Big Little Books: World Syndicate Publishing
The World Syndicate Publishing Company of New York drew the content for all its Golden Age books from United Staes history. Only a few of the books by other companies, notably Whitman's Uncle Ray's Story of the United States, depicted historical events.
Five books, titled High Lights of History Series®, were published, beginning late in 1933 and ending early in 1934. The contents of each book were written by J. Carroll Mansfield.
Mansfield was born in 1896 in Baltimore, Maryland. He realized at an early age that he wanted to pursue a career in art. He also had a strong interest in history, particularly American history.
After serving in World War I in the 7th Infantry in Europe, he co-authored a history of the regiment, titled The Blue and the Grey. His illustrations were an integral part of the text. He later free-lanced for the Baltimore Sun Times.
He was in his early 30s when he moved to New York and worked in advertising. On November 17, 1924, his High Lights of History daily comic strip debuted for the Bell Newspaper Syndicate. In 1925 he published a Junior High School textbook called High Lights of History, America 1492 to 1763.
A full color Sunday feature of the strip began in 1926. The content focused upon world history and oddities. Both the daily and Sunday strips came to an end in 1942. High Lights of History was the longest running nonfiction strip ever published.
In 1933, the World Syndicate Publishing Co. asked Mansfield to do a series of Big Little-type Books called the High Lights of History Series. Pioneers of the Wild West began the series in 1933 and was followed by Kit Carson. In 1934, Daniel Boone, Winning the Old Northwest, and Buffalo Bill were published.
Each book presented a sequence of historical events and/or a number of biographies. The book titles were deceptive in that they did not convey the range of topics included. For example, the book titled Kit Carson contains sections on California in the days of the Padres, the adventures of James Pattle (American hunter and explorer), Jedediah Smith (trapper), John Sutter (feudal baron), and Kit Carson (scout); the book Daniel Boone includes a biography of General von Steuben (organizer of Washingtons Continental Army); and Buffalo Bill contains a biography on General Custer. The books with general titles also contain a broad array of topics: The Winning of the Old Northwest covers the backwoods aspects of the Revolutionary War and the achievements of General George Rogers Clark; Pioneers of the Wild West contains sections on Lewis and Clark (explorers), Zebulon Pike (explorer), Nathaniel Wyeth (merchant), Marcus Whitman (politician), and Jim Bridger (guide) as well as early military operations and fur trading.
The books were published in the standard size (3 5/8" x 4 1/2" x 1 1/2"), but they varied in numbers of pages. The pages were folded and sewn.
Each title was unnumbered, and several were reprinted and can be distinguished by their covers: a cloth bound edition with lettering printed in silver; a hard bound edition with a four-color illustration that spanned the front and back covers. The first book published, Pioneers of the Wild West, was given a four-color dust jacket. The historical stories were illustrated in black and white on each page. The text was hand lettered beneath each picture. Author/Artist J. Carroll Mansfield superbly captured the historical periods with detailed accuracy. His informative maps enhance the understanding of the events.
During his career, Mansfield was a prolific oil painter, and the Maryland Historical Society has 18 of his works. He painted mainly for family and friends, often including detailed information about the event on the back of the painting.
In the early 1940s, he moved to Orlando, Florida where the First National Bank commissioned him to paint a mural on the wall of its new main offices. The mural was called The History of the Citrus Industry in Florida.
Mansfield continued his advertising career through the 1940s. In the early 1950s he retired to Atlanta, Georgia where he died in 1957.
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