Click the group of books beginning alphabetically with:
My little study of paperbacks on this web site begins in 1939, when Robert DeGraff put out his first numbered modern-sized Pocket Book paperback. But, in truth, they’ve been around considerably longer. The first book printed in America was the Bay Psalm Book in 1640, and (you guessed it) it was a paperbound book. What DeGraff really did (and Allen Lane before him with Penguin Books in England) was to bring a standardized size and look to mass market books and to distribute them in a whole new way.
Before 1939, the pulp magazine was king. In the mid 1800’s, some literary pulp publishers started carrying full-length novels, and it was soon realized that the digest format was ideal for the purpose. I've posted some of those "dime novels" in the Pulps & Mags section of the database. You'll also encounter a small section of digest magazines there.
“Digest” simply refers to the size of the publication, which roughly means that it was not “full” size. There is nothing standardized about digests. They come in various heights, widths, thicknesses and types of construction. Some are saddle-stapled, some are stapled through the center and folded over. Some have a slick-paper cover. Most covers support color, though some have no illustration at all. In the early 1920’s, with the advent of the immensely popular Reader’s Digest, the term took on a second meaning: “condensed.” Many Armed Services Editions carry the boast “This is a complete book - not a digest.” In point of fact, many digest books (and mass market paperbacks, as well) were "abridged for the modern reader."
Avon and Mercury were definitely the largest of the digest book publishing houses, but Avon dropped out early in favor of its standard paperback-sized books. Mercury, which published mystery books almost exclusively, also sold books under Bestseller, Jonathan and other labels. Mercury was run by Lawrence E. Spivak, who started work at American Mercury Magazine under H.L. Mencken in the early 1930's.
The “Sexy Digests" are by far the most collectible digest-sized books. However, in an effort to keep from duplicating images with the "Sleaze" books, I've created a separate folder for those. Look for them on this website in the "Sexy Digests" folder.
PLEASE NOTE: I have listed the name of the publisher with the first entry in the database only. Also, if you download the images, you will notice that I've abbreviated many of the publishers' names ... but you'll figure it out. "TNC," for example, is Thriller Novel Classic.
In a few cases, publishers of digest-sized books also issued mass market paperback sized books in the same runs. Where this occurs in the database, I've included the annotation "(pb)" after the book number. The Hangman's House book to the left is a good example. It was NOT a digest, but it was issued as part of a run that included digest-sized books.
Kenneth R. Johnson's The Digest Index is the premier reference source for U.S. Digest-sized books. It's free to access Ken's reference books online. Click HERE.
Updated August 2015