The Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections Blog

University Libraries, University of South Carolina

“Books are weapons in the war of ideas”: Armed Services Editions, the Council on Books in Wartime, and popular reading among soldiers.

The Irvin Department is pleased to announce that it has recently acquired the three final titles needed to complete its collection of the Armed Services Editions series of books. The books, Peter Field’s Fight for Powder Valley, William Colt MacDonald’s Master of the Mesa, and Clarence E. Mulford’s Hopalog Cassidy’s Protégé, are part of a series produced by the Council on Books in Wartime, from 1943 to 1947. It’s estimated that over 122 million copies of 1,322 titles were distributed to service members during the second world war.

The ASEs are literal pocket books in that their unique size and shape was designed to fit soldiers’ cargo pockets. Read in all manner of contexts from waiting in line for food to lying in a bunk on a submarine to waiting for action at the front, the books proved extremely popular among the troops and offered welcome respites from the hardships of battle by fostering the emotions and imagination.

Titles included a large range of topics from classics to modern bestsellers, genre fiction, poetry, romance, political theory, and popular science. Works such as Homer’s Odyssey reflect contemporary ideas of classic literature while also speaking to precarious nature of war and feelings of homesickness that many soldiers experienced. Alternately, the seafaring works of Herman Melville proved popular among sailors who were surprised to read about islands where they had recently been stationed, and Lilian Smith’s Strange Fruit, which went through two ASE printings, shows that censorship and controversy were not issues for the CBW.

The compact, oblong shape of the ASEs comes from their having been printed two different books at a time a time in a digest size format, one above the other, in a “two-up” format before being cut in two. This was done to maximize speed and efficiency. The Irvin Department has several surviving uncut “two-ups,” such as this volume of A Wartime Whitman & Dear Baby.

In addition to fiction and poetry, there were also many books about practical subjects and political science. Interestingly, while most of the copies that the Irvin Department has are unannotated, a copy of Walter Lippmann’s U.S. Foreign Policy is heavily underlined with occasional notes, and a copy of Plato’s Republic lists the names, dates, and times when servicemen borrowed the title and contains some notation on the interior of the cover.

Many living authors of popular works of the period reported receiving letters from service men thanking them, and there’s evidence that the books inspired some soldiers to enroll in higher education after the war. There is even evidence that copies of ASEs left behind after the war continued to be read by people other than their intended audience, and other countries began publishing ASE-type books for their soldiers. The Irvin Department also own a number of related items including a shipping box from the 1940s that helps to contextualize the material circulation of their distribution, a record book of a young German man who kept a list of copies he read.

The Armed Service Editions were recently rebooted in a short run series edited by Andrew Carroll, during the 2000s.  The new series contains titles that were not in the original series, such as Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The Armed Service Editions was likely history’s greatest undertaking in the free distribution of books. That it was inspired by and integral to the most extensive global war makes these books all the more important to the history of literature and bibliography. The Irvin Department is proud to have a full set and hopes these books will continue to inspire of love for reading for generations to come.

Carol Danvers and the origins of Captain Marvel

This weekend Captain Marvel will soar into theaters, but Carol Danvers has been defending Earth since 1968. Carol Danvers first appeared in issue #12 of Marvel Super-Heroes, and would become a leading character in the Marvel Universe.

The first character to bear the name Captain Marvel was the alien warrior Mar-Vell, with Carol Danvers appearing in a supporting character role as chief of security at a missile base. After an accident infused her and Mar-Vell’s Kree DNA, she gained super strength and the power of flight.

Premiering in Ms. Marvel in January 1977, Carol becomes a writer at the Daily Bugle, the newspaper associated with the Spider-Man series. This first issue features Carol arguing with J. J. Jameson over the value of women’s liberation articles in the Bugle’s magazine department, meeting Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker, all while saving the world as the superhero Ms. Marvel. The following year, Ms. Marvel joins forces with Marvel Comics’ premier superhero team in The Avengers # 171, in which she helps Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Scarlet Witch defeat Ultron and Jocasta.

Over the years, Carol Danvers would have numerous other identities and appear in a wide variety of Marvel Comics titles. Starting in X-Men #164 she appeared as Binary, with the ability to generate the power of a star. By the late 1990s she had rejoined the Avengers as Warbird and later Ms. Marvel, where she would be involved in some of Marvel Comics’ most important story-lines. Finally, in 2012, Carol Danvers took up the mantle of Captain Marvel, in part to honor her old friend Mar-Vell and in part to explore who she could be as one of Marvel Comics’ most powerful superheroes.

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections’ copies of Captain Marvel’s first appearances are part of the Gary Watson Comic Book Collection. Mr. Watson has been collecting comics since the early 1960s and has recently donated his collection of over 200,000 comic books, paperbacks, magazines, and ephemera to the Irvin Department.

David Shay, Cataloger

Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections

Zelda Sayre Gives Scott Fitzgerald a Flask

100 years ago today (September 13, 1918), Zelda Sayre gave F. Scott Fitzgerald a sterling silver flask, and American literary history gained a tumultuous love story for the ages. The flask, which holds 10 ½ ounces, is engraved “To 1st Lt. F. Scott Fitzgerald 65th Infantry Camp Sheridan For-get-me-not Zelda 9-13-18 Montgomery, Ala.”

Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

In 1917, Fitzgerald was on academic probation at Princeton and dropped out to join the Army. After a brief stint at Fort Leavenworth under Dwight Eisenhower, Fitzgerald was stationed to Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama. Fitzgerald was an inadequate soldier. His biographer, Matthew Bruccoli, refers to him as “unreliable in the field,” and it was reported that he was irrationally cruel and punitive to the men under his command. Concerned more with finishing his first novel and enjoying Montgomery social life, his fellow officers often made him the butt of jokes and victim of pranks.

Zelda was known for being outgoing and energetic. Scott first met Zelda at the local Country Club, in July of 1918, where she performed the “Dance of Hours.” Even though the two were both dating other people at the time, Scott quickly worked his way up the ranks to become one of Zelda’s primary suitors. In his ledgerbook of the period he wrote a note about falling in love on September 7th. He was 22, and she was 18 and just finished school.

Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Despite resistance from her family, Zelda was charmed by Scott, and may have seen someone much like herself in him. In her autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, Zelda recounts her earliest impressions of meeting Scott: “There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention.” While her parents were concerned with Scott’s drinking and what they presumed would be his poor financial prospects as a young writer, seems to have been attracted to the romance and artifice of Scott’s personality.

Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Scott’s infantry unit was transferred to Camp Mills on Long Island, NY, on October 26th, with the assumption that they would be deployed to the War front in France; however the de-escalation of conflict and the armistice a few weeks later mean that he would complete his military career without ever having left the States. With time on his hands, Scott  shuttled around from New York to Montgomery to St. Paul and back, worked on revising his novel, and continued to court Zelda through letters. Zelda followed Scott to New York, and the two were married on April 3, 1920.

Scott considered Zelda to be the archetype of the flapper, and he drew a considerable amount of inspiration not only from their lavish life together, but also from her diaries and unique turns of phrase and table-talk.

Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.











Such blurring of the lines between life and fiction, along with their tendency to overindulge and their penchant for exhibitionism lead to the couples becoming new icons of youth, genius, and frivolity. While she could not have been aware of it at the time, on September 13th, 1918, Zelda gave Scott a gift that would symbolize the modus operandi of not only their own relationship, but of an era in American literary history.

Michael C. Weisenburg
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections


Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Second Edition. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), pp. 82, 128.

Fitzgerald Zelda. The Collected Writings. ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. (New York: Collier, 1991), p. 37.

15 May 1855: Walt Whitman registers for copyright and American poetry is forever changed.

On 15 May 1855, Walter Whitman deposited Leaves of Grass for copyright in the Clerk’s office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, and the volume was announced for sale by Fowler and Wells in the New-York Daily Tribune, on 6 July 1855. While it would take some time and not a little bit of controversy, these dates would eventually prove to be turning points in American literary history. The slim, oddly sized, self-published book would fundamentally change poetry in the English language and set the stage for later modernist, beat, and confessional poetry of the twentieth century. The Irvin Department is lucky to have not one, but two copies of Whitman’s seminal work.



The first copy of the 1855 Leaves came to the University of South Carolina in 1971. It is an exceptional example of an association copy that belonged to Thomas Rome who, with his brother James, ran the Rome Printing Shop, which produced the volume. The Rome brothers were Scottish immigrants who mostly printed legal documents and texts, and whom Whitman had known since 1849. This copy remained in the possession of the Rome family until November 1970. It was donated to the University Libraries by Mr. & Mrs. James W. Haltiwanger, Jr. and Mr. & Mrs. Charles Haltiwanger in memory of James W. Haltiwanger, Sr., and it is the one millionth volume of the University Libraries.

The second copy is the recent gift of Joel Myerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina. The volume has an ownership signature of “Walter Starbuck | 1867” on the recto of the front free endpaper and a later inscription, “Presented to Mrs. Francis B. Lancy by Mrs. J. M. Dart May 31st 1919,” on the second front endpaper verso. Dr. Myerson, who has written the definitive bibliographies of many major nineteenth century American authors, including Whitman, Dickinson, Emerson, and Fuller, acquired his 1855 copy of Leaves, along with a number of other editions of Whitman, from his dissertation director, Harrison Hayford. This collection formed the kernel of Myerson’s bibliographic research on Whitman.

Later in life, Whitman claimed that “800 copies were struck off on a hand press by Andrew Rome, in whose job office the work was all done – the author himself setting some of the type” (31 March 1885, Correspondence, VI, 30). Whitman’s statement is pretty nearly verified by a statement from the binder that shows 795 copies were bound. The volume has three binding variants of which the Rome / Haltiwanger copy is the first and the Myerson copy is the second, and some were bound in wrappers. These binding variants are evidence that, even with Whitman’s energetic self-promotion, the book sold slowly and copies were bound in batches over the course of several months. Moderate initial sales is further surmised by the fact that the volume originally sold for $2.00 cloth; 75¢ wrappers; however, as late as 14 June 1856 Fowler and Wells were selling copies in cloth for $1.25 and in wrappers for 75¢. A recent census of extant copies of the first edition reveals that nearly 200 copies survive today.

While today Whitman’s poetry is often considered one of the defining achievements of American literature, that sales were initially slow is not that surprising when one considers the type of poetry that most Americans were used to reading in the 1850s. The slim quarto volume, consisting of a preface and 12 untitled poems, bears little resemblance to any poetic output in antebellum American literature. Whitman’s break from traditional poetic rules of rhyme and meter, along with his fervent patriotism and near epic obsession with all aspects of American life, seemed strange and perverse to his first readers. The first edition is in many ways the best example of what Whitman was trying to accomplish with his flouting of the traditional rules of poetry. At 9 3/8” X 5 7/8”, the pages are unusually large for a book of poems and allow Whitman’s long, elliptical lines to seemingly go on and on. That Whitman assisted in the setting of type for the first edition makes his poems all the more fascinating and intimate and is evidence of his commitment to his personal aesthetic and vision.

While some of his contemporaries, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, greeted Leaves of Grass as the beginning of a great career, others, such as John Greenleaf Whittier, allegedly threw their copies into the fire out of disgust. From the very beginning, there seems to have been little in the way of middle ground with Whitman — readers tend to be enraptured or confused by his work. Whichever side one may fall on this debate, Whitman’s force is undeniable, and our collections are all the more rich for preserving these volumes.

Michael C. Weisenburg 
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections

In Memoriam: Robert B. Ariail, Collector & Stargazer

This past spring, the Carolina community lost a friend and advocate of the arts and sciences, Mr. Robert B. Ariail (7 December 1931 – 27 April 2018). In his memory, The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections will briefly display highlights from the Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy in the  Brittain Gallery. Robert Ariail, a native of Sumter, SC and graduate of the University of South Carolina (Class of 1955), began practicing astronomy in his childhood. The first book on the subject the he acquired was William Tyler Olcott’s Field Book of the Skies, which he described as opening the “doors of visual astronomy for” him “as a youth in the 1940s.” With this book, Mr. Ariail “quickly learned the constellations along with many of the ‘sky-jewels’ they contained, i.e. star clusters, nebulae, double stars and much more.” Mr. Ariail regards Olcott as the “best guide for beginners that [he has] ever seen or used.”








Over the past half-century, Mr. Ariail built a collection that includes more than 5,200 rare books, star atlases, scientific journals, rare offprints, and manuscripts now housed in the Irvin Department. The Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy compliments Mr. Ariail’s collection of historic telescopes and astronomical instruments, now at the State Museum. Both collections are exemplary in their comprehensiveness and we are grateful that Mr. Ariail chose to share his passion for astronomy with the general public in donating his collections to our institutions of learning.

Mr. Ariail once remarked, “Astronomy is a  science that makes you want to read more about it, and I guess I just couldn’t get enough.” Works on display include Johann Bayer’s Uranometria (1603), the first atlas to cover the entire celestial sphere, and John Bevis’ Atlas Celeste (1786), an emendation and expansion of Bayer’s work. Also on display are some of Mr. Ariail’s own astronomical observations of Halley’s Comet, Jupiter, and Mars, which serve as a testament to his passion and curiosity.  

Michael C. Weisenburg 
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections

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