Henry Altemus Company

 

Wee Books for Wee Folks

 

 

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 running series.

“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 catalogue 1925.

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.)


FORMATS

Format I:


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 page.

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: http://henryaltemus.com/series/series185.htm

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 sets.

 

Format II:

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 size however.

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.

 

Format III:

"To those parents of little children in the very morning of life, Altemus Wee Books come as a positive blessing". Altemus Catalogue 1925-1926.

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.

 

Format III 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 by 1921.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 list status.

  6. 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.

    Green

    Blue
     

    Grey

    Multicolored

  7. 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).

  8. 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.

  9. 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 1928 range.

  10. 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 this style.

  11. Altemus published ten Wee Folks' Library Sets. Each set consisted of four Wee Books books in a colorfully illustrated box 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
    Foolish Fox
    Robber Kitten

    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
    Chicken Little
    Tom Thumb

 

 

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Last Revision April 11, 2013