Friday, April 28, 2023

A Big Disappointment for the Whitman Publishing Company

Whitman Publishing started as a subsidiary of the Western Printing & Lithographing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. In about 1915, Western began printing and binding a line of juvenile books for the Hamming-Whitman Publishing Company of Chicago. A few years later Hamming-Whitman went bankrupt, and Western took over the company, found success in selling the inventory of low-cost juvenile books, and formed the Whitman Publishing Company. Yes, it all sounds a tad confusing and when I mention that the company was responsible for Big Little Books, Better Little Books, Little Golden Books and other collectibles, the story behind them gets even more confusing. Needless to say, Whitman now primarily produces coin and stamp collecting books and materials. The history of the company has fallen into obscurity to the mainstream crowd except die-hard collectors who purchase and read children’s books. But the story gets pretty sad, so beware what you are about to read… 

For decades Whitman was a subsidiary of the Western Publishing Company. After the first Big Little Book, The Adventures of Dick Tracy, was published in December 1932. The books were small and compact and a perfect size for young children, but thick enough to be considered lengthy reading material. In 1933 the company signed a licensing contract with Walt Disney to produce books based on Disney cartoon characters, such as Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse.

Numerous titles were sold through Woolworth’s and other retail store systems during the 1930s. Such titles included Captain Midnight, Popeye, the Sailor, Li’l Abner, Blondie, Buck Rogers, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy and many others. With a name change to Better Little Books during 1938, the series continued into the 1960s. It was here that the company published books based on popular radio and television programs such as Captain Kangaroo, The Patty Duke Show, Star Trek and The Beverly Hillbillies.

Today these books sell for an average of $10 for reading condition (which means it is not close to mint condition to qualify for “collecting” condition). Serious collectors inspect the spine, verify all of the pages are intact and keep the books in plastic to ensure the condition is maintained.

A few years ago, a comic book price guide began including Big Little Books within the annual publication so collectors have a price guide for which to gauge the value. Regrettably, most people do not follow the price guide as the street value has dropped considerably for Big Little Books. For decades the most expensive were Mickey Mouse, Tarzan and The Lone Ranger. But even those can be bought for $10 to $20 depending on the venue. 

The reason for the dropping value is the shrinking demand. With less people buying Big Little Books, the supply-and-demand process comes into play. This trend, no doubt the result of an aging fanbase, is bound to become more problematic in the coming years. 

Of recent, collectors have been scanning the books into digital format for preservation, with complete understanding that the damage required for scanning means the destruction of the book. But the rewards are larger than the destruction of one book, despite ongoing sacrilege voiced on social media. 

Whitman is still around today and the company focuses primarily on the sale of coins for coin collectors. If you visit their site and look up the history of the company, the fact that the publishing firm’s history is almost disregarded on the website and replaced with an emphasis of coin collecting is a darn shame. Worse, a friend of mine and I went to the museum in Racine, Wisconsin, specifically to see what exhibit they had, focusing on the history of the Western Printing & Lithographing Company. Regrettably, they had two display cases and, as my friend exclaimed in terror, “they don’t even have a single Big Little Book on display!”

Enclosed are two photos revealing what they have as a display for the publishing firm. We traveled a total of forty minutes round-trip to go out of our way to check out such an exhibit. Since we took one for the team, enjoy the two photos.


Thursday, April 20, 2023

Barbara Payton: A Life in Pictures

Fans of film noir know Barbara Payton for her roles in Trapped (1949), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), Four-Sided Triangle (1953), Bad Blonde (1953) and Murder Is My Beat (1955). Horror fans know her for Bride of the Gorilla (1951). Hollywood film buffs know the actress for her stormy social life and battles with alcoholism and drug addiction. In addition to her first two marriages and affairs with Howard Hughes, Bob Hope, Woody Strode, Guy Madison, George Raft, John Ireland, Steve Cochran and Texas oilman Bob Neal, she was married three more times. In 1950 she met actor Franchot Tone. While engaged to Tone, she began an affair with actor Tom Neal and bounced back and forth between the two which made public headlines across the country. 

Payton's hard drinking and hard living ultimately destroyed her physically and emotionally. Celebrity bartender and self-proclaimed hustler Scotty Bowers has alleged for a time she was regarded as a high-class sex worker much in demand. From 1955 to 1963, her alcoholism and drug addiction led to multiple skirmishes with the law, which included arrests for passing bad checks and eventually an arrest on Sunset Boulevard for prostitution. Payton was offered the option of being admitted to a detoxification unit, and said, "I'd rather drink and die." She ultimately died of heart and liver failure at the age of 39.

Barbara Payton wrote an autobiography, I Am Not Ashamed, published in 1963. She died four years later. John O'Dowd wrote a dynamite biography about the actress, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story, in 2007. So it comes as no surprise that John O'Dowd would clean out his files and produce a lavish 600 page hardcover coffee table book with archival photos spanning the life and career of Barbara Payton. Every page is full color and glossy and from the first page to the last you get a superb visual of her life.

Never have I seen a coffee table this large in size. Compared to the price I have paid for other coffee table books, this one is a bargain.

To purchase from Amazon direct:

Thursday, April 13, 2023


Artist Samson Pollen created hundreds of illustrations for men’s adventure magazines published in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and while he was one of the top illustrators who worked for the genre, his work has largely been forgotten because those magazines were published for – and collected today – by a niche crowd. His work stood alongside such artists as Gil Cohen, James Bama and Basil Gogos. 


Before Pollen passed away in December 2018, Wyatt Doyle and Robert Deis co-edited two books with him featuring his original magazine artwork for a series of Men’s Adventure Library book series. The first, Pollen’s Women: The Art of Samson Pollen, focuses on men’s adventure magazine artwork he did that has scenes featuring sexy or dangerous-looking female characters. The second, Pollen’s Action, showcases Pollen paintings done as illustrations for the typically wild action/adventure stories. Both of those books are available on Amazon and at


With the blessing of Sam’s widow, Jacqueline, the authors recently released a third Pollen art book titled Pollen in Print, 1955-1959. They initially offered an edition of it via Indiegogo that sold out quickly. So they releases a deluxe hardcover edition worldwide. This third volume is a big, sexy, action-packed chronological collection of Pollen’s earliest illustrations published in men’s adventure magazines from 1955 to 1959. 


I enjoy coffee table books. I find them to be the equivalent of slide show seminars at conventions, heavily illustrated but with loving care to restore and touch up the scans and photographs to ensure the highest quality. On top of which, the captions tell a story and provide a history that would be delivered ala… well… like a slide show presentation. I just received Pollen’s Women: The Art of Samson Pollen and the book showcases full-page reproductions of the original paintings Sam created for various magazines, along with scans of the magazine pages they were used for. While not the usual size expected from coffee table books, this certainly qualifies as one. You can see an extensive flip-page preview of POLLEN’S WOMEN on the website,


POLLEN’S WOMEN is a lush visual archive collecting some of artist Samson Pollen’s most memorable pieces, selected from the hundreds of jaw-dropping illustrations Pollen provided for men’s adventure magazines from the 1950s through the 1970s. Sexy women were a regular component of story illustrations published in the more than 160 titles that flourished from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s, and nobody painted beautiful and dangerous femmes like Pollen. Much of the artist’s work—literally, hundreds of pieces—saw print in the Atlas/Diamond group of magazines from Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Company. Until now, almost none of these illustrations have seen print since their original publication in those latter-day pulps. 


The book is recommended and now prompts me to buy the other two to have a complete set.


Thursday, April 6, 2023

The Value of Collecting Autographs

Okay, so here is your quick five-minute crash course in collecting autographs. I would like to state right off the bat that a number of people are going to disagree with me over a few of the bullet points listed below, but those will primarily be the folks who make a living selling autographs or work for a company that wants you to pay a fee to authenticate your autograph. (More on that later.)


You know an autograph is something written or made with one’s own hand, and that most of the autographs collected are those considered “famous,” whether they be a musician, an actor, an actress, a writer, an author, etc. Most autographs collected are handwritten signatures, but for artists and painters, their work often speaks for itself. You can buy autographs from hundreds of venues ranging from Auction Houses, eBay, mail order catalogs or websites. The price will vary depending on the following factors:


1.     Who signed the autograph.

2.     Whether the signature is on a glossy, a letter, a postcard, a cancelled check, etc.

3.     Whether the item signed is something historically significant.

4.     How much the vendor/seller paid for the autograph and the money they need to get back for their investment.


And for those who are connoisseurs of selected autographs, they take into consideration the age of the paper the signature was written, the size of the signature, and so on. A magazine cover will generate less money than a glossy because a glossy photo will last much longer, but the cost is relative. Some like myself prefer cancelled checks, contracts, letters, and other sources that makes me comfortable knowing the autograph is legit. For one friend of mine, getting authors to sign books is his pill – not glossy photographs.


There are also conventions, film festivals and fan gatherings nationwide where celebrities sign autographs for fans. For a set fee, the celebrities will sign glossy photos for you to choose from, or items you brought to the show to have signed. For the record, most celebrities do not set the price – their agents/managers do. For some conventions (not all of them) a percentage of the autograph price goes to the convention promoter which, yes, drives the price of the autograph up. For convention promoters that ask for a set fee, such as $10, that means a celebrity who normally charges $40 will now charge $50 at the event. If you disapprove of the fee the celebrity is charging, remember it is not the celebrity that sets the price. The celebrity just shows up to the event and does what they are asked to whether it be posing with a fan for their smartphone camera or signing multiple autographs.


There are auction houses that specialize in selling rare collectibles and autographs – often charging a premium price. Personally, unless the autograph is something I absolutely want hell or high water, I tend to avoid those venues. For one (name not disclosed but many of you probably know what company I am referring to) the employees are allowed to bid on the item which, naturally, drives the bidding up. Whether you feel the company is justified doing so is all up to you. But I avoid bidding and buying from auction houses that do that.


There are a number of companies that have established a business of charging you a fee in return for their authentication of an autograph and providing a certificate of authenticity. This option, where fans can mail their autograph to one of these companys and pay an average of $30 per autograph, to receive it back in the mail with a certificate of authenticity. Personally, when I get an autograph from a celebrity in person, I see no reason why I should pay a third party $30 additional to get a certificate of authenticity, since I intend to frame it and hang it on the wall of my house. 


A few years ago, I made the decision to submit an Olivia DeHavilland autograph to get certified. I paid the fee and submitted the autograph. It was returned as “not legit.” This was bizarre because I got it from her in person. I phoned the company and explained this and the reply I received was a recommendation to put what I just told them over the phone in writing and… get this… pay another fee for submitting it again. I did what they suggested and they sent it back with the certificate. 


I have a friend who visits conventions and gets autographs from the celebrities. He said about one-fifth of his autographs came back as not legit and he said he, too, questions what system they use to validate the autographs. He just went to a Comic Con to get Jodi Benson’s autograph on a reproduction of The Little Mermaid poster. She was the voice of Arial, the Little Mermaid. It came back as not legit even though he got the autograph in person. Yeah…. Wow.


So you can understand why I am not a fan of the certificates of authenticity.


More importantly, the average price for autographs at conventions is $30 to $40, depending on the celebrity. (Yes, HUGE name stars command even more money but remember that is the agents/managers who set the fee.) For vendors/sellers who make money buying and selling autographs, they often strike deals with the agents/managers at the autograph venues and get a stack of autographs for a discount, so they can resell them for a profit. Thus a $40 autograph may cost $20 each because the vendor bought 20 autographs. 


This is why, when people ask me whether I believe an autograph (not sold by me) is legit, I often look at the price first. Who would pay $30 for a certificate of authenticity, for an autograph that cost them $20, when the buyer can get the same autograph in person from the celebrity for $40? Rational thinking applied, if there is going to be a counterfeit autograph, those are the ones that sell for $400, $500, $600. To equate, this would be like counterfeiting $1 bills instead of $100 bills. Who the heck would counterfeit a one-dollar bill? So if an autograph is $20 or $30, there is a stronger chance the autograph is legit. 


I would like to announce that Keith’s autograph collection is being sold on the following website, along with some of my personal collection. Most of the autographs are available for $19.99, $24.95, $29.95 and $39.95. The only time autographs are listed for more is when Keith or I had to pay $40 for the autograph and is therefore justified charging $60 to $75. There are probably about four dozen autographs in the inventory that are sold for more and only because they are extremely rare to find or the demand for that autograph will be so large that it seems prudent to raise the price. (


Most of the autographs on this site were acquired at conventions across the country such as Fanex, the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, Chiller Theatre, Shore Leave, Ray Court’s Hollywood Collector Show, even letters written to the celebrities direct. Keith has been in the hobby for more than four decades. I have been in the hobby for two and a half decades. My most treasured items are framed and hanging on the wall, and I am not letting them go at any price. But seeing that I need to raise additional funds for the coffee shop, I am letting some of my collection go – just not the real treasures on the wall.


So if you are looking to do some early Christmas shopping, or a unique birthday gift for a friend or family relative (believe me, a framed autograph is an AWESOME gift to give someone), consider purchasing an autograph – or two, or three. Unsold autographs will be returned to Keith in June so do not delay.