In 1904 Altemus published the first six books of a series of fairy tale
books that would prove to be an extremely popular and a very long
“An entirely new
series of books for children, especially adapted for Christmas or
birthday gifts” Altemus Catalogue 1904-1905.
“To those parents
of little children in the very morning of life, Altemus’ Wee Books come
as a positive blessing. These stories deal with familiar animals,
fairies and simple incidents, and are illustrated in colors”. Altemus
These books had
three different formats. The first is the scarcest while the third is
quite common. As time went on, Altemus discontinued most of its other
fairy tale books to concentrate on this group of books. New books were
added yearly and spin-off series such as the Peter Rabbit Series and
Little Black Sambo books were published. Finally near the end of the
run all the books were combined into one large umbrella listing.
(Later, after Henry Altemus went out of business, Platt and Munk
reprinted many of the books.)
The first format is the scarcest and contains the most valuable book
(The Tale of Peter Rabbit) in the series. In 1904 the first six books
could be purchased either separately or as one of three boxed sets of
two books each. The first American pirated edition of Peter Rabbit was
part of this initial set. This format had a run of less than a year and
was quickly replaced by the second format. Of interest is the frequent
claim of a Peter Rabbit first in the second or third format style. The
confusion exists because all three formats list 1904 as the copyright
date and formats 2 and 3 actually list that date (1904) on the title
The books are half vellum with a typical (of the era), line drawn
decoration in gold gilt with the name of the title and the series also
in gold gilt on the left of the front cover. On the right there is an
oval within which is a book appropriate multicolored pictorial picture.
Outside of the oval is a floral decoration. Decorated orange line drawn
endpapers which picture active children are noted in the front and rear
of the book. The books are 5.5 x 4.25. All of the books can be seen at:
The boxed sets are as follows. Nursery Tales with Nursery Rhymes, Three
Little Pigs with The Robber Kitten and The Tale of Peter Rabbit with
The Foolish Fox. These sets are clearly the rarest of any Altemus boxed
The second format is much more commonly seen than the first and was
published from 1904 until 1917. It consists of the first six books of
the series. Although the title pages and basic text of the books were
unchanged between this format and format I, the book covers are
different. Now the cloth covers have multicolored line drawn
illustrations which are book appropriate. The books are still the same
During the years of this format's publication run the books went
through several changes. The earlier books had green covers (except for
the Three Little Pigs book which was orange or beige and had the pigs
holding a white bag with red dots as opposed to the later books which
had bags that were yellow with red dots) and had the
same orange line drawn picture endpapers that were present in format I.
The green covered books were replaced between 1908 and 1912 with beige
colored book covers which were otherwise identical to the green books.
This cover color was present until 1917. It was during the beige run
that the names of two of the books changed. Nursery Tales and Nursery
Rhymes became Mother Goose Nursery Tales and Mother Goose Nursery
Rhymes in 1916.
The third cover in this format is blue-grey with a red-orange spine.
The cover pictures, except for the colors, are unchanged. This cover is
seen with some 1917 books.
The beige books as well as the blue-grey covered
books have blank endpapers. The books published after 1916 may
advertise the Mother Goose Series (although some books have no ads).
Finally as noted above, the name changed books are later. Dust jackets
in this format prior to 1914 are of the brown uncoated type. After 1915
the jackets are white and coated and match the book cover.
"To those parents of little children in the very morning of life,
Altemus Wee Books come as a positive blessing". Altemus Catalogue
The third format with the familiar book appropriate appliqué is the
most common and best recognized Wee Book. This format began in 1917 and
was published into the 1930s without a significant change. While some
books were being added to the Wee book's list, others were being
deleted so that they could be the first books of other Wee Books'
Series such as the Peter Rabbit Series, Little Black Sambo Series,
Little Sallie Mandy Series, Wish Fairy Series and the Wee Folks Bible
Stories Series. During this time period the Wee Folk's Cinderella
Series and the Little Bunnie Bunniekin Series were also published.
Although the contemporaneous book advertisements distinguished these
latter series as separate from the Wee Books for Wee Folks Series, many
non-Altemus book advertisements lumped them all together by the late
1920s. The various additions and deletions over the life of the series
are outlined in the bibliography section of this book. The individual
books appear the same regardless of which series they were included in
at the time.
The books are unchanged in size from previous
formats. They are grey with a book appropriate multicolored pictorial
appliqué (3.5 x 2.5) which is surrounded by a simple line drawn
picture. These line drawn pictures very from series to series. In
addition there are some that are book specific (Cinderella has a
castle). Others have nondescript decorative patterns. There is some
randomness such that one series may have several different ones, some
of which might be found within other series. It appears that no one
book has more than one line drawn pattern throughout its multi-year
publishing history. The location of the cover appliqué varies. The dust
jacket has coated white paper and is the same as the book cover. The
books have a page of text opposite of a full page glossy colored
illustration which relates to the text.
and the Basic List:
Although the detailed book listings can be seen at http://henryaltemus.com/series/series186.htm,
it would be worthwhile to give some pertinent details
here. Format III includes a listing of 37 Wee Books for Wee Folks. Here
are some key points.
- In the original
listing of format I and II, the number 3 book was The Tale of Peter
Rabbit. After the Peter Rabbit Series was spun off in 1918, the number
3 was omitted from the list of books until 1921. At that time and
subsequently, A Child's Garden of Verses became number 3.
- In 1919 The Long Ago Stories and The Wish Fairy
of the Sunshine and Shadow Forest were added to the list. They were
deleted after 1921 when they became part of the Wish Fairy series. When
the Wish Fairy Series was discontinued, these two books were reinserted
into the main series as numbers 26 and 27 respectively. The Wish Fairy
and Dewy Dear book came into the series at the same time as number 28.
Since the Wee Books Series had no numbering at the time these books
were first deleted in 1921, no numbering changes had to be made.
- The Wee Folks Life of Christ was on the main
list for a year-1920. It was deleted to be in the Bible Stories Series
- In 1927, Little Black Sambo, Little Sallie
Mandy and Little Black Sambo and the Tiger Kitten and Little Black
Sambo and the Baby Elephant were all deleted from the main list to
become parts of other sub-series.
- In the late 1920s and 1930s ads in some of the
Altemus books as well as ads in other catalogues frequently listed all
the format III books together regardless of their sub-series or main
- The earliest format III books (1918 - 1921) had
blank endpapers. In about 1922 - 1923 the endpapers appeared green
illustrating a group of fairy tale creatures dancing around a circle.
Between 1923 and 1926 the endpapers were blue. In about 1926 the color
changed to greyish. In 1931-2 the endpapers became brightly
multicolored. This continued until 1933. The Platt and Munk reprints
used this last style/color of endpapers.
- Most of the earliest books in this format which
were published until 1920 had yellow lettering on their covers. Red
lettering was noted on The Night Before Christmas and Peter Rabbit's
Christmas. Thereafter the familiar black lettering was present on all
the books (new and reprints).
- In the 1930s variant format III books were
published which had a red or orange (not a grey) cloth cover. They had
plain brown endpapers. These books were advertised as being in a
library buckram cloth and are sewed by the latest method and are
reinforced to give the greatest degree of strength and durability.
These latter books were 75 cents each while the Wee Books bound in
presumably not the latest method were still 50 cents each.
- Several variant end papers have been seen with
the typical design noted in #6 above but with out any color. Although
it is unclear whether these end papers are a typographical error or
were printed intentionally by Altemus, they all were published in the
- A cover variant exists in which the entire
front cover is a paste-on (applique). Based on end papers and ads these
were most likely published between 1928 and 1929. Books from the Wee
Books for Wee Folks Series, Peter Rabbit Series, Little Sallie Mandy
Series, Little Bunnie Bunniekin Series and the Little Black Sambo
Series have been seen in
- Altemus published
ten Wee Folks' Library Sets.
Each set consisted of four Wee Books books in a colorfully illustrated
for $2.25 each. The first six sets were published in 1921. The last
four in about 1923. A number of the sets were later republished by
Platt and and Munk in three and four book boxes.
The sets are shown below. They are extremely rare.
|Set No. 1
Tale of Peter Rabbit
Peter Rabbit at the Farm
Peter Rabbit's Christmas
How Peter Rabbit Went to Sea
Set No. 2
Little Small Red Hen
Little Black Sambo
Three Little Pigs
Night Before Christmas
Set No. 3
Mother Goose Nursery Tales
Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes
Set No. 4
Little Wise Chicken that Knew it All
Long Ago Years Stories
Piffle's A B C Book of Funny Animals
Four Little Pigs that Didn't Have Any Mother
Set No. 5
Wee Folks Stories from the Old Testament
Wee Folks Stories from the New Testament
Wee Folks Life of Christ
Wee Folks Bible A B C Book
|Set No. 6
Little Bunnie Bunniekin
Little Mousie Mousiekin
Little Squirrelie Squirreliekin
Old Reynard the Fox
Set No. 7
Peter Rabbit's Easter
When Peter Rabbit Went to School
Peter Rabbit's Birthday
Peter Rabbit Goes a-Visiting
Set No. 8
Peter Rabbit and Jack-the Jumper
Peter Rabbit and Little Boy
Peter Rabbit and Little White Rabbit
Peter Rabbit and Old Witch Woman
Set No. 9
Wonderful Story of Cinderella
Story of Red Riding Hood
Story of the Three Bears
Puss in Boots
Set No. 10
Story of Poor Cock Robin
Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Way