Recently the subject of how the ‘Big Book’ got its name came up. So, for this months offering here is a little bit of ‘Big Book’ history.
Why We Call It The Big Book”
A printer in Cornwall, NY, named Edward Blackwell, had been highly recommended to
Bill Wilson. Blackwell was the President of Cornwall Press. So Bill and Hank Parkhurst
(author of the personal story “The Unbeliever” in the first edition of the Big Book) went
to Cornwall to see Blackwell. There they were told that the book would probably be only
about four hundred pages when printed. That seemed a bit skimpy. They wanted to sell
the book for $3.50 per copy. That was a very large sum in those days; probably the
equivalent of about S50 today, and people might not think they were getting their
They picked the cheapest, thickest paper the printer had, and requested that each page be
printed with unusually large margins surrounding the text. This made for an unusually
large book. Thus, the book came to be nicknamed the “Big Book.”
A reproduction of the first printing can be purchased today and it is much taller and
thicker than o
urrent Big Book, although it has fewer pages.
ckwell had an excess of red material for the bindings, so he offered them a special
deal. Eager to save costs, Bill and Hank agreed. They also thought, according to some
reports, that the color red would make the book more attractive and marketable.
The first printing was the only one on which a red binding was used. All the other
printings of the first edition, except for the fourth printing, were in various shades of blue.
The fourth printing, due to another overstock of binding material and thus, lower cost,
was bound in blue as well as in green.
Despite all their efforts at proofreading, there was a typographical error in the first
printing. On page 234, the second and third line from the bottom was printed twice. This
was corrected in subsequent editions.
A New York AA member named Ray Campbell, a recognized artist, was asked to design
the dust jacket. His story, “An Artist’s Concept”, appears in the Big Book’s first edition.
He submitted various designs for consideration including one which was blue and in an
Art Deco style. The one which was chosen was red, and yellow, with a little black, and a
little white. The words Alcoholics Anonymous were printed across the top in large white
script. It became known as the circus jacket because of its loud circus colors. The unused
blue jacket is today in the Archives at the Stepping Stones Foundation
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions.
AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
Before there was a "Big Book", Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, the "AA Grapevine" or General Service -- before there were meetings, clubs, conventions or any AA literature -- before there was an H&I committee, there was a visit to an Akron hospital where "one drunk talked to another."