Introduction

The selection of 136 Big Little Books (BLBs) on exhibition in the galleries of the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts is part of a larger collection of approximately 425 titles1 donated to Broward County Libraries Division in 1986 by Mr. Duane H. Siers of Deerfield Beach, Florida. The exhibit features only the 136 titles2 in the Siers collection that were published by the Whitman Publishing Company (Racine, Wisconsin) during its "Golden Age," 1932-1938.

Big Little Book® was the collective (i.e, series) title given to the volumes Whitman published: the name promised "the buyer a great amount of reading material and pleasure (BIG) within a small and compact (LITTLE) book"3, i.e., approximately 5" (height) x 3" (width) x 1½" (depth). Children were enthralled by the "comic book" nature of the publications since each book generally had a text page and an accompanying facing illustration. Individual titles were commonly published in editions of hundreds of thousands and were sold inexpensively in stores throughout the nation to an anxiously awaiting audience of young readers.

Represented in the exhibit are some of the best known American and British comic book, radio program, movie title, and children's classics characters from the 1930s and 40s, including Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Mickey Mouse, Little Orphan Annie, Louisa M. Alcott's Little Men, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, The G-Man, Li'l Abner, Little Miss Muffet, Popeye the Sailor, Tarzan, Donald Duck, Gene Autry, Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Wimpy, the hamburger eater.

Mr. Siers began collecting BLBs when he was a child. He was 11 years old in 1945 when his mother gave him his first Big Little Books4. That quintessential maternal act led to a lifetime of reading pleasure and of collecting and caring for his cherished BLBs. He said of that period in his life, "I loved those books and spent hours and hours reading . . . My favorite position was to lie on the rug by the sofa, propped up on one arm. When that arm got tired, I'd switch to the other. I didn't know there was any other way to read."5 He continued to accumulate new volumes even into his adult years. The collection also grew significantly from the addition of gifts he received from family, friends and business colleagues who were aware of his collecting interests.

In the middle 1980s, Mr. Siers considered giving his collection to an orphanage or other charitable institution but thought that perhaps the volumes would not be properly cared for and preserved so in 1986 he opted instead to donate them to the Broward County Libraries Division's Main Library rare book room.

Because BLBs were cheaply produced on highly acidic paper, it is unusual to find copies in mint condition and the Duane H. Siers collection is no exception. The titles were read and handled by the young Mr. Siers with little thought given to their long-term preservation and, consequently, their current condition mirrors the heavy usage they were subjected to: some titles are missing pages, several lack spines and/or covers and many of them are dog-eared and frayed.

However, in fulfilling the wishes of Duane H. Siers to preserve his cherished titles for posterity, the collection is now housed in the humidity, light and temperature controlled state-of-the-art vault of the five-year old Dianne and Michael Bienes Special Collections and Rare Book Library where it will permanently be at the disposal of curious children and adults of all ages.