Readers Library wartime paperbacks
The Readers’ Library had been a long-running series of cheap hardback books selling at 6d, often at non-traditional outlets such as Woolworths, and notable for their colourful dustwrappers with wrap-around illustrations. The business together with the associated printing company Greycaine, had been owned by Frank Grey and Ralph Hall Caine, son of the novelist Hall Caine. It was also associated with the Queensway Press, publishers of the Chevron / New Chevron paperback series in the late 1930s.
The main Readers’ Library series ran from about 1924 until the late 1930s when the business ran into financial trouble and went into receivership. After that it’s unclear exactly what happened, although bits of the business were sold off and the printing company certainly continued to operate. Like many publishing businesses at the time, much of it eventually seems to have ended up in the arms of Walter Hutchinson and his Hutchinson Group.
In the run-up to World War II, the Hutchinson Group, a sprawling conglomerate of publishing companies, had applied a scattergun approach to the problem of competing with Penguin in the paperback market. Over a period of just four years, it launched at least seven new series in ‘Penguin format’ – first the Hutchinson Pocket Library, followed in quick succession by the Crime Book Society, the Toucan Novels, the Jackdaw Library, the Hutchinson Popular Pocket Library, the Wild West Pocket Library and John Long Four Square Books.
As if that wasn’t enough, in 1940 three new series appeared from the Leisure Library, another branch of Hutchinson – the Wild West Library, the Crime Novel Library and the Romantic Novel Library. Whether this was a deliberate strategy to try lots of different experiments in the hope that one of them worked, or whether it was simply the result of a lack of coordination with the Group, I have no idea.
As wartime conditions and particularly the effect of paper rationing started to bite, there may have been a realisation that this was becoming unsustainable. Each of the series gradually petered out, serial numbering of the books came to an end and the uniform price of 6d was impossible to maintain. By about 1942 a price rise to 9d was inevitable (quickly followed by 1s and then 1s 3d), and the books were becoming very thin and cramped in accordance with the War Economy Standard.
You might have thought that the last thing this group needed was to bring in another publisher of 6d paperbacks or hardbacks. But that seems to be what happened. The Readers Library Publishing Co. joined Hutchinson, and at least two Chevron paperbacks appeared during the war with advertising for the Hutchinson Book Club, so presumably as part of Hutchinson.
Between about 1943 and 1948 there seem to have been almost no new titles added to any of Hutchinson’s pre-war 6d series. The separate brandings of Toucan, Jackdaw, Crime Book Society and so on were dropped until about 1948 when they came back in a rather different format. Instead the group appears to have temporarily dropped the idea of Penguin-style series branding and gone back to illustrated covers. Many of the early books from this period are shown as published by Hutchinson, others by Skeffington, Jarrolds or other companies within the group.
But then rather surprisingly, a lot of the paperbacks started to appear as published by the Readers Library Publishing Company in association with Hutchinson, or in association with one of the other group companies. I have examples of books published in association with Jarrolds, Stanley Paul, Hutchinson, Hurst & Blackett and The Grout Publishing Co., and there are no doubt others. Many have illustrated covers, but others have non-illustrated designs. There is no obvious series design, or uniformity, although in some ways the books are quite standardised. All have an advert for Hutchinson’s Universal Book Club on the back cover and adverts on the inside covers for ‘Super Shave’ shaving cream and ‘The little chap’ stain remover. They’re in conformity with the War Economy standards for book production, so with very cramped text, thin margins, thin paper covers and generally poor quality paper. In almost every respect except cover design, they look like a series.
The fact that all these are shown as published by the Readers Library Publishing Co. does seem to be an attempt to impose some consistency on the various paperbacks coming out of the Hutchinson Group. It’s strange then that in terms of the front covers, it seems to be such a free-for all. In some respects it represents a complete breakaway from the Penguin style, almost a reversion to what existed pre-Penguin, and maybe not before time. But it’s surprising how little uniformity of style there is, and still some of the covers are non-illustrated, in various formats.
None of the books are dated, but I have one, priced at 1s 3d and with a gift message handwritten in it dated 1944, so I guess this is from 1943 or 1944. Others priced at 1s 6d may be a bit later, but they all look like wartime production, or possibly immediately post-war, so overall they maybe cover the period from about 1943 to 1947. Most of the books are printed by the Anchor Press, but a few are printed by Greycaine, the former Readers Library printing company, by then owned by Taylor Garnett Evans and Co.
It seems to have been a temporary solution, a wartime attempt to shore up an arrangement that had become impossibly unwieldy. After the war the group would go off in different directions. But because thin wartime paperbacks are so fragile and ephemeral, and probably printed in relatively low numbers in the first place, this chapter in paperback history risks being lost.
Robert Louis Stevenson in Tauchnitz Editions
The first of Robert Louis Stevenson’s works to be published by Tauchnitz was, of course, ‘Treasure Island’. It had been published in the UK in serial form in the magazine ‘Young Folks‘ in 1881/2 and then appeared in book form in November 1883. Tauchnitz were always on the lookout for promising young writers to add to their series and it wouldn’t have taken long to pick out Stevenson. W.E. Henley, the poet best known today for ‘Invictus’ (“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”), was Stevenson’s representative. He had also been at least in one respect the inspiration for Long John Silver, as a result of his own wooden leg.
Whether he was an effective negotiator on Stevenson’s behalf may be open to question, as the end result was a single payment of £20 for the exclusive rights to publish ‘Treasure Island’ in English on the European Continent. A copy of the contract, signed on 12th May 1884 appeared in the Tauchnitz 125th anniversary booklet in 1962 and is reproduced below.
Stevenson however was pleased, and a few weeks later, possibly after receiving a copy of the Tauchnitz Edition of his book, wrote to Tauchnitz on 13th June 1884: ‘I am pleased indeed to appear in your splendid collection and thus to rise a grade in the hierarchy of my art’. Being published by Tauchnitz was it seems an honour, regardless of the fee paid. In fact Stevenson had already, a year earlier, had a collection of short stories in two volumes under the title of ‘New Arabian Nights’, published in Asher’s Collection, the main rival to Tauchnitz. So there may have been competition for ‘Treasure Island’, with Stevenson choosing what he saw as the more prestigious series.
Even two years later, it still seemed to be Tauchnitz rather than Stevenson, who had his doubts about whether the transaction was a fair and profitable one. Writing to W.E. Henley on 25th June 1886 after publication of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Tauchnitz indicated that sales of Treasure Island ‘did not as yet answer my expectations’ (quoted in ‘A Stevenson library’ by George McKay (Yale University Library 1951 -64)). He had again offered just £20 for the combined rights to ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘An inland voyage’, published together in a single volume. He was however shrewd enough to want to take ‘Dr Jekyll’ anyway, and as both books were still selling in large numbers and being reprinted regularly by Tauchnitz 50 years later, there seems little doubt that in time he made a fine profit on them.
‘Treasure Island’ had appeared in June 1884 as volume 2255 and copies of the first printing (which should not list any other titles by Stevenson on the half-title verso) seem to be few and far between. The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions lists only two known copies meeting this condition and as they differ in one other respect, only one can be a first printing. The assumed first printing is distinguished by the text continuing to page 287, with the colophon ‘Printing office of the publisher’ on page 288. In all subsequent printings the text runs only to page 286, with the colophon on page 287.
It’s also assumed that the wrappers of the first printing would have been dated ‘June 1884’, although no copy in first printing format is recorded in its original wrappers. There is a known paperback copy dated June 1884, but as this has the text running to page 286 only, it is assumed to be a reprint. Even if only the last few pages are affected, it’s not clear why Tauchnitz would have reset and reprinted the text so quickly if sales were not particularly good, so perhaps there is still some doubt about which came first.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ together with ‘An inland voyage’ appeared as volume 2387, and for this there is no doubt that the first printing should show just one earlier title by Stevenson (Treasure Island) on the back of the half-title, and on the original wrappers be dated February 1886. After that Stevenson was under way and Tauchnitz was following him at almost every step. ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘The black arrow’ both appeared in Tauchnitz in 1888, the first as volume 2526 (dated July 1888) and the second as volume 2548 (dated October 1888).
‘The master of Ballantrae’ followed the next year (volume 2614, dated November 1889) and then in 1891 a volume of short stories, ‘The merry men and other tales and fables’ (volume 2755, probably dated August 1891). By this time Stevenson had settled in Samoa, but one of his early volumes of travel writing, ‘Across the plains’ was published in the UK in 1892 and almost simultaneously in a Tauchnitz edition (volume 2818, dated April 1892), to be followed by ‘A footnote to history. Eight years of trouble in Samoa’ (volume 2856, dated September 1892).
This book covered the civil war going on in Samoa at that time, involving three colonial powers, Britain, Germany and America, exploiting divisions between local clans. Stevenson was of course in a position to see at first hand some of the machinations and the effect on the islanders. Unfortunately for Tauchnitz, who again published it almost simultaneously with UK publication. he was also very critical of several German individuals, of a German business and of some of the actions of the German government, which did not take well to the publication of such criticisms by a German firm.
Tauchnitz was fined for publishing the book and ordered to destroy all copies of it. George McKay (in the book referred to above) reports that Stevenson offered to reimburse the firm, but Tauchnitz replied ‘we consider it merely our duty to bear the loss in question quite alone’. Quite how many copies had already been sold before stocks were destroyed, is unclear, but Todd & Bowden record three known copies in library collections (one of them in Germany), and there is a fourth in my own collection. There are many other Tauchnitz volumes for which fewer than four copies of the first printing are recorded (including Treasure Island’ as above), so despite the destruction order, the book is not necessarily particularly rare.
What did happen though is that Tauchnitz re-used the volume number for a subsequent work of Stevenson’s, almost to expunge any record of the book ever having been issued. There are therefore two different books published as volume 2856 of the Tauchnitz series, the second being ‘Island Nights’ Entertainments’, three stories of the South Seas.
‘Island Nights’ Entertainments’ did not appear until May 1893, by which time numbering had moved on to over 2900, so it was a very deliberate decision to go back and re-use the number 2856. In the meantime Stevenson had published another novel ‘The Wrecker’, written together with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, who was living with him in Samoa. For some reason, this didn’t appear in Tauchnitz, but was instead published in the rival Heinemann and Balestier series, as was a later collaboration between the two authors.
As not only ‘Island Nights’ Entertainments’, but also ‘Catriona’ (vol. 2937, dated September 1893) were published by Tauchnitz in 1893, the decision to publish ‘The wrecker’ elsewhere, doesn’t seem to have been due to any falling out with Tauchnitz. It may just have been that Heinemann and Balestier made a higher offer for that particular book, hoping to tempt Stevenson away, or it may have been a desire for some separation between Stevenson’s solo work and this collaboration.
Robert Louis Stevenson died in Samoa in December 1894, leaving two unfinished novels, ‘Weir of Hermiston’ and ‘St. Ives’. The first of these was published in Tauchnitz as volume 3146, dated July 1896, still unfinished, while ‘St. Ives’ was completed by Arthur Quiller-Couch and appeared in two volumes (vols. 3257 and 3258) in January 1898. Stevenson’s books continued to sell well, and a further two works were published posthumously – ‘In the South Seas’ (volumes 3478 and 3479, dated February 1901) and ‘Tales and Fantasies’ (volume 3837, dated September 1905). In total that made 14 books (in 16 volumes) published by Tauchnitz, including the suppressed ‘A footnote to history’.
Just two months after publishing its final Stevenson volume, Tauchnitz published the first of five novels by Lloyd Osbourne, his stepson. Their collaborative works had appeared elsewhere, but in the Tauchnitz series their individual works achieved an almost seamless continuity. Indeed when the First World War brought an end to Osbourne’s publications in Tauchnitz (his last publication was in July 1912), Stevenson was there briefly to take up the baton again. Few British authors were acceptable to the German censors during the war, but perhaps oddly, Stevenson was one of them. Both ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘An inland voyage’, which had previously been published together, were extracted and published separately in the English Text-Books / Tauchnitz Pocket Library series in 1916.
Biblioteca Rojo y Azul
What on earth is this? The Biblioteca Rojo y Azul (Red and Blue Library). A series of Spanish translations of the works of predominantly German authors, from Tauchnitz, a German publisher best known for selling English novels in the original language.
Some context might help. The books appeared first in July 1921, less than three years after the end of the First World War. The war had put Tauchnitz on the other side to the suppliers of its main product, English literature, and to many of its customers as well, and had left it hugely weakened. Several competitors, notably Nelson’s Continental and the Standard Collection, had sprung up during the war to take advantage of Tauchnitz’s absence from the market. It was far from obvious that Tauchnitz, hamstrung by economic conditions in Germany and impending hyperinflation, could ever recapture anything like the dominant position it had had before the war in the market for English language books in continental Europe.
After publishing only a handful of titles in its ‘Collection of British Authors’ during the war, Tauchnitz had cautiously restarted its publishing programme in English with six new titles in 1919 and eleven in 1920. A further eight had been added by mid 1921, but these numbers were only a fraction of the numbers before the war and sales were almost certainly poor.
So perhaps it was concern about the position in its core market that made it think about possible opportunities elsewhere? Spain had been neutral during the war and its economy would not have suffered as badly as those of the combatant countries. It’s certainly possible that book sales were higher there than in other European markets, and that Tauchnitz with its Europe-wide distribution network could see this in sales of its English language titles. Did that encourage it to try to expand into other parts of the Spanish market?
But why classic German texts, almost all from the nineteenth century, translated into Spanish? The experience of Tauchnitz was in publishing contemporary novels in the original language, a specialist area of the market, shielded to some extent from domestic competition. German language editions in Spain might have been a more natural diversification, although there probably weren’t enough German speakers in Spain, or Germans travelling there, to sustain such a market. Even if they wanted to try translations, why not of contemporary German writers, rather than long dead ones? Other than the problem of copyright fees of course.
There might be a clue in the identity of the principal translator. When the first four volumes in the series appeared in the summer of 1921, it was remarkable that all four were shown as translated by Dr. Maximo Asenjo. Indeed a fifth book in the series was shown as ‘already published’, although it seems not to have appeared until 1922 and when it did, it too was translated by Dr. Asenjo. They’re not particularly long books, mostly under 200 pages, but producing five translations still sounds like quite a marathon piece of work that would have needed a long lead time. Had the series been planned a year or two earlier to allow time to commission translations. Or had the translator produced the work speculatively with no certainty of a publisher?
Maximo Asenjo seems to have had a rather unusual background for a translator. He was a Nicaraguan who had first come to Germany as a medical student in Munich and later become the Nicaraguan Ambassador to Chile. During the war he had attracted attention as the author of a series of articles supporting the German cause in the foreign edition of the ‘Hamburger Nachrichten’. These were then republished in book form in Germany as ‘Deutsche Kämpfer und deutscher Geist!’ (German fighters and German spirit).
The Tauchnitz series eventually ran to a total of ten volumes, seven of them translated by Maximo Asenjo, two by other translators, and one a Spanish language original text by a Guatemalan writer, Flavio Herrera. Only the final book by Herrera, and one earlier title by Rudolf Herzog, were at all contemporary. The other eight were all classic nineteenth century texts. Although the first book in the series was by a Swedish author and had been first published in Swedish, the translation is from the German.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this was almost a personal series reflecting the interests of Maximo Asenjo, and the involvement of Tauchnitz was almost incidental. Was there some personal connection between Asenjo and Curt Otto, then General Manager of Tauchnitz? Or had Asenjo offered his ideas and his translations to other publishers before reaching agreement with Tauchnitz? That they were a German publisher with some access to a distribution network in Spain and even possibly in Central and South America, would have been an attraction to him. Was it in some respect payback for his support of Germany during the war?
I have no idea what the significance was of ‘Rojo y Azul’ (red and blue). These are not the Spanish national colours, or those of Germany, or even of Nicaragua. Did these colours have some other significance? The red and blue design of the books, or rather of the dustwrappers, looks relatively contemporary, certainly more so than that of the standard Tauchnitz Editions at the time, even though they had been redesigned only just before the war. Tauchnitz had never previously used dustwrappers on paperbacks, nor used covers overlapping the edges of the book block as these do. Both changes in a way move the books to be more like hardbacks than paperbacks, although the covers are only in thin card. They certainly don’t look as if they are made with any thought that they might be taken to a bookbinder, as the English language Tauchnitz Editions often were. That was very much a dying practice by the 1920s anyway.
The first four books all had a standard Tauchnitz catalogue bound in at the back, advertising its English language editions, with just the first page altered to contain Spanish language text. In the later titles these were dropped. Four more books appeared in 1922 and the last two in 1923 before the series was abandoned. It seems unlikely that it was a success in sales or financial terms.
The early Cherry Tree Books
Cherry Tree Books was in most respects, just another of the many 6d paperback series started in the years following Penguin’s launch in 1935. The whole paperback publishing industry was desperately trying to work out how to respond to the revolution that Penguin had unleashed, and the basic strategy was to copy them. So the first Cherry Tree Books published in 1937 were the same size as Penguin Books and the same price, had standard designed covers and a dustwrapper in the same design as the cover. At least they didn’t choose another bird as their series name / logo, but the choice of a tree was barely more imaginative.
So what was different about them? In the first place they didn’t come from a normal book publisher, but from a newspaper group, Allied Newspapers, which had its roots in the publishing business of Edward Hulton and was later renamed Kemsley Newspapers. At various times the group owned papers such as the Daily Sketch, the Manchester Evening Chronicle and the Sunday Times, and its printing works at Withy Grove in Manchester printed the northern editions of many of the national newspapers. The building has now been redeveloped as the Printworks Entertainment Centre.
The early books were shown as published by Allied Newspapers and printed by the Withy Grove Press, but soon the newspaper reference was dropped and Withy Grove Press shown as the Publisher. The first few books also carried a sort of manifesto for the series, which was perhaps consciously trying to distinguish them from Penguins and disassociate themselves from any literary pretensions.
Their books, it was claimed, were chosen by ‘a man in the street’ who ‘likes a good yarn’. ‘I might have paid a big fee to a famous star in the literary firmament to choose my titles for me’ writes the series editor in one version, ‘… but this was not our policy’. This sounds like creating a straw man to knock down, as it’s not clear that any of his rivals were doing this either, but the intent seems plain. The series was not meant to be literary or highbrow, although it’s interesting that one of the first three titles was by Arnold Bennett, about as big a star as there was in the literary firmament at that time. It also seems ironic, if not deliberate, that the word ‘firmament’ was mis-spelled.
The initial cover design, which was not very inspired and not very distinctive, lasted for only the first thirteen titles, published between June and November 1937. It exists in two colour variants, with most titles in the green and black design shown above, but at least two romantic novels in the light and dark blue combination illustrated below.
From the beginning of 1938 a much more distinctive design is adopted, with the title in a coloured rectangle against a predominantly black background with a representation of a cherry tree in blossom. For the first few books, possibly only numbers 14 to 22, the rectangle is in green, but after that it’s red and this becomes the very recognisable design that is maintained for more or less the rest of the series, through to 1950.
The list of titles in this period is dominated by crime novels and generally by authors well-known at the time such as Edgar Wallace, P.C. Wren, Bruce Graeme and .John G. Brandon. The series though had reached only about 50 titles when war broke out in 1939, and from the beginning of 1940 (volume 61 onwards) in common with other paperback publishers, they abandoned the use of dustwrappers on paperbacks. Gradually the books became thinner, the type smaller and more cramped, as wartime economy measures began to bite.
It’s noticeable though that the series managed to maintain a substantial publishing programme throughout the war, more so than many other publishers. This may have been because as a newspaper group they had better access to rationed paper than pure book publishers. Even so, the list of around 50 books published in 1940 gradually fell to around 10 to 15 by 1943 and didn’t really come back up much from this level even after the war. The price also increased to 9d at the end of 1942 and adverts started to appear on the back cover, changes that applied to other paperback series around the same time as well.
From 1940 onwards, the series also published war-related non-fiction titles, including notably the ‘Sunday Times’ Diary of the War series, to which Allied Newspapers had access as publisher of the ‘Sunday Times’. Each of these books covered 6 months of the war, and they continued to appear at six-monthly intervals right through to ‘The Twelfth Six Months’ published in September 1945.
More Mary Elizabeth Braddon in Tauchnitz
My post a few months ago looked at the early Tauchnitz Editions of Mary Elizabeth Braddon and particularly the difficulties in identifying first printings. That only covered though the first eleven books (each in two volumes), taking us through to 1868. There were still over 90 more volumes to come over the next 40 years, making Mary Braddon the single most published author in the whole series.
Her works continued to sell well throughout that period and her plots continued to enthral her readers, often based on the revelation of hidden secrets, in the ‘sensation novel’ style then popular. But she also wrote historical fiction and some supernatural stories. Tauchnitz published the vast majority of them at the rate of one or two novels a year almost every year from 1862 right through to 1900. Almost all her novels in this period appeared in two or three volumes in Tauchnitz, having been written for the ‘triple-decker’ market in the UK.
Identifying first printings is not quite as complicated as for the earlier novels and follows the usual Tauchnitz ‘rules’, although even those are far from straightforward. In particular the list of other titles by the same author on the back of the half-title should list only books previously published. As one example, ‘The golden calf’, published by Tauchnitz in two volumes in 1883 (vols. 2133 and 2134), was the thirty-second of Braddon’s works to appear in the series. So thirty-one other titles are listed on the half-title verso of volume 1 in the first printing. There is at least one later reprint that has a list of 45 other titles, and there may be other versions too.
Where copies are still in the original wrappers, then the wrapper date (and the wrapper style) gives a more reliable indication of the date of printing than the date on the title page, which never changes from the date first published. But paperback copies from most of the nineteenth century are relatively rare. Most copies found nowadays have been rebound and usually the two or three paperback volumes have been combined into a single binding, resulting in some quite dumpy-looking books.
As far as I can tell, most of the Braddon novels are not particularly rare in Tauchnitz Editions and they were probably printed in relatively high numbers because of her popularity. Having said that, there are still quite a few of the titles where I have not yet managed to acquire a copy in first printing (at a reasonable price) after 30 years of collecting, so they’re not exactly common either. Even for a popular author, the number of copies printed in Tauchnitz would only have been a few thousand, and time is likely to have reduced the number remaining to a few hundred, if not a few tens of copies.
Rarity though depends on both supply and demand. For most Tauchnitz Editions, demand is very low, so even if few copies remain, they can usually be picked up relatively easily and cheaply. That may be a bit less true for Braddon novels because of the continuing interest in her work and indeed in her life, which at times seemed to resemble the plot of one of her novels.
There’s the broken marriage – her father and mother separated when she was five. There’s the glamorous, but slightly racy, world she moved in as a young woman, starting out as an actress. There’s the hint of scandal when at the age of 25, she moved in with a married man more than 10 years older than her – the publisher John Maxwell, who already had five children. There’s the mad woman lurking in the background – Maxwell’s wife living in a mental asylum in Ireland. And there are the exotic foreign connections – her brother moved to India and then Australia, eventually becoming Premier of Tasmania. Enough for any author to get their teeth into.
But Mary Braddon’s ability to construct intricate plots was far beyond that of most authors and she went on doing it from her twenties through into her sixties and seventies. By about 1900, when she was 63, she was perhaps starting to lose some popularity and her rate of production of new works was starting to fall. There was a three year gap after publication of ‘The infidel’ in 1900, and then just four more titles from 1903 to 1908. ‘During Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, published as volume 4047 of the series in June 1908 was the last of her works to appear, 46 years after ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ had launched her Tauchnitz career in 1862. And that debut novel continued to attract new readers, with reprints of the Tauchnitz Edition continuing at least as late as 1912.
By then though the torch had passed to her son, William Babington Maxwell, who saw his first novel published in Tauchnitz in 1904 and went on himself to have a total of 21 works in the series. Not bad, but hardly on the scale of his mother, who personally accounted for 58 works and a total of 116 volumes in the series over that 46 year period.
John Long Four-Square Thrillers
Yet another new paperback series launched in the busy three or four years after Penguin’s launch in July 1935. Yet another in the Penguin format that I’ve repeatedly referred to – same size, same price (sixpence), typographical cover design with no cover art, dustwrapper in the same design as the cover, and so on. Yet another series from a part of the Hutchinson Group.
It completely baffles me why Hutchinson felt the need to launch another Penguin-style series in addition to the half dozen they already had, and perhaps particularly why they needed another series for thrillers from authors such as Edgar Wallace. The first four books in the John Long Four-Square Thrillers series, launched in September 1938, were all by Edgar Wallace (who had died in 1932). To highlight the point, the back cover of all the books featured an advert for Hutchinson’s Crime Book Society, with a list of titles in the series, including three by Edgar Wallace. Why could the new books not have appeared in that series?
Anyway they did launch another series and had to find a name for it, as usual employing little originality. Previous series from Hutchinson had followed Penguin in using a bird name – Jarrold’s Jackdaw Books and the Toucan Novels. After Penguin’s three coloured bands, Collins had introduced the White Circle and now John Long opted for four squares. Presumably they were attracted by the sense of solidity that four-square evokes, as well as by the prosaic description of the cover design. Except that the design does not really have four squares on it. You don’t need to be a mathematician to recognise that these are four rectangles, but certainly not squares.
Starting with four books by Edgar Wallace was a fairly clear statement of intent about the type of books that was to be expected from this series. The next batch of titles, in January 1939, was more varied in terms of authors, but much the same in terms of style, including titles from Sydney Horler and John Creasey. The 24 volumes in the numbered series from September 1938 to March 1940 included six by Edgar Wallace, five by John Creasey and four by Brian Flynn.
By 1940 of course wartime conditions were starting to bite, publishing programmes were reducing, paper was becoming more scarce and prices were rising. The volumes issued in March 1940 were priced at 7d rather than 6d and later (unnumbered) volumes increased further in price.
The lack of numbering after March 1940, in common with other Hutchinson series in this period, makes it difficult to be sure about exactly how many books were published. The checklist by Richard Williams lists 22 volumes at a shilling, published between September 1940 and around June 1941, but there are question marks against some of them and the books themselves now are very difficult to find. A quick internet search shows not a single copy of any of them currently offered for sale.
Possibly another six appeared around 1942 at 1s 3d, and then the series went into hibernation for the rest of the war, although two books described as John Long Four Square Thrillers appeared in 1945 in the Hutchinson Series of Services Editions, in the normal branding of that series.
Around 1948 to 1949 other books in John Long Four-Square branding appeared at 1s 6d in what was by then effectively a combined series of Hutchinson paperbacks. Again it’s difficult to say exactly how many, but possibly around 15 different titles, again mostly by John Creasey and Edgar Wallace, but also with several horse racing stories by Nat Gould described as John Long Four-Square Racing Thrillers.
The early Tauchnitz Editions of Mary Elizabeth Braddon
The Tauchnitz Edition over its 100 year history included many both famous and prolific authors – Dickens, Trollope, Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw among them. But no single author accounted for more volumes than the rather less well known Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
Rather less well known nowadays, is of course what I mean. In her lifetime she was extremely well known and popular. Although her reputation may have waned, there is still a good deal of interest in her works amongst academics and collectors as well as simply readers. Since 2013 the Mary Elizabeth Braddon Association has existed to promote interest in her life and works, and many of her books have been re-published.
Her breakthrough novel (when she was barely 27 years old) was ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’, first published in book form in 1862 after magazine serialisation. It was in the then popular ‘sensation’ style, usually based on some dreadful secret that is being hidden, before it inevitably comes out. In this case Lady Audley is a secret bigamist who has abandoned her child and doubles down on this by twice attempting murder.
It was phenomenally successful in Britain and inevitably attracted the attention of Tauchnitz, which brought out a continental edition at the end of 1862. The first printing in two volumes (vols. 635 and 636) should list no other titles by the same author on the back of the half-title. Braddon quickly followed it up with another sensation novel, ‘Aurora Floyd’, which surprise, surprise has another young lady heroine who turns out to be a bigamist. The Tauchnitz edition followed almost immediately as volumes 646 and 647, only three months after ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’.
Identification of the first printing is however fraught with difficulty. It would normally be expected to show one other title by the same author (i.e. ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’) on the back of the half-title, and certainly copies in this format exist (see below). Indeed one such paperback copy at the University of Western Ontario has wrappers that identify it as at least very close to a first printing.
However a hardback copy elsewhere is recorded as showing no other titles by the same author, and this is classified in the Tauchnitz bibliography as the first printing. That’s on the principle, generally applicable in other cases, that the fewer other titles listed, the earlier the edition.
Where the list shows all titles published to date that clearly makes sense. But in this case and in several other similar cases around this period, including other Braddon titles, the absence of any list of titles, when in fact Tauchnitz had already published other titles by the author, doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the date of the edition. It just tells you that for whatever reason, Tauchnitz had decided to omit the list of titles.
My best guess from the evidence here and in other similar cases, is that around this time Tauchnitz printed copies of many books in both formats (i.e with a list of other titles and without a list) simultaneously, so that either may be considered a first printing. Possibly in some of the markets where Tauchnitz books were sold, the earlier books by the same author were unavailable or could not be advertised for some reason.
Over the next few years, new novels from Mary Braddon came thick and fast, all or almost all of them sensation novels, and all or almost all of them published in Tauchnitz, for whom she was becoming a key author. Another nine novels appeared over the next five years, each of them in two volumes and for six of them copies are known to exist with no titles listed on the back of the half-title. In five of those cases copies also exist with the ‘correct’ number of previous titles listed and these may well be first printings, although not classified as such in the bibliography.
The exception is the first of them, ‘Eleanor’s Victory’ published in 1863, for which no copies are recorded as having two other titles listed. It seems quite likely however that such copies do exist somewhere. On the other hand, no copies without a list of titles have been recorded for two books – ‘Only a clod’ (published 1865) and ‘Sir Jasper’s tenant’ (published 1866). Again it seems quite likely that copies in this format may turn up some day. From 1868 onwards though, the first printings of all Braddon’s novels have the ‘correct’ number of previously published titles listed, and no examples without a list of titles have been recorded.
There were though still many more Braddon novels to come and I’ll come back some other day to the rest of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s publishing history with Tauchnitz.
Westerns for the troops
The 1920s and 1930s are often thought of as the Golden Age of crime fiction. When Britain went into the Second World War at the end of the 1930s, crime novels were enormously popular and much in demand amongst the services. Not surprisingly the Services Editions, produced for the armed forces, contain a high proportion of crime novels, mostly by British writers, although with a dash of American influence.
But the 1920s and 1930s had also seen growing popularity for westerns, a much less home-grown product – although arguably the country house settings of many British murder mysteries of the period were just as alien to the average British soldier as the Arizona desert.
Collectors of Penguin Books will know that wartime crime novels are the most difficult to find – it’s presumed because they were so avidly read that they fell to pieces. But in the Services Editions there is little doubt that Westerns are the most difficult to find – and again we can only presume that that’s because of their popularity.
Collins was the most prolific publisher of paperback westerns before the war and so was in the best position to offer them in Services Editions, and there’s a review of the thirty-five or so Collins Westerns on this post.
But they were far from the only publisher responding to the evident demand for westerns from the troops. The other main series of Services Editions, from Guild Books, included around ten to a dozen westerns, possibly more, as given their rarity, westerns may well account for several of the missing books in the series, for which no copy has been recorded.
In the Guild Books series, westerns shared a category with crime, mysteries and thrillers, all in red covers, but were identified as westerns in the bottom right corner, if it wasn’t already clear from the title. Many of the separate publishers who contributed books to the series didn’t publish westerns, but George Harrap, Cassell & Co. and Robert Hale were among those who did. There was also at least one western from Collins, although it’s slightly odd that they should have contributed books to the Guild series alongside their own series of Services Editions.
I don’t think that any of the individual titles are much remembered today, if indeed many westerns are. Authors such as George B. Rodney and James B. Hendryx are barely household names in their own households, and several of the author names, such as the unlikely sounding Bliss Lomax and Amos Moore, are pseudonyms anyway.
There is though one western story in another series of Services Editions that does claim a sort of lasting fame. The Hodder & Stoughton Services Yellow Jackets series has at least four westerns in it, including ‘Bar 20’ by Clarence E. Mulford. By 1944 when it appeared, this was already a classic of the genre – first published in 1906, and the first of a series of novels by Mulford to feature Hopalong Cassidy.
So far as I know, there are no westerns in other series of Services Editions, but there is at least one amongst the Hutchinson ‘Free Victory Gift’ books. Copies of ‘Feud at Silver Bend’ by J.E. Grinstead were given a celebratory new wrapper and included in the million books given by Hutchinsons to be distributed to troops.
Hutchinson’s Wild West Pocket Library
This feels almost like a postscript to my previous post on Hutchinson’s Crime Book Society, and maybe in the end that’s what the series was to Hutchinson. But it must have started off with much more optimism.
Hutchinson launched the Crime Book Society in June 1936 and the Wild West Pocket Library followed in October of the same year. Four books were published simultaneously to launch the series, but I can only assume that they sold badly, as no more books were added for almost two years after that. Whether it was the choice of titles or authors, or some failure of marketing, I can’t tell, but they were clearly not a success.
Perhaps it was just that Collins had launched its Wild West Club series only two months earlier and there was not enough of a market to support two apparently very similar series. Perhaps Collins had the better authors, or the better stories. Even their series was relatively slow to get going in comparison to the crime series, although it did in the end last a long time.
Whatever the reason, there was no follow up from Hutchinson to the first four titles until July 1938, when two more were published and even then the format was rather different, so that they hardly look like the same series.
The first four books had an image of a group of cowboys on horseback stretched diagonally across the front cover and came in at least two different colours, green and red. The dustwrappers were largely identical to the covers, except that the price of 6d is shown only on the dustwrappers. By the time the later two books were published in 1938, green had been generally accepted in the market as the colour for crime and yellow as the colour for westerns, so both books are in yellow and have a revised cover design with a smaller line of cowboys in silhouette and the title in a white circle. It looks to me like a bit of a mess of a design and certainly not as striking as the design of the earlier books.
The books were presumably no more successful than the first four had been as they were the last books to be added to the series. Only six books ever appeared.
By 1940 though they must have been willing to try again, as through the Leisure Library, a different part of the Hutchinson group, they launched another very similar attempt, this time branded the ‘Wild West Library’. This series did at least make it as far as twelve titles, although in the end it too was relatively short lived.
Hutchinson’s Crime Book Society
When Penguin launched in July 1935, Hutchinson as one of the existing publishers of 6d paperbacks, had to respond quickly. Hutchinson’s Pocket Library, in a very Penguin-like format, started just three months later in October 1935. It was followed by a rash of other series in a similar format from different parts of the Hutchinson Group over the next few years, including Jackdaw Books, Toucan Novels and Hutchinson’s Popular Pocket Library.
In June 1936, still less than a year after Penguin had started the Paperback Revolution, the Crime Book Society published its first paperbacks. This was again from the Hutchinson Group, but it was not so much a competitive response to Penguin, as a direct competitor for the Collins Crime Club paperbacks, launched in March 1936. At a time when crime novels were extraordinarily popular, Collins were the clear market leader, although they had allowed Penguin’s green crime titles to steal a march on them.
That Hutchinson saw Collins as their main competitor is clear first from the series name. Collins had their Crime Club series, so Hutchinson launched the Crime Book Society series. It was not a new name and had already been used for some hardback publications and had at least some structure of mailing lists, marketing and book selections, as the Crime Club did, but both were really book series rather than traditional clubs or societies.
It’s also very clear from the cover design. Collins had a stylised design with two masked figures holding a knife and a gun. Hutchinson opted for a single hand with a smoking gun as the main design, and a smaller hand with a dagger in the series panel and on the spine. Collins had the title and author name in a large white circle and the Crime Club logo in a small white circle. Hutchinson had the title and author name in two separate white circles and the logo and series number in smaller circles. On the dustwrappers, Hutchinson replaced the hand with a dagger with the 6d price, while Collins replaced the Crime Club logo with the 6d price.
It should be said though that it was not until a year or so later that Collins adopted ‘White Circle’ as an overall name for their various paperback series, so the use of white circles by Hutchinson was not as aggressive a marketing move as it might appear in retrospect.
Hutchinson also eventually settled on a very similar green to Collins for the colour of its covers, although it didn’t start off like that. The early titles come in a variety of colours, as used for Hutchinson’s Pocket Library, but from about volume 26 onwards they are all green. Green seems almost to have been adopted as an industry standard for paperback crime novels and gradually phased out for non-crime titles.
The one thing that Hutchinson couldn’t easily copy was the quality of authors represented in the Collins Crime Club. Where Collins had Agatha Christie, G.D.H. & M. Cole, Freeman Wills Crofts and John Rhode /Miles Burton, Hutchinson had Hugh Clevely, Seldon Truss and Grierson Dickson. Fine authors they may have been, but it has to be said that they have made little mark on literary history. Other largely forgotten authors in the series included Dawson Gratrix, Leo Grex and Peter Drax – what was it about surnames (or pseudonyms) ending in x?
On the other hand, Hutchinson did have Edgar Wallace and that was almost a guarantee of popularity and of sales. It points though to a suggestion that perhaps the Hutchinson list was biased more towards thrillers than pure detective stories. Collins tended to have a purist approach to crime novels, that treated them almost as puzzles, with appropriate clues for the reader to test himself or herself against the fictional detective. Thrillers, that prioritised excitement and fast-paced adventure, were for Collins a different type of novel, but Hutchinson don’t really seem to have had this distinction.
The first batch of eight titles published in June 1936 actually had quite a distinguished and well recognisable selection of authors, including Baroness Orczy, Eden Phillpotts and Sydney Horler alongside Edgar Wallace. But none of these are really known principally as crime writers in the Collins Crime Club sense, so again the focus seems more to be on thrillers. Some other titles later in the series look to be more like ghost or horror stories than simple crime.
Whatever the genre, the books must have sold relatively well, as the series prospered, or at least lengthened steadily. By the outbreak of war in September 1939 it had reached volume 67 and over the next few months the count increased to 81 by August 1940 and later to at least 85 before the numbering stopped. A few further titles were issued during the war, in a much slimmer wartime economy standard format, first with the price increased to 9d, and later to 1s 6d. Some of these later ones were shown as published by the Readers’ Library Publishing Company in association with Hutchinson, rather than directly by Hutchinson, but I suspect the difference is fairly small.
I know of one single Crime Book Society title published as a Services Edition, although there may well be others. Then after the war, the Crime Book Society seems to have gone back to being principally a hardback series, although a small number of the paperbacks were reprinted in a format very similar to the pre-war editions. These were again priced at 1s 6d, unnumbered, and treated as part of a combined reprint programme of pre-war Hutchinson paperbacks that included books from various series.