Big Little Books

During the Great Depression, big little books ("BLBs") became a favorable alternative for comic publishers due to their compact size and cost. Whitman Publishing Company first marketed BLBs in 1932. "Dubbed "Big Little Books," a delightful paradox that at once described their size ("little") and the quality of the reading experience they had to offer ("big," one hopes), these Whitman publications presented reprints of newspaper comic strips and eventually expanded to incorporate characters from classic literature, radio, film, television and even original creations never before seen in any other medium (Blumberg, 2004)." These Whitman books are widely regarded as some of the most collectible.

BLBs, like the Barclay toy figures, enjoyed success through distribution deals with Woolworth's. Originally selling for 10 cents each, the first BLBs were The Adventures of Dick Tracy #707, Dick Tracy and Dick Tracy Junior, Little Orphan Annie #708,Little Orphan Annie and Sandy, and Mickey Mouse #717. Soon the line would expand to include other comic and cartoon characters, US history and cowboy stories, stories about magic, and more. The characteristic size of BLBs, 3 5/8" by 4 1/2", would also become standardized during this time.

The Golden Age of BLBs consists of books published between 1932 and 1938. Steps were taken to produce more durable books, and other publishers became part of the BLB world. In 1938, Whitman abandoned the "Big Little Books" moniker for the grander sounding, "Better Little BOoks." Collectors may notice that books from this period had an overprinted blank circle covering the words "Big Little Book" on the cover. Also during this time, Western began production of another popular series of children's books, Little Golden Books, which remain popular today.

The Silver Age of BLBs lasted between 1938 and 1949. Due to paper shortages during World War II, BLBs in general were produced with fewer pages than their Golden Age predecessors. Patriotism became a popular theme in BLBs of this era.

We currently find ourselves in the Modern Age of BLBs. The popularity of BLBs waxes and wanes as various publishers produce new books, often based on popular cinema or television of the moment (notice some of the latest include titles for "Xena: Warrior Princess," the "Star Wars" series, amongst others).

Deke's Collection is comprehensive in its scope and variety. Books from every era are present and well represented. Each book is wrapped in archival-quality film and is proudly on display in Deke's home. The books are presented as they sit on specially-made shelves in his home. Special collections are also featured below.

Source: Blumberg, A. (2004). The Big Little Book Book. Timonium, MD: Gemstone Publishing.

Collected Books

Syndicated newspaper comic strips became immensely popular during the early 20th century. Naturally, these strips were later collected into larger volumes and made available in book form. Many of these strips would go on to be published for decades. Check out Don Markstein's Toonopedia for extensive information about each of these series.

Pep Pins

The Pep Comic Buttons were packed inside specially marked boxes of Kellogg's Pep in 1945, 1946, and 1947. There were five different sets to collect, each consisting of 18 buttons. The complete assortment of pins is on the site.

The Grey Irons

Grey Iron Casting Company, located in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, was founded as the Brady Machine Shop circa 1840 and rechristened as Grey Iron Casting Company in 1881 after a fire destroyed the original location. It was the first major dimestore toy soldier maker in the United States. Grey Iron was the only company to produce 3” and 3-1/4” iron toy soldiers. Production began in January, 1933, with the introduction of thirty-five different soldiers. In July, 1936, the “Iron Men” series, which featured more robust figures, were introduced; production of these figures lasted until the beginning of World War II, when the factory began to produce munitions. The figure molds were produced by Samuel Eshlemann, Samuel Schmidt, and Edward Musser.

Source: O’Brien, R. (1997). Collecting American-made toy soldiers: Identification and Value Guide. Florence, AL: Books Americana.

Barclay Toy Figures

Barclay Manufacturing Company, founded in 1924 in West Hoboken, New Jersey, became the largest manufacturer of toy soldiers in the United States in the late 1930s through early 1940s. Many of the figures, made from antimonial lead, were originally sold for a nickel apiece prior to World War II. Barclay experienced a tremendous distribution chain through their close business relationship with Woolworth’s.

The “dimestore-size” figures featured in Deke’s Collection are some of the most collected pieces produced by Barclay. Pre-war production involved hand-casting of the figures. Production began in 1935 and was ended on April 1, 1942, due to World War II as the company became involved in defense work.

Important differences exist within the Barclay toy soldier line. Earlier figures feature a “short stride,” which caused them to look stiff and unrealistic. In 1936, longer stride figures were produced. Sculpts produced by Frank Krupp featured separate tin helmets, which were initially glued and later pinned to the soldiers. However, due to the expenses involved with this, later figures featured an integrated helmet. These are known as “cast helmet” soldiers to collectors.

Barclay numbered their soldiers and issued catalogs. The Italian and Ethiopian figures were produced in 1935 and 1936; figures 728-741 were produced in 1936, followed by figures 743-746 by early 1937. Figures 747-761 followed later that year. The Asian soldiers also seem to have been produced in 1937. Figures 762-773, as well as the four Boy Scouts, were produced in 1938; the remaining civilian figures (610-626) seem to have been introduced in 1939. In addition, the taller soldiers (B10, B20, B76, 774, 775, 776, & 777) are likely to have been introduced with the civilians. “Cast helmet” soldiers began production in 1940; the last pre-War figure was likely B142, “Soldiers in Boat.”

In this collection, any “Bxxx” classification is O’Brien’s. The original Barclay catalog number and description is provided where possible.

Source: O’Brien, R. (1997). Collecting American-made toy soldiers: Identification and Value Guide. Florence, AL: Books Americana.

Manoil Figures

Manoil Manufacturing Company was founded in Manhattan in the late 1920s and began toy soldier production in 1935-1936. The earliest figures are known for their “hollow base” design, which features a concave base. These figures are renown for appearing unrealistically robust; later figures would appear more realistic (O’Brien believes that M62-M71 are “the most authentic-looking American combat soldiers ever produced. Everything about them suggest that they are deep in the middle of war.”). By 1940, Manoil figures were in such demand that they company had to move to a larger production facility. Production lasted until April 1, 1942. Unlike many other manufacturers, Manoil was not able to develop any defense contracts; post-War production continued though not with the vigor or popularity that the company experienced pre-War.

Manoil figures are highly prized by collectors for their distinctive sculpts and interesting array of figures.

Source: O’Brien, R. (1997). Collecting American-made toy soldiers: Identification and Value Guide. Florence, AL: Books Americana.

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