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Nancy Sharon Collins on Implications of a Second Color in New Orleans Blue Books, ca. 1910


“The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1969.19.9_p8,9

Storyville, a neighborhood in New Orleans, was an infamous red light district mandated by city ordinance in 1897. The area spanned several blocks and represented a way for the authorities to keep an eye on legalized prostitution.

In order to help the intrepid tourist find his way around Storyville, entrepreneur Billy Struve produced a series of guidebooks, known as Blue Books, from 1900–1915. Also euphemistically known as sporting life directories, these were not blue books for blue bloods; these blue books were intended rather for red-blooded tourists in New Orleans who were looking for advice on the best place to have a good time. Some madams had full-page ads in the Blue Books. Working girls were listed in the directory portion, along with their addresses by street, and abbreviations for “white, colored, octoroon, Jewish, or French.” Also therein were advertisements for restaurants, drugstores, cabarets, and more. 

Nancy Sharon Collins, stationer and author of The Complete Engraver, was called to examine a catalog of Blue Books by Pamela D. Arceneaux, Senior Librarian and Rare Books Curator with The Historic New Orleans Collection. Nancy noticed strange little “sprites,” as she called them, appearing throughout the book, often complementing copy where a reader might not expect whimsy. Eventually, through consulting several letterpress knowledge-bases, she discovered that the sprites were in fact examples of two-color Mission Toys, designed by Will Bradley for ATF.

While earlier Blue Books were printed on cheap newsprint in one color, later issues were printed on calendared stock, often in two colors, highlighted by these seemingly incongruous Bradley ornaments. Could the Toys represent an increase in the fortunes of Mr. Struve, who found himself able to buy better materials? Did the printer of the Blue Books buy a set of Toys to give himself a competitive edge? Nancy is unsure, but concluded her remarks by noting:

“What I love about studying the graphic arts is that I constantly find analogies to striking social issues: That while researching paper stock and printing techniques for [Arceneaux’s] upcoming book [. . .] on New Orleans Blue Books, I found the seemingly innocent addition of a second color—and Will Bradley’s Sprites—into black and white sporting directories, coincided with national issues of race and sex, and the commodification of each, literally in my back yard.”


  1. I have a edition #10 (1913-1915) blue cover with red ink, but pages inside are black only (no red) and semi gloss paper. How can I get this authenticated?

  2. Hi Windy,

    If your in, near, or coming to New Orleans…Pamela Arceneaux would be your best bet at The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC). They published the definitive book on New Orleans Blue Books:
    I think she’s looking to retire in the next few years so you better hurry. She’s great and knows more about the subject than anyone else. I consulted a bit on some of the paper and printing aspects but she’s the expert. Feel free to email me directly if my email goes through to you. If not, post another comment with your email and I will respond.

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