Red Arrow Books

Red Arrow Books / Columbian Art Works (Milwaukee, US)
Series dates: 1939-1940
Size: 7″ x 4.25″

aka/ Red Arrow Thrillers, Red Arrow Book Club

Revised 6/12/2023

Red Arrow Books were a series of thirteen low-cost paperback titles issued in 1939 from a printing company turned part-time publisher in Milwaukee, WI (US).

According to Warren French (“The First Year of the Paperback Revolution,” College English, January 1964), the originating company was Columbian Art Works (typically misspelled elsewhere as “Columbia Art Works”). The firm was a printer and a manufacturer of desk calendar pads and parts. The series format was inspired by European paperback series (possibly Tauchnitz and Albatross) spied by the owner of the printing company while on vacation (Publishers Weekly, vol. 190, 1966).

The books were produced by offset lithography, which was supposed to reduce the price of printing. The name may have been derived from the “Red Arrow Division” (32nd Infantry Division of the United States, known after World War I as the 32nd Red Arrow Division), which had Wisconsin connections (and a monument in Milwaukee).

According to Harry Schwartz, a noted Milwaukee bookseller, the effort was “the biggest fiasco you ever heard of in your life.” (Fifty Years in My Bookstore, 1977).

Registration of the Red Arrow Books logo, Official Register, June 28, 1948.

The advertisements below appeared in Publishers Weekly (October 14, 1939). The Bantam Publications of LA blog (from which I borrowed these advertisements and details below) documents this very short-lived series issued in an era (the late 1930s) when many inexpensive paperback series were being flung at the public.

The titles in the series were mostly by authors with modest popularity at best, which was probably one reason the effort failed. The initial series used color coding (much like other series) for three categories of titles:

Mystery & Crime: Red Covers
#1. Thirteen at Dinner, by Agatha Christie
#2. Murder on Hudson, by Jennifer Jones
#3. Murders in Praed Street, by John Rhode
#4. Death in the Library, by Philip Ketchum
#5. Death Wears a White Gardenia, by Zelda Popkin

Travel & Adventure: Green Covers
#6. My South Sea Island, by Eric Muspratt
#7. Yankee Komisar, by S.M. Riis
#8. Girl Hunt, by Laurence D. Smith
#9. The Seven Sleepers, by Francis Beeding
#10. Captain Nemesis, by F. Van Wyck Mason

Fiction: Blue Covers
#11. Wind-swept, by Olga Moore
#12. Pirate’s Purchase, by Ben Ames Williams

No series number and only in the “Red Arrow Book Club” edition: Unspeakable Gentleman, by John P. Marquand (1940)

Shown below is the first printing of Zelda Popkin’s Death Wears a White Gardenia dated 1939, which is #5 in the series.

Of the first five titles, A 2nd printing was issued with a slight color variation. The third printing includes a pictorial cover and removes the list of titles on the back cover. The fourth and final printing is a “Red Arrow Book Club” edition with the price and blurb removed from the cover. The content remains the same throughout these four editions. The 13th title only exists in the Book Club verson.

Titles #6 to #12 exist in three printings, skipping the 2nd color variant cover.

The half-title page:

A promotional blurb faces the title page. All the benefits (easy to read, light in weight and “easy to select” given the color categorization) are touched upon.

The copyright page with the date of publication (1939) and “Printed in the United States By Red Arrow Books, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.”