I love these little books. The cool factor is quite high. Of course it is the first book in the long and storied career of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It not only started his career, it started a franchise. This classic of fantasy literature has been reprinted many times by many publishers. This is just one of them, but it’s one of my favorites.
The Armed Services Editions books were part of the biggest book give-away in the history of the world. Nearly 123 million books were issued to American soldiers between 1943 and 1947. Issued by the Council on Books in Wartime, they were designed to fit the pocket of a World War II GI. It is No. M-16 in this series of 1,322 books.
There was another ASE of a Tarzan book. The Return of Tarzan was issued as No. O-22 in the series. It may be even more difficult to find than its predecessor.
The books were produced using cheap supplies. They were cheaply made. It was estimated that each book could be read six times before falling apart. Condition of these books is always an issue. A friend of mine once said that these books weren’t fine even when they were hot off the presses. Those that remained stateside, whether issued to soldiers at forts or bases or used in hospitals as reading materials for recovering soldiers are usually found in better shape than others. Those found in Europe tend to be pretty decent, condition-wise. Those that were shipped to the Pacific Theater tend to have suffered rather dramatically from the humidity. They literally swell with moisture to the point that there is a substantive physical change to the paper.
The popularity of the title also greatly affected condition. Cool books like the Tarzan titles or Superman or any title that might appeal to a sex-starved soldier were popular and thus read over and over again and often passed from soldier to soldier as a good read. Even if the sexual content was minimal to nonexistent, titles such as Star Spangled Virgin, Virgin With Butterflies, Murder and the Married Virgin, and Is Sex Necessary garnered a lot of attention.
I find myself wondering how many GIs “owned” this copy? How many slid it into their pockets only to be pulled out again during some down time to pick up where they left off their reading? Which battles did it witness? How much death did it see? How many oceans id it cross? How did it find its way back to the USA? All these questions are unanswerable, of course, but that still doesn’t stop me from pondering them.