Brainstorming the Armed Services Editions

BY THE END OF 1942, it had become clear that the Armed Services needed not only a new system of distributing reading material, but also a new type of book: one that was cheap enough for the Services to buy, small enough for a Gl to carry, and interesting enough to appeal to a broad audience.

The Library Section, a division of the Morale Branch in the U.S. War Department, attacked the problem in an ingenious way: instead of working on book design in a vacuum, the Library Section first found production equipment capable of producing cheap and fast printing, and then tailored the design of the books it intended to produce to fit these presses. The chief of the Library Section, Ray L. Trautman, and a graphic arts specialist named H. Stahley Thompson discovered that the rotary presses used to print monthly pulp and digest magazines were available between issues for extended periods of time.

Thompson concluded that such presses could print paperback books for less than 10 cents/copy on runs of 50,000 or more and for as little as 5 cents/copy on runs of 100,000.

The result was the Armed Services Editions (ASE's), a series of oblong-shaped paperbacks printed in an unusual but handy format.

Most ASE's were printed on presses used primarily for producing digest magazines like World Digest. These fast rotary presses produced magazines two-up--that is, two identical copies at a time, joined at the lower edge of the upper copy and the upper edge of the lower copy, the two copies then being cut apart for individual distribution.

ASE's were printed four-up on these presses: four books-completely different in title and content, but with exactly the same number of leaves-wound up attached to each other at top and bottom. The books were then separated from each other with three horizontal slices, producing four pocket-sized books, each with its spine running parallel to the short side of the cover. Thus ASE's A-5, A-6, A- 7, and A-8 were printed at the same time, one above or below the other: strange bed-(or press- ) fellows!

Longer ASE books were machined in a somewhat larger size on presses used primarily for printing pulp magazines like Commentator.