Those wartime crime Penguins

Anybody who collects early Penguins knows two things:

  • the crime titles (in green covers) are rarer than the standard novels (in orange covers).
  • The wartime editions, particularly those published from 1942 onwards, up to the end of the war, are much rarer than both earlier and later editions

Put those two things together and a third thing becomes obvious – wartime crime titles are very rare.

Rarity alone doesn’t make books valuable, but the combination of rarity and high demand does.  And since there are a surprising number of people interested in early Penguins, often trying to collect the first 1000 in first printings, demand for the wartime crime titles is high, and so are prices.

Change was gradual at the start of the war, for paperbacks as for many other things, and early wartime Penguins from late 1939 and much of 1940 are not too difficult to find.  But with the Battle of Britain in mid-1940 and the introduction of paper rationing around the same time, wartime conditions were really starting to bite by the end of the year.  From about Penguin volume 300 onwards, the books start to get thinner and start to become much rarer.  Volumes 301 to 304, all crime titles published at the end of 1940, are really the first of the rarities.

For some reason that I can’t explain, the next three or four crime titles seem to be a little easier to find, but from then on there’s no let up.  The twenty-seven crime Penguins numbered between 350 and 500 and roughly published between mid-1942 and mid-1945, are unremittingly difficult to find, often expensive to buy and often in very poor condition.

Penguins from this period were printed to the ‘War Economy Standard’ on very poor quality paper.  They are usually very thin, with small type and small margins to cram as much as possible onto the minimum amount of paper.  They fall apart very easily and would not last long with repeated use.   The popularity of crime titles at the time, and the shortage of books, meant that many of them were passed around, read and re-read and would naturally have disintegrated.   Those that survived at all, usually survived in poor condition.  Even reprints from this period are scarce.

Many of the books are of dubious quality.   Penguin was not the leading UK publisher of crime novels at the time, and Collins probably had the pick of the best writers.   Writers such as Eric Bennett, Stuart Martin, Lewis Robinson and Richard Keverne didn’t leave much of a collective mark on the history of crime writing.  But there was still room in this group for two titles by Margery Allingham, three by Ngaio Marsh, and one from Mignon Eberhart, amongst writers whose reputations have stood the test of time.

There are of course differences of opinion about which are the rarest books.  Some say ‘Panic Party’ by Anthony Berkeley (volume 402), but there’s a good case to be made also for the two Georgette Heyer titles – ‘The unfinished clue’ (volume 428) and ‘Why shoot a butler?’ (volume 429).  Two earlier titles, ‘The general goes too far’ by Lewis Robinson and ‘William Cook – Antique dealer’ by Richard Keverne (volume 383 and 384) are certainly very rare as well, as are others from the same period.

Wartime Crime Penguins 1

But then others say that the rarest of all is not even a crime Penguin, but is the one Biggles book to be published by Penguin – volume 348, ‘Biggles flies again’ by W.E. Johns.   There’s competition for that one from collectors of Biggles stories as well as Penguin collectors.  Good luck if you’re searching for it – but you may need deep pockets as well as luck.

Penguin 348

 

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John Rhode / Miles Burton in Services Editions

Crime author Cecil Street wrote around 150 crime novels, mostly under the pseudonyms of John Rhode and Miles Burton, between about 1925 and 1960.  He was writing in the Golden Age of crime fiction and most of his books were published by the leading crime publisher of the time, the Collins Crime Club.  That put him in distinguished company, appearing alongside Agatha Christie and a host of other leading crime writers.

john-rhode

Cecil Street

Street’s books are still widely collected today, with some of them still in print.  But it’s probably fair to say that his critical reputation has not survived as well as some of his contemporaries.  Julian Symons, in his history of crime writing, categorised Street as one of the ‘humdrum’ writers, producing stories that were professionally crafted, but almost more like crossword puzzles than literature.  A more recent book by Curtis Evans, ‘Masters of the Humdrum mystery’, tries to redress the balance and restore a bit of his battered reputation.

But his books were certainly popular in their time, and at the time of the Second World War they were exactly the kind of book that was wanted for the Services.   As Collins produced a long series of paperback Services Editions including many of their Crime Club titles, Rhode and Burton titles inevitably featured strongly.

The series started in 1943 with numbering starting from c201, although numbers were only given retrospectively to the first 16 titles.  So the 17th volume, ‘Murder at Lilac Cottage’ by John Rhode was possibly the first one to actually carry a series number, c217.  I can’t be sure, as I’ve never seen this in first printing, which would be dated 1943.  The only copies I’ve seen, all say ‘Services Edition 1946’ in the printing history, with no mention of the earlier printing.  I live in hope of coming across an edition that says ‘Services Edition 1943’ one day.  That would also be the paperback 1st printing as it appeared as a standard White Circle paperback only in March 1944.

Collins c217

The W.H. Smith sticker is a good indication of a 1946 reprint, confirmed by the date on the back of the title page.

c217 Murder at Lilac Cottage 1946 reprint

But there is no mention of the 1943 1st printing in Services Edition

Two more Street novels were issued in early 1944 – ‘Murder M.D.’ by Miles Burton as volume c248 and ‘Men die at Cyprus Lodge’ by John Rhode as c251.  Both also exist as reprints dated 1946, with no indication of the earlier printing, but first printings should say ‘Services Edition 1944’.  Inevitably, most of the copies that survive are the later 1946 printing, and first printings are scarce.  Again the first printing Services Editions are also the first paperback printings.  In fact so far as I know that’s the case for all the Rhode / Burton editions.  They were all novels that had been first published in hardback only a year or two earlier, and had not previously appeared in paperback.  It was often several years later before paperback editions appeared for non-Services customers.

  Collins c248  Collins c251

The two 1944 editions were followed by six in 1945, and so far as I know, none of these were reprinted, so all copies say ‘Services Edition 1945’.  ‘Four ply yarn’ by Miles Burton and ‘Death invades the meeting’ by John Rhode appeared early in the year as c291 and c292, then ‘Dead stop’ by Burton as c304, and two John Rhodes – ‘Dead on the track’ and ‘Night exercise’ as c311 and c312.   ‘Night exercise’ was the only one of the Rhode Services Editions not to feature Dr. Priestley as the detective.  A final Miles Burton novel, ‘The three corpse trick’ was published at the end of 1945 as c348.

Overall then nine of Street’s novels appeared in the series, more than those of any other crime writer.  Even Agatha Christie only had eight.

Rhode Burton SEs front

Rhode Burton SEs

 

Preserving India’s Wild West history

As India celebrates the 70th anniversary of its independence, here’s a short look back at one little known aspect of those last pre-independence days – its Wild West paperbacks.  I’ve written before about the Collins paperbacks published in India during the war and in the years immediately afterwards.  They’re now generally very difficult to find, although I’m not sure there’s anybody other than myself searching for them.  But if most of them are difficult to find, the Wild West paperbacks seem to be almost impossible.

Judging by the lists of titles in the other books I have, Collins published over 40 westerns in paperback in India in the 1940s, most of them as White Circle paperbacks and a few in their general series.   There seem to have been a further 12 westerns in the series of Services Editions, printed specially for the British forces in India and SEAC, and at least three more published by Collins in what was then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.  That’s over 50 different books, that would have been printed in large quantities – I’d have thought at least 10,000 copies of each book and possibly several times as many.  In total surely at least half a million books.  Yet in thirty years or so of searching, I had never seen a single copy of any of them.

There are reasons of course.  They were printed on poor quality paper and seen as disposable items.  Many would have been sold to British expatriates or British troops in India and would not have been thought worth transporting home.   The westerns may have survived less well than the crime stories and other novels, because they were more avidly read and passed around, or perhaps because they were seen as more disposable.  And even if copies have survived in India, they’re inevitably difficult to track down from Britain now.  Perhaps one day I’ll be able to search for them on the ground and find they’re not as rare as I think.

But this week I finally found one.   It’s in appalling condition, worn and dirty with the front cover missing and the spine disintegrating.  Even at £5, including postage, it was hardly a bargain.  But it’s the first Indian Wild West paperback from Collins that I have ever seen.  A small piece of history has been preserved.

  India WC WWC1- Texas triggers  India WC WWC1- Texas triggers title page  India WC WWC1- Texas triggers printing history

Not a pretty sight, but possibly unique

And it follows an earlier success, just over a year ago, in finding a western paperback from Ceylon, this one in much better condition.  So the search is not impossible after all.  There are westerns out there waiting to be found.  I’d love to hear of others.

Ceylon WC1 Rustlers on the loose

A White Circle western, published in Ceylon

Shakespeare plays in Tauchnitz – the 1868 edition

I looked in an earlier post at the first 1843 edition of Shakespeare plays in the Tauchnitz Edition.   Although sold in large quantities over a period of 25 years, the publication was rather discredited by being based on the text of John Payne Collier, a noted Shakespeare scholar, but one who was later shown to be a forger.  Collier’s name was dropped from the title page in later printings, and the decision was eventually taken to re-issue all the plays in an alternative text edited by the Rev. Alexander Dyce.

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 frontispiece vol. 40

Frontispiece to the first volume of the 1868 Edition

In correspondence with Tauchnitz, Dyce was insistent that ‘no alterations are to be introduced, which are not authorised by, Dear Sir, your very truly, Alexander Dyce’.  Perhaps not surprising in the circumstances.  He also noted that ‘I should prefer my name to appear on the title-page of the proposed Shakespeare’.

Dyce had been a friend of Collier’s, but had turned against him, notably with his publication of ‘Strictures on Collier’s new Edition of Shakespeare’ in 1859.  His own edition of the plays had first been published in 1857, with a Second Edition in 1866 and this was to be the basis of the new Tauchnitz Edition of 1868.   In his preface to the Tauchnitz Edition Dyce refers to his First Edition having ‘too timidly adhered to sundry more than questionable readings of the early copies’, which may well be a reference to Collier’s influence.

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 preface vol. 40

The Tauchnitz volumes with the new text appeared in 1868 as volume 40 to 46 of the Collection of British Authors, using the same series numbers as the original issues, but with the 1868 date on the title page of each volume.  Although this seems entirely sensible, it was actually very unusual for Tauchnitz ever to change the date on the title page.  Usually the original first edition date remained on the title page of all later printings, even many decades later.   Here the 1868 date distinguishes the new edition, but in line with the usual practice, later reprints of this edition then retained 1868 on the title page, even well into the 1930s.

In the original paperback, the volumes initially said ‘Second Edition’ clearly on the front wrapper, which presumably meant the Second Tauchnitz Edition.  On the title page though they refer only to ‘the Rev. Alexander Dyce’s Second Edition’, which is a rather different thing.  Dyce also wanted to make clear that the dedication to John Forster was  the dedication of his second edition rather than just the Tauchnitz Edition, so had it dated 1866 rather than 1868, and inserted a note at the top saying ‘Dedication to the Second Edition’.  This serves only to confuse, as it could equally well refer to the second Tauchnitz Edition.

  Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 front wrapper vol. 40  Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 title page vol. 40

As with the 1843 edition, the books appeared not only as seven volumes in the main Tauchnitz series, at half a Thaler per volume, but also as individual plays, numbered from 1 to 37, selling for 1/10th of a Thaler each.  Unlike the 1843 edition though, there is no dual numbering of pages.   The individual plays all have their own page numbering, suggesting that they may have had their own stereotype plates.  It would presumably have been a relatively small task to change the page numbering after taking a first mould from the original page of type, and then take a second mould.  Each mould would be used to create a stereotype plate that would then be stored for use on reprints.

And there were many, many reprints.  Shakespeare plays were a steady seller for Tauchnitz for almost a century in total, and distinguishing the date of reprints is a puzzle of enormous complexity.  With bound copies it can be almost impossible, although a first clue is that earlier printings have the series number on the half-title in roman numerals, later printings in standard arabic numerals.

With paperbacks it’s a bit easier, and for the individual plays it is often the paperbacks that survive, as few of them were individually bound. They’re distinguished most easily by the price shown on the wrapper – 1/10 Thlr. for the first printing, then M. 0,30 from around 1871, modified to M 0,30 from 1892, increased to M 0,40 from 1916 and so on.  Full details in the Todd & Bowden bibliography.  In my experience the earliest paperbacks, showing the price as 1/10 of a Thaler are difficult to find now, but copies from the 1870s / 1880s are much more common.

Wrapper price example

  Shakespeare F6 Merchant of Venice 1868 first printing  Shakespeare F6 Merchant of Venice 1868 reprint wb

Around the time of the First World War, a new format for the individual plays was adopted, slightly smaller and more like the volumes of the Tauchnitz Pocket Library sold in wartime.   Variants of this format (still with Dyce’s name on the title page) continued to be sold right through until the Second World War put an effective end to Tauchnitz.

Shakespeare F10 Twefth Night 1930s reprint

A reprint of one of the individual plays, from the 1930s

Rather sadly, Alexander Dyce never saw the longevity achieved by the edition that he gave his name to.  He died in May 1869, shortly after the first publication.  His displaced rival, John Payne Collier, surviving to 1883, could only watch and grit his teeth.

Boxing clever – the first 6 Albatross books

The launch of Albatross books in 1932 was a key moment in the paperback revolution, even if not fully recognised as such at the time.  It signalled the imminent demise of Tauchnitz, which had dominated English language publishing in Continental Europe for almost a century.  It was to be the inspiration for the launch of Penguin Books three years later.  And it was in some respects the moment that paperbacks came of age in the twentieth century.

A lot of planning and preparation had gone into the launch, which brought together three remarkable men, John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch.  Their stories are too long and varied to cover here, but all three played important roles in publishing history, even apart from their time at Albatross.   It was important for them that the first list of Albatross titles made a statement about the ambitions of the new series.

Albatross First six anouncement

It was a mixed list, establishing the principle that the series would cover a range of genres and styles.  A crime story and a romance rubbed shoulders with more literary fiction.   A volume of short stories was published alongside the first volume of an historical family saga.   There was something for everyone, and importantly, with colour coding by genre, the mix of types of book was reflected in a mix of colours for the first six books.

The choice of the first three authors – James Joyce, Aldous Huxley and Sinclair Lewis, seemed to say that the series would be more at the cutting edge of modern literature than Tauchnitz had been in recent years.   It also said something about the ability of Albatross to attract authors away from Tauchnitz.

James Joyce in particular had been neglected by Tauchnitz.  They had eventually published ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’ in 1930, some ten years after being offered it, but had shown little interest in his other works.  So for Albatross, publishing ‘Dubliners’ as volume 1 was an open goal.

Huxley and Lewis had been treated better, with Tauchnitz publishing six volumes of Huxley and three from Lewis, arguably including their most important works.  But that was far from comprehensive coverage and as with Joyce, Albatross was able to target earlier works, overlooked by Tauchnitz, before later publishing new works.  Sinclair Lewis had in 1930 become the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, so it was a good time to be revisiting his earlier works.

The next three titles were perhaps a bit lighter, but Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole was a significant prize.  It was the first of the Herries Chronicles, a trilogy of books set in the Lake District, and probably the work for which Walpole is best remembered now.  He too had to be attracted away from Tauchnitz, which had published several of his earlier works, as did Warwick Deeping.   As Tauchnitz had had a near monopoly on publishing English literature in Europe, it was almost inevitable that the authors Albatross wanted to publish would already have had dealings with Tauchnitz.

The launch of the first six titles was also marked by the issue of a boxed set of the six books.  I have little idea how many of these were produced or sold, or indeed the price at which it was offered.  I have only ever seen the one example, illustrated below, and that is in less than perfect condition.  Although the box has no Albatross branding, I am pretty sure that it was produced for Albatross, rather than just being a home-made affair.  It’s possible though that it was produced only for presentation copies, offered to business contacts and colleagues.

Box Set First Six 2

Just one of the books in this box still has its transparent dustwrapper, and that is in poor condition, but all the books would originally have had them.   They were easily damaged and after a year or so, new titles were instead given paper dustwrappers in the same design as the books.

Printers’ Pie – the Hutchinson years

‘Printers’ Pie’ had started in the early years of the twentieth century as a way to raise funds for a Printers’ charity.   It continued until at least 1918, sometimes twice a year, with Christmas issues called ‘Winter’s Pie’, but stopped publication soon after.   There may have been one or two publications in the 1920s called the ‘Sketchbook and Printers’ Pie’, but information is scarce.

1916 Printers Pie not my copy

An issue from 1916 – cover illustration by George Studdy

In 1935 it was revived (see this earlier blog post) to raise money for the King George’s Jubilee Trust and then for other charities, now using the titles ‘Christmas Pie’ and ‘Summer Pie’.  So far as I can tell the final issue in this series, published by Odhams, was in 1939.

Summer-Pie-1936

Summer Pie for 1936 with a Bruce Bairnsfather cover

But then after a gap of three or four years, it appeared again in 1943 under the original title, this time published by Hutchinson.   The publication marked Walter Hutchinson becoming Festival President of the Printers’ Pension, Almshouse and Orphan Asylum Corporation, the original charity for which ‘Printers’ Pie’ had been created, and was to raise funds for them.

It was now in a small paperback format, and selling for the relatively high price of 2s 6d.  Pre-war issues had sold for 6d and in 1943 most paperbacks were selling for around 9d.  But as well as being for charity, this was on unusually good quality paper for a wartime publication, featured a colour cover and several pages of glossy photographs in two sections.  There were stories by H.E. Bates, Howard Spring, L.A.G. Strong and James Hilton among others.

It was followed by ‘Christmas Pie’ at the end of 1943 in a similar format, again selling for 2s 6d.  This time there was an appeal for donations to the same Printers’ charity, but no direct mention that the proceeds or profits from the publication would go to the charity.  Most issues from then onwards contained no mention of being for charity, but on the other hand the price came down to 1s 6d.  The exceptions were the Spring Pies for 1945 and 1946, with the price raised to 2 shillings and profits going first to the Bookbinders’ Cottage Homes and Pensions Society, and then to Toc H.

The format instead seemed just to be adopted by Hutchinson as part of their series of Hutchinson Pocket Specials.  From Autumn 1944, there were more or less regular issues five times a year, titled as Spring Pie, Summer Pie, Autumn Pie, Winter Pie and Christmas Pie, published roughly in March, June, September, November and December.

Each issue had a colour portrait of a girl on the cover and inside a mix of articles, short stories, cartoons and photographs. mostly in a light-hearted tone.  The style feels very similar to ‘Lilliput’, then a popular monthly magazine.

In April 1946 there was an extra issue called Pie’s Film Book, with Vivien Leigh on the cover as Cleopatra, from one of the big films of the year.  It was printed entirely on glossy paper, lavishly illustrated with black and white photos of film stars, and selling at two shillings.  Pie’s Film Book No. 2 appeared the following year in similar format, with Margaret Lockwood on the cover, but that seems to have been the end of this venture.

There were other attempts to modernise the format.  Colour appeared internally for the first time in the Christmas 1947 issue, with  four reproductions of Dutch paintings and in 1948 many of the black and white photographs were replaced by colour illustrations of various kinds.  But perhaps it was still not modern enough for the post-war world.   The Summer and Christmas issues of 1948 experimented with some discreet nudity, but it was too late or too desperate.

So far as I know, the 1948 Christmas issue was the last until it reappeared in a slightly larger format and at the reduced price of one shilling in December 1949 as ‘Winter Pie’. The editor is now shown as Barbara Vise and the cover illustration is by (presumably related) Jenetta Vise.  Inside there’s no longer any colour, but the layout looks less cramped.  The content though is less than riveting, featuring articles such as ‘Why I like going to the cinema’ by the Bishop of London, alongside articles on suits of armour and portrait miniatures.

It was followed by ‘Spring Pie’ in April 1950 in a similar format, although this time with a centrefold featuring colour photographs of pottery and porcelain.  But then this too seems to have died.

After that, Hutchinson seem to have given up any ambitions to continue the series.  Both the ‘Pie’ title and the aim of raising money for good causes seem to have passed back to Odhams, the publisher of the pre-war issues.  They published at least one more issue in 1952 in the larger pre-war format, as ‘Summer Pie, in aid of the National Advertising Benevolent Society.  That may well have been the last of the Pies.

1952 1 Summer Pie 1952

 

Bound for the Services – from Harrap

Almost all Services Editions are paperbacks, mostly very thin, cheap paperbacks on poor quality wartime paper.  Apart from the need to reduce costs in wartime, there was also the practical matter of fitting into a battledress pocket.

So what are we to make of the Harrap Services Editions, a hardback series issued towards the end of the war?  These are not only hardbacks, but some of them very substantial books, certainly not pocket size.

Hardback Harrap Wild-Cat Branning

Of course there were hardback books in Service libraries throughout the war.  Many of the early books were donated by the public and came in all shapes and sizes, as well as being on all manner of topics, many of them of little interest to their intended readers.   On the other hand it was precisely because many of the donated books were unsuitable, that the new series of paperback Services Editions were launched in 1943.

Those paperbacks were a huge success and were so widely read and passed around that many of them simply disintegrated, one of the factors making them so scarce today.  Some units developed their own solutions, providing homemade hard bindings to make them last a little longer.  But perhaps as the war moved towards an end in 1945, it became clear that there was a need for something more durable.

Did the armed forces commission a series of hardbacks from Harrap, or was it an initiative from the publisher?   By 1945 the dominance of the two long series of paperback Services Editions, from Collins and from Guild Books, was coming to an end.  Several other publishers were starting to produce Services Editions, presumably under some sort of contract with the Services that at least enabled them to access the necessary paper ration.  But I suspect individual publishers still had a fair amount of discretion over exactly what they published as Services Editions.

Hardback Harrap 5 books

In the case of Harrap, all they seem to have done is take some of the books that they were publishing anyway and stamp Services Edition on the front cover.   There is nothing in the printing history that suggests a specific printing for the services.  The only evidence that they are Services Editions at all is that stamp on the front board.  Nor is there any evidence that they were a series in the normal sense.  They come in all shapes and sizes and all types of book.  The five examples I have come across include two spy novels by Helen MacInnes, an oilfield novel by Robert Sturgis, the semi-fictionalised account of life in Thailand that later formed the basis for the musical ‘The King and I’, and a biography of General Allenby, a military leader.  Are there many others?

Four of these five books were printed in 1945, and the fifth in 1946.  Judging by the scarcity of the books today, the numbers printed (or the numbers of those printed that were stamped “Services Edition”) must have been small.  Almost all Services Editions are now difficult to find, even those paperbacks printed in editions of 50,000 copies.  But while it’s relatively easy to make 50,000 poor quality paperbacks disappear, that seems more difficult with hardbacks.  If even 5,000 copies of each book were printed, you might expect several hundred to have survived.  But if they have, I don’t know where they are.

Two of the copies I have show clear evidence of Services use.  One other has the half-title torn out, often seen with Services Editions, presumably to remove evidence of Services ownership.  So unlike some later Services Editions, they do at least seem to have reached their intended market.

    Hospital Ship Maine - Harrap Anna and the King

I’d love to hear from anyone who knows anything more about these unusual and rather surprising books.

Albatross and the Third Reich. A Strange Bird, but a wonderful book.

‘Strange Bird’ is a wonderful new book by Michele Troy, subtitled ‘The Albatross Press and the Third Reich’.  It vividly recounts the difficulties of a business publishing modernist British and American literature in 1930s Germany under the Nazis, and the lives of the key people involved as they cope with the sometimes brutal consequences.

Strange Bird

Michele Troy is Professor of English at Hillyer College at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.  On one level her book is a meticulously researched academic study, where every assertion is backed by detailed research referenced in copious footnotes.   But on another level it’s more like a novel, following the lives of a whole cast of characters, but particularly the three main founders of Albatross – John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch.

Kurt Enoch (right) with novelist Erskine Caldwell, in the US after the war

The book is beautifully written, again more like a novel in places, but the story the author has uncovered is almost too implausible for the plot of a novel.  There are twists and turns as the business has to adapt to Nazi control and suspicion, and the team is then split apart by restrictions on Jewish ownership of property in Germany.   I won’t include too many spoilers, but the story reaches a climax with the German occupation of Paris in 1940.  The contrasts in the experiences of the main participants at that point are almost heartbreaking, but there is far more to come.  Triumph turns to disaster and disaster turns to recovery in very personal terms as well as in political, military and business terms.

Max Christian Wegner

Max Christian Wegner, after the war

Holroyd-Reece, Wegner and Enoch all had very successful publishing careers separately from Albatross, both before and after the war, and they worked together for only a few years.  I’ve long believed that in that short period they were able to create something really special, and that the Albatross series was a remarkable achievement in both literary and business terms.  But I had little idea before picking up this book of quite how remarkable it really was.  It needs the context of time and place, of everything that was going on in 1930s Germany, followed by the war and the post-war chaos, to understand the extent of their achievement.  ‘Strange Bird’ brings together the context and the achievement and ties it together with the intertwining personal life stories of three remarkable men.

Holroyd Reece Christmas Card 8 and 9

John Holroyd Reece in his Paris office, drawn by Gunter Böhmer for a 1938 Christmas Card

All three died many years ago, but as well as researching many archives, Michele Troy has tracked down relatives and uncovered personal reminiscences that transform the book from a dusty academic work to a spellbinding thriller.  Above all it’s the stories of the people that you come away with from this book.  They’re engaging stories and engaging people, for the most part sympathetically drawn characters, despite all their faults.

The book is part history, part biography, part novel, part academic treatise, part detective story, part bibliographical research, but above all it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.   I hope many more people will read it.

Aldous Huxley in Tauchnitz and Albatross – Part 2

For Part 1, follow this link.

In 1934 Tauchnitz was on the point of collapse.   Its brash new rival, Albatross, had succeeded far beyond its expectations and had stripped Tauchnitz of its sales, its authors and its prestige.   Tauchnitz was ready to admit defeat and to agree to being bought by Albatross, but one thing stood in the way.  The National Socialists, the Nazis,  had just come to power in Germany, and Albatross was a company with multiple Jewish connections.    In the political climate of the time, such a transaction was impossible.

Instead a complicated arrangement was put in place where Tauchnitz was bought by Brandstetter, the German printing firm that printed Albatross books.  Brandstetter passed editorial control to Albatross, but kept the printing work for itself.   From 1934, editorial control of both series was handled from Paris by Albatross.

Aldous Huxley smoking, circa 1946

Aldous Huxley

With Huxley and various other writers though, they had a problem.  Their books were being burned by the Nazis and were appearing on various lists of banned books.   Albatross / Tauchnitz had to tread carefully along a narrow line if they were to survive at all in Germany.   They had to exercise some self-censorship not only in terms of what they published, but how they published it and where they sold it.  The story is told in some detail and in very entertaining form in Michele Troy’s new book ‘Strange Bird.  The Albatross Press and the Third Reich’.

Strange Bird

On the face of it, it made little difference whether books were published by Albatross or by Tauchnitz.  Editorial control of both series was from the same office in Paris, the books of both series were printed at the same printer in Leipzig, and they were distributed by the same distributor in Hamburg.  But the evidence of the books suggests a different story.  Tauchnitz after all was a German firm, with a higher proportion of its sales in Germany, and had to be extremely careful about publishing writers that were not approved of by the German government.  Albatross, although coming under considerable German control, seemed to be allowed a little more freedom.   Its books, printed in Germany, but sold across Europe, earned valuable foreign currency for Germany and the Nazis were prepared to be a bit more tolerant.

But it seems clear that Huxley was no longer to be tolerated as a Tauchnitz author.   He had moved to Albatross anyway for new publications, but even works for which Tauchnitz already had the rights were not reprinted.   The Tauchnitz bibliography records reprint dates for the six Huxley volumes in Tauchnitz editions.  Each was reprinted several times, but none of them after the end of 1934.   A similar pattern exists for D.H. Lawrence and other writers not approved of by the Nazis.

Instead Huxley’s books were transferred across to the Albatross series.  The two volumes of short stories, ‘Two or three graces’ and ‘Brief candles’ were reprinted in 1935 as Albatross volumes 246 and 247, followed shortly afterwards by ‘Music at night and other essays’ as volume 260.  ‘Point Counter Point’ appeared in April 1937 as volumes 331 and 332.

Two volume, or even three volume novels had been a long tradition for Tauchnitz, although gradually dropping out of favour by the 1930s.  For Albatross, they were almost unheard of.  Longer novels appeared, not in two volumes, but in a larger ‘extra volume’ sold at a higher price.  Presumably they could have done that with ‘Point Counter Point’, but, perhaps for contractual reasons, they chose to retain the Tauchnitz two volume format.  Unlike Tauchnitz though, they offered the two volumes for sale together in a slipcase.

Point counter point with slipcase

This transfer of Huxley’s books across to Albatross was probably made necessary by implicit censorship, but it made some sense anyway for editorial reasons.  Albatross had been the more modern, edgier series, and Tauchnitz the more traditional, conservative one, even before the takeover.   With new books still being added to both series, there had to be some basis for deciding which books appeared in which series and Huxley fitted better into Albatross.  The opportunity to develop a ‘collected edition’ of Huxley’s works in Albatross may have been too good to miss.

Huxley Collected Edition ad

On the other hand, shifting books from one series to the other could also have a financial impact.  The two firms had different ownership structures, so profits from the books could end up in a different place.  The Tauchnitz bibliographers, Todd & Bowden, accused the Albatross managers, particularly John Holroyd-Reece, of systematically transferring profits away from Tauchnitz, to the detriment of the new owners, Brandstetter.

This is probably unfair, and seems to take no account of the difficult circumstances in Germany at the time.  Whether the various dealings were fair to Brandstetter or not, depends upon the basis on which they went into the arrangement, what the ongoing financial arrangements were, and also on what was politically possible in 1930s Germany.   They did after all buy Tauchnitz at a time when, without the support of Albatross, it had little future or value at all.  It is likely that Brandstetter’s financial interest came more from printing the books of both firms than from the profits of publishing.  But the details of the arrangements were to be of vital importance later when war came to separate the firms.

Albatross 269 Beyond the Mexique Bay

There was still the question of  whether any further new works of Huxley’s could be published.  ‘Beyond the Mexique Bay’, appeared in Britain in 1934, nominally a record of Huxley’s travels in Mexico and Central America, but also including long sections that were critical of fascism and offensive to the German government.   It could not appear in translation in Germany but it might be more tolerated in English.  It did appear in 1935, as Albatross volume 269, but only after considerable self-censorship by the Albatross editors – “die Schere im Kopf”, or the scissors in your own head, as described by Michele Troy’s book.  Even then it’s an open question as to how openly it could be sold in Germany as opposed to other European countries.

It was followed by ‘The olive tree and other essays’ in August 1937 (volume 336) and then by ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ in January 1938 as volume 358.  Finally in July 1939, only a few weeks before the outbreak of war, came ‘Along the Road’, another collection of essays, originally published in Britain as early as 1925, so another example of catching up with Huxley’s earlier works.

In total then, 14 Huxley volumes in Albatross, five of them transferred across from Tauchnitz (and one more that never transferred), covering almost all his pre-war novels and short stories, as well as a representative selection of his essays and travel writing.   In the end only D.H. Lawrence accounted for more volumes in the series, although Agatha Christie was level on fourteen.  For a series that was printed in Germany in the 1930s and a writer whose books were burned and appeared on banned lists, that was quite an achievement.

Albatross Spines Aldous Huxley no slipcase

Aldous Huxley in Tauchnitz and Albatross – Part 1

By 1928, when Aldous Huxley’s work first appeared in the Tauchnitz series, he was already a well-established writer.   Tauchnitz was still the dominant English language publisher in Continental Europe, but it had struggled during the First World War and the difficulties that followed in Germany.  It was no longer quite at the cutting edge of English literature, where it had been for most of its long existence, and British publishers were becoming reluctant to allow continental reprints as soon after UK publication as they previously had.  Still, to join the near-5000-volume-strong Tauchnitz series was recognition that you had reached a certain level in your profession.  The honour was as much to Huxley as it was to Tauchnitz.

‘Two or three graces’, a collection of Huxley’s short stories appeared in early 1928 (or possibly late 1927) as volume 4810, and the satirical novel ‘Those barren leaves’ followed shortly after as volume 4816.   Although both volumes are dated 1928 on the title page, the first printing of volume 4810 is dated December 1927 at the top of the back wrapper, while volume 4816 is dated January 1928.  There are multiple reprints of both books, identifiable by later dates on the back wrapper.

 Tauchnitz 4810 Two or three graces  Tauchnitz 4810 Two or three graces rear wrapper

 Tauchnitz 4816 Those Barren Leaves  Tauchnitz 4816 Those Barren Leaves rear wrapper

Sales must have gone well, and having identified Huxley as a promising young writer, Tauchnitz were keen to extend the relationship.  The following year they published his new novel ‘Point Counter Point’, a longer work that stretched over two volumes, numbered 4872 and 4873, and dated March 1929 in the first printing.  That was followed up by ‘Brief candles’, another collection of short stories, (volume 4958, dated October 1930) and by ‘Music at Night and other essays’ (volume 5017, dated October 1931).  Both works appeared in Tauchnitz very shortly after first UK publication.

  Tauchnitz 4872 Point Counter Point Vol 1  Tauchnitz 4873 Point Counter Point Vol 2

 Tauchnitz 4958 Brief Candles  Tauchnitz 5017 Music at Night

Tauchnitz though, by this time, was in turmoil.  Hans Christian Wegner had been appointed to manage the firm in late 1929, after the death of Curt Otto, and was keen to modernise the series, encouraging writers such as Huxley, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce.   But his ideas were too radical for the Tauchnitz board and he left in 1931, becoming one of the key founders of the rival firm Albatross.  At last, Tauchnitz had a serious competitor.

Wegner would have had a relationship with Huxley’s agent and UK publisher and been well aware of which works had already been published by Tauchnitz.  He wanted Huxley for his new Albatross series, and saw an opportunity to win him over by publishing some of the earlier works that had been ignored by Tauchnitz

‘The Gioconda Smile and other stories’ appeared as volume 2 of the Albatross series in 1932.  It brought together most of Huxley’s short stories from the two collections published in the UK as ‘Mortal Coils’ (1922) and ‘Little Mexican’ (1924).  ‘Antic Hay’, another early work from 1923, followed as volume 24, with ‘Crome Yellow’, his first novel from 1921, published as volume 64 in 1933.  Inbetween though came the real prize.  Having won Huxley over and published his early work in far more attractive editions than the drab Tauchnitz volumes, Albatross was rewarded with his latest new work, ‘Brave new World’ published early in 1933 as volume 47 of the series.

     

A further volume of short stories appeared  under the title ‘Uncle Spencer and other stories’ later in 1933, as volume 87.  It combined the two remaining stories from ‘Little Mexican’, with five stories that had appeared in Huxley’s first collection ‘Limbo’ in 1921.  So in the first 100 volumes and the first two years of Albatross, five Huxley volumes had been published.  The tally at that point stood at six Huxley volumes in Tauchnitz and five in Albatross.  Not bad for a writer who was still in his thirties.

Huxley in Tauchnitz and Albatross to 1934

But then two other events intervened that were to have significant effects on Huxley’s continental publishing history.  The first was the near collapse of Tauchnitz, unable to compete with its much more modern rival, and the second was the rise to power in Germany of the Nazi party.  I’ll come back to the effects of those two events in my next post.  (See part 2)