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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Military editions are book rarities

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

I 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 books.

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 were destroyed.

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
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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