt, pour in a bucket each and shoot until someone had them all. Skill won everytime. He valued his marbles more than his Big Little Books and would trade me several in exchange for his marbles back. That is why I had more than one apple-crate Big Little Book bookcase. One day he finally got smart and offered me dozens of his Big Little Books in exchange for my single bucket of marbles. Greed and dumbness made me accept the deal. It struck me the next day that if I had kept my bucket, I would have sooner or later had all of his Big Little Books anyway, plus my bucket of seed marbles. In Economics 101, I think they call that spending the interest and keeping the principal. I did mention not being overly bright?

Well, I was at least bright enough not to buy or trade for any of those Saalfield titles not generated by comic strips or movies and rendered badly by unknown in-house artists. And, to also not pass them by in 60's re-collection years.


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

(Courtesy of Les Adams)


(Courtesy of Les Adams)


(Courtesy of Les Adams)





LINKS

Tim McCoy was one of many western movie heroes whose adventures were chronicled in Big Little Books. "Tim McCoy On The Tomahawk Trail" has been scanned and can be viewed and read online at:
http://rack1.ul.cs.cmu.edu/is/mccoy/
http://scanserver.ulib.org/is/mccoy/

The biglittlebooks.com website has a detailed history of the various books, variations and manufacturers: http://www.biglittlebooks.com/

The following link should get you to the book index on eBay which includes Big Little Books.  In the upper left corner of the screen, there's a Search box where you can enter 'Big Little', 'Gene Autry', 'Hopalong Cassidy', 'Roy Rogers', etc.  You probably also want to select the 'Search only in books' which is next to the Search box. Go to: http://books.ebay.com/



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