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Daphne du Maurier
The official Daphne du Maurier website, approved by her Estate

US Armed Services Editions of Daphne du Maurier's novels

Examples of Armed Services Editions from WWII

Armed Services Editions (ASEs) were small, compact paperback books printed by the Council on Books in Wartime for distribution throughout the American Military during World War II.  The programme carried out one of history's largest and most wide-scale distributions of free books.  Between 1943 and 1947, over 122 million paperbacks were produced and distributed free to US servicemen.  

The series of books comprised 1322 titles.  1227 were unique titles, and 95 were reprints of those issued earlier in the series.  The vast majority of the titles were fiction, including some classics, modern classics, fantasy, action/adventure and westerns, but there were also non-fiction books covering biography, poetry, politics, religion/self-help, sport and science.  Sixty-three of the titles were 'made books', being collections of short stories, poetry, essays, plays and radio plays, usually by the same author, but assembled and published together for the first time in these Armed Service Editions.  Fiction within the series included many famous authors and titles, such as David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Adventures of Superman by George Lowther and three titles by Daphne du Maurier.

Jamaica Inn - number E-137 in the Armed Services Editions series (January 1944)

This is, of course, our main reason for drawing your attention to this remarkable series of books because Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and The King's General were all published in the Armed Services Editions series.

The books were small in format, usually from five and a half to six and a half inches long and three and seven-eighths to four and a half inches high.  Unlike paperbacks as we know them, these books were usually bound on the short edge, so they had a landscape appearance.  In addition, the text block had two columns for easy reading.  This size and format were deliberately designed to easily fit into a cargo pocket of a military uniform.

Rebecca - number T-36 in the Armed Services Editions series (April 1945)

Most of the books were published in their original unabridged format, and their distinctive covers included the words, 'This is a Complete Book Not a Digest'.  Seventy-nine of the titles were abridged, and on these, the slogan on the front cover said either 'Condensed for Wartime Reading' or 'Slightly Condensed for Rapid Reading'.  In the majority of cases, there was an image of the original edition of the book on the front cover of the Armed Services Editions.  

The books were printed on digest and pulp magazine presses.  Some were stapled, in addition to being glued, which made the books more robust and long-lasting.  Because the Council for Books in Wartime used magazine presses that were not in use for their usual purpose, costs were low.  The books cost about 6 cents per copy, and royalties of 1 cent were split between the authors and the publishers.  The books were all distributed free to servicemen.

The King's General - number 1176 in the Armed Services Editions series (June 1946)

These books will have existed in tough conditions, and the quality of the paper and card covers was not great, so it is amazing that copies of these books can still be found through second-hand and antiquarian booksellers.  Prices can vary considerably, depending on condition and scarcity, some titles being much more challenging to find than others.  Currently, prices on a meta-search engine such as Bookfinder show prices ranging from as little as 10.00 to in excess of 1000.00.  

To read more about the Armed Services Editions, there is a book on the subject called When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win WWII by Molly Guptill Manning.  

Hardback Houghton Mifflin, USA, published 2nd December 2014, ISBN: 9780544535022

Paperback Mariner Books, USA, published 27th October 2015, ISBN:  9780544570405

It should be relatively easy to find second-hand copies of this title through second-hand bookshops or search engines such as Bookfinder or AbeBooks.

The following links will also provide you with more fascinating information:

Ann Willmore February 2023.

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