Sketch of Emanuel Julius Haldeman
courtesy of Pittsburgh State University
Hobos & Socialists:
Emanuel Haldeman-Julius &
the Little Blue Books

Jessica Amanda Salmonson


You're on a road trip, you've wandered around in a random used book shop, found some lovely old books you must have, & taken these to the cash register. Beside the cash register you spot a long thin antique wooden cheese-box that has been turned into a flip-box for small thin booklets mostly in faded blue wraps. You begin flipping through & you spot several of your favorite authors -- H. G. Wells, Henry James, a miniature anthology of ghost stories containing Le Fanu & Machen . . . And old though the booklets are, they're only fifty-cents each! So you buy a big handful of 'em. And you start wondering about the who, what, why, & where of the publisher of such nondescript eency paperbacks.

The Little Blue Books were published by the Emanuel Haldeman-Julius Company of Gerard, Kansas, though some have the imprint "Appeal Publishing" alluding to the socialist magazine Appeal to Reason that the Haldeman-Juliuses edited even before WWI. As the magazine was published earlier than the booklet line, perhaps the booklets were regarded as extensions of the magazine at first. Marcet Haldeman later edited The Haldeman-Julius Monthly which regularly featured political & civil rights essays like her own "What the Negro Students Endure in Kansas." The issue featuring Marcet's interview with Harry Houdini has been driven skyward in value by Houdiniphiles, to the low hundreds of dollars. Marcet next edited a journal called The Debunker with articles that ranged from atheistic, darwinist, to yellow journalism revealing white collar & governmental criminality & lies — all this daringly from their headquarters in the Bible Belt!

Their Kansas farm became a travellers' visiting center, & the Haldeman-Juliuses were host to such wandering radicals as Anna Louisa Strong, Will Durant, Upton Sinclair, Clarence Darrow & dozens of others, besides issuing the fiction & nonfiction of a great many of America's socialist writers, including Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Mark Twain, Bernard Shaw, Thoreau — the press was by no means restricted to socialists but with a decided affection for them.

Socialist reformers Marcet & Emanuel Haldeman-Julius wanted to bring education & literature to the masses, & succeeded. The idea for the press was originally that of Marian Wharton, headmistress of the People's College of Fort Scott. All "commies" of course. Wharton talked Emanuel into the idea of high literature cheap enough for the lower classes. Her college was the first major client purchasing the books. Emanuel would run the press for the rest of his life, until he drowned in 1951 (many believe J. Edgar Hoover was behind the drowning, as Hoover had a deep hatred of the publisher, & Emanuel who was deathly afraid of water would never have gone near a pool voluntarily). Marcet had died ten years earlier of cancer, though she & Emanuel had already separated in 1934. Their backlist however was kept in print (through an enormous backstock & reprintings when needed) deep into the 1970s. The warehouse/printing facility burned to the ground on Independence Day 1978 -- victim of an unknown arsonist, just before the building was declared a national landmark -- or all that stuff might still be available brand new!

Some titles among their enormous output are scarce but most are so common they still turn up for only fifty cents or a dollar each from a vast number of book shops, but sometimes $10 to $30 or even higher for select titles that end up in specialty stocks, & they're usually a little pricier on the net since no one likes to wrap up & mail a fifty-cent item. The highest prices seem rather off the mark to me. If you wanted a given title it might be hard to find just that one, but if you wanted fifty different Little Blue Books randomly, you could find them quickly & cheaply, as a great many of them were best sellers. Not officially according to keepers of Best Sellers Lists, but certainly in terms of numbers sold. More people read Henry James in Emanuel's dime- or nickel-editions than ever from James' main publishers. At the height of the press's success they were printing 40,000 copies per day, with frequent reprintings until the plates were fuzzy from being worn out or pounded down. Admiral Byrd took a complete set of Little Blue Books with him on his Polar journey. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopa collected Little Blue Books. Heinrich Heine became a household name in America not because everyone got exposed to him in school — few did — but because Haldeman-Julius successfully peddled Heine to America's underclasses.

Julius was not above trickery of a sort, in something of a "bait & switch." He'd now & then put a racy title on the cover but what was inside would be relatively wholesome literature, or a political tract. Confessions of an Abortionist & How to Test Your Urine at Home are the sorts of titles Emanuel wanted anyone with a nickel or two to imagine were spicy. He'd publish a book with a title like Sketches of Naughty Ladies in order to introduce Goethe to people who might not otherwise think Goethe wrote anything for them. Other books with intentionally suggestive titles included A Mad Love by Frank Harris, Molier's Ridiculous Women, Samuel Campbell's Sex & Blackmail Rackets Exposed, Havelock Ellis's The Love Rights of Women, Henry Fielding's The Sex Factor in Man's Life, Dr. D. O. Cauldwell's Sexual Athletes, Ben Hecht's Sinister Sex, F. J. Gould's On the Threshold of Sex & many such.

Although this element of the Little Blue Book output used the sleaze factor to introduce the masses to real literature, the method also flew in the face of government censorship of which Emanuel & Marcet strongly disapproved. In their era some of these titles actually put them at risk of imprisonment! Therefore their support for the likes of D. H. Lawrence, Clement Wood, Joseph McCabe or just issuing selections from the Kama Sutra, far transcended salesmanship's sleaze factor. One of Marcet Haldeman's own Little Blue Book compositions, Three Generations of Changing Morals promoted intellectual libertinism.

Often the item chosen among standard authors were the fantasies & fairy tales such as Oscar Wilde's The Happy Giant & Other Tales, Goethe's The Princess & the Tiger, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, Remy de Gourmont . . . several Theophile Gautier booklets including Clarimonde: A Supernatural Passion; The Fleece of Gold; A Piece of the Princess (better known as "The Mummy's Foot"), & One of Cleopatra's Nights. The Haldeman-Juliuses so loved Anatole France that they published not only Little Blue Books of his works, but also essays about France & his writings, written for the press by the likes of fantasist Paul Eldridge, or historian & socialist Will Durant.

Horror & supernatural stories were favorites of the press. They issued the weirdest writings of Balzac, with separate editions of The Crime at the Red Inn, The Story of a Mad Sweetheart, & a two-tale collection The Atheist's Mass & An Accursed House, Stevenson's Doctor Jekyll & Mister Hyde, Bulwer Lytton's The Coming Race with introduction by suffragist & science fiction writer Miriam Allen de Ford (a regular contributor to the the company). There were booklets by Charles Finger on horrific true crimes, & select weird writings of Poe, Kipling, de Quincey, Twain, Hawthorne, Bierce, Villiers de l'Isle Adam, & such interesting oddities as Lloyd E. Smith's Tales in Verse of Terror & Wonder, & such pleasing mini-anthologies as Mysterious & Weird Tales, Mystery Tales of Ghosts & Villains, Extraordinary Mystery Stories, Great Ghost Stories, Five Great Ghost Stories, & others featuring classics of the genre by Machen, Le Fanu, Benson, Bierce, Wells, Kipling & so on.

Mostly a reprint publisher, nevertheless many of the books including translations of French short stories are originals. Of the many socialist books amidst those 6,000+ titles, one original & significant example was David Gorton's My Prison Days (1929) about a Wisconsin college student with a Zona Gale Scholarship, who published a poem critical of the American government in a small socialist paper, & was shortly thereafter arrested, tried, & convicted for obscenity. The book ended up in the hip pocket of thousands of laborers & hobos within weeks of the kid's unjust imprisonment.

In his own writings Emanuel included much that was confrontational & progressive — such as a booklet on "leaders & misleaders"; strong criticism of Herbert Hoover the Fatuous Failure; a tract against capital punishment; another assessing the misdeeds of the Ku Klux Klan; atheistic essays, & so on.

Also included were books on science, history, starting a business, law, Judaica, cookery, joke books including potty humor, pocket dictionaries for sundry languages, a whole passel of ancient Greek dramas which Emanuel was crazy about, & the complete works of Shakespeare. Also a lot of fantasy by the likes of William Morris (who Emanuel liked as a fellow socialist), Guy de Maupassaunt, a ton more.

Marcet & Emanuel were exceedingly wealthy — she was an heiress, he was born among Philadelphia tenements. They donated funds to keep a socialist commune out of the red (so to speak) at Fallon, Nevada, round about World War I. Socialism of the time invariably led to cooperative businesses; M. & E. founded or helped found several cooperative ventures including a company that produced margarine or liquid butter substitute, & an equally fake coffee made from cereal. Rich American socialists were a dime a dozen in those days — Gorky wrote about the type as quite monstrous (while himself living high on the hog while in America with his mistress, happy that all the American bolsheviks were competing for his attention). Dilettantes on one level, truly effective reformers on another level, J. Edgar Hoover declared Emanuel an enemy of the nation because of his atheism & socialism — had he lived a few more years McCarthy would've got 'im. Think of all the radicalized hobos of the Great Depression who had Haldeman-Julius books in their packs, or a whole half-dozen books stuffed in one small shirt pocket behind a pack of Lucky Strikes.

Marcet had her separate interesting history too. She was quite the beauty & was everything from a stage actress to America's first female bank president. She was pals with Bryher & other dykes of the era & though I couldn't prove it, I suspect her & Emanuel's relationship partially resembled Vita Sackville West's marriage. Some of her personal & extreme-for-the-day opinions on love find their way into her Blue Book Why I Believe in Companionate Marriage. That Emanuel linked his name (Julius) to hers rather than expecting her to cease being a Haldeman suggests something of their egalitarian relationship.

M. & E. also collaborated on short stories, always with a political message. They sold their tales to such journals as The Atlantic, so they were no slouches. Brentano's issued their novel Dust, which had many printings. Marcet also wrote fairy tales. Emanuel wrote a play with Chesterton & Shaw as characters, but the Provincetown Players politely declined to produce it.

If there was still a Bohemian Kansas today I'm sure M. & E. would still be household names. But no Kansan I ever met knew who they were. Though I've never met anyone seriously attempting to collect this odd imprint in its entirety, it has always struck me as something more people should be interested in attempting. Collecting Little Blue Books would fall halfway between stamp-collecting & book-collecting, but is also a little piece of eccentric publishing history & the history of radical America.

Here are off-site links to
Some of E. Haldeman-Julius's own writings
And to Partial List of the Big and Little Blue Books
from which page you will find links to other Haldeman-Julius sites.

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Copyright 2001 by Jessica Amanda Salmonson