These cute little fat books, with cowboys, cartoon characters and filled with adventure that captured the minds of both adult and child. They were very popular in the 1930 and 40's, as a child could carry and read them anywhere because they were designed different then other books. The Big Little Book was small, about 4 1/2 inches high by about 4 inches wide, and little over an inch in thickness. They had a cartoon drawings on the right hand page, and text on the left. Each book contained about 250 - 350 pages.
Created in 1932 by Sam Lowe, who helped create, a 10 cent line division, of Western Publishing. This division became Whitman Publishing, and Sam became the president of this division. While most collectors believe the first Big Little Book was "The Adventures of Dick Tracy", there were actually twelve original titles, of which Lowe had orders for 25,000 books, before production even began. He got the orders from 3 dummy samples, he had the art department design. These twelve titles are recognized by their hardboard covers and paper spines.
The first Big Little Books were originally given out (and signed) as Christmas gifts, by Chester Gould, when they were published in 1932. Chester gave the books to the children of his friends. Chester Gould was the artist of Dick Tracy. Later, in 1933 the books sold for ten cents, at the local five and dime store.
While many publishers, published this type of book (Dell, Fawcett, Goldsmith, Lynn, Saalfield, Van Wiseman, Whitman, and World Syndicate), the original copyright and trademark of "Big Little Books" belongs to Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. Because of the success of this new book style, many other publishers, published their books under similar names like "Little Big Book" (Saalfield), and "Cartoon Story Books (Dell). But yet there are collectors for all of the Big Little type of books. Most collectors collect, by character, theme, or period.
There were three main stages of Big Little Books by Whitman Publishing. The Golden Age" 1932 - mid 1938. These books were then influential, interesting, and memorable. With the introduction of comic books like Superman in 1938, the fad for Big Little Books began to fade. At the same time Whitman changed their logo of the books to "Better Little Books", and Saalfield changed theirs to Jumbo books. So the books then entered "The Silver Age" 1938 - 1949. Due to World War II, there was a major paper shortage which made competitive companies diminished. Whitman used the flip-it feature, to attract buyers. But each new book contained fewer pages. Which then put the books into the "Modern Age" from 1950 to present. A time when Whitman made several short-lived attempts to revive the books. Whitman published the last of the Better Little Books in 1989, and has since closed its doors, but the parent company Western Publishing still moves on today.
The first published book " The Adventures of Dick Tracy", signed by Chester is probably one of the rarest, with less then 50 known copies. The publishing of this book had only one run, and only one printing for a total of 250,000 copies. While most of the other Big Little Books had at least 2 printings and 1,000,000 copies each. Most of the Disney books are considered to be rare. As are those published by Whitman, as advertising premiums, and given in packages of cereal for the Coco Malt Company, during the early to mid 30's. And thus there are Big Little Book, spin offs, with advertising premiums for other companies like Karmetz, Macy's, Pan-AM, and Perkins. All are rare and highly valued, but not all are published by Whitman. Other rare and scarce books include the following:
1.) The Big Little Mother Goose.
2.) The Big Little Paint Book.
3.) Buck Rogers
4.) Donald Duck
5.) Felix The Cat
6.) Flash Gordon
7.) John Carter of Mars
8.) The Laughing Dragon of Oz.
9.) Little Orphan Annie
!0.) Mickey Mouse
11.) Tarzan The Ape Man