In 1920, the Science News Service was established as a way of promoting science education through the media. The Scripps news service and a collection of scientists and science organizations collaborated to create a common and approachable way to cultivate interest in all sorts of sciences, from news releases to newspapers to education for children.
If you were born in the 1950s or later, you might have fond memories of a collaboration between the Science Service and Nelson Doubleday, Inc: The Science Program. The Science Service had a large repository of writers and subjects, and they lent their knowledge to Doubleday to produce a large series of octavo-sized, two-color booklets (called ‘albums’), each on a single subject. The series was obtained by subscription, and came with a number of other promotional items beside just the booklets.
What is probably most memorable is the color photos. The booklets themselves were printed in only one or two colors, black with an accent, but as both a cost-effective method of printing and a way to engage readers each booklet came with a sheet of gummed ‘stickers’ — color photos printed on glossy paper, numbered to correspond to blank sections on the pages of the booklet. As the Science Program member read the booklet, they would encounter a blank space, find the correct label, slurp the back of the image, and adhere it to the page. This mixed-media, in my opinion, gave much higher-quality images than in most children’s books, and it added an aspect of fun to reading. Also, while the booklets were distributed for many years, due to the ever-changing and improving world of science new ‘updates’ were written and stapled in the center of the booklet rather than re-publishing the entire books.
The books aren’t particularly uncommon — they were sold as a subscription service, which put them in the hands of children all across the United States. I’ve been lucky enough to come across numerous parts and ephemera from the Science Program. Besides the books, I also have billing statements printed on hollerith cards, all the little labels and notes included. Even if you pick up a single book, you might find any of these stuck in the book as a bookmark, or just as a safe-keeping place. The books were also distributed with ‘album cases’, cardboard sleeves which held 5 to 7 of the booklets in a safe, bookshelf-friendly way.
Collecting the individual books has a variety of variables. New subscribers received the same booklets that everyone else got, so the books were done in several printings. The book’s interiors, however, weren’t necessarily updated. The copyright date has seemed to change between some printings, and the cover may have some color or layout variations depending on the printing. The interior ‘updates’ may also be different or nonexistent, depending on when the subscriber received their copy of the booklet. I have also seen booklets with known printing errors, which identify the problem with another insert explaining the change — again, the actual contents of the book were unlikely to have been changed. Finally, as you may guess, there is a difference in books which have their stickers applied, versus those with the image sheets uncut; the latter are, of course, harder to find. I’ve noticed that the stapled centers are largely rusted, leaving some marks on the pages. The labels were stapled in the center, so it appears the sticker’s gummed back reacted with the metal in the staple.