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.
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 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.
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.
Tauchnitz made its name publishing contemporary English literature in Germany and selling it throughout continental Europe, in a series that ran to over 5000 volumes over a period of 100 years from 1841. Publishing contemporary French literature might have seemed a natural brand extension, but they never tried it.
In modern day terms, the reasons may seem obvious. English is much more widely spoken than French, particularly as a second language, so the market for French literature would be much smaller. But it’s not obvious that would have been so much the case 175 years ago, when Tauchnitz launched. You only need to read Tolstoy to know that in the early 19th century, French was the second language for many educated Europeans. And the Napoleonic Wars had left much of Europe under French control, barely 30 years before Tauchnitz started publishing.
Nor is it obvious that French literature would have been any less popular, or less widely read. The romantic novels of Walter Scott had been successful in Europe and with the rise of Charles Dickens, English literature was perhaps entering a golden age. But in France, writers such as Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas were similarly popular. Was there not a market for publishing their works in the original language in other countries in Europe, including Britain as well?
There almost certainly was a market, but not it seems one where Tauchnitz felt he could achieve any competitive advantage. The difference seems to have been that French literature was already widely available throughout Europe in cheap editions. These were often pirated by Belgian publishers, but even the French originals were significantly cheaper than British novels. Given the very public stance that Tauchnitz had taken on paying authors for copyright in respect of English language novels, they could hardly take a different approach with French authors, and they perhaps saw no easy way to compete.
Instead Tauchnitz tried for a period to sell classic French works, from long-dead authors, where the question of copyright payments was no longer relevant. Their series ‘La France Classique’ was launched in 1845, just 3 years or so after the ‘Collection of British Authors’, but ran to just 18 volumes over a 14 year period, so presumably was not a success.
Half of those volumes appeared in the very first year, 1845, including works by Racine, Voltaire and Rousseau, as well as an edition of the fables of La Fontaine. 1846 saw a four volume edition of the works of Molière, but after that there was nothing further until two single volumes in 1849 and 1850. It was clear by then that there was little interest in extending the series, although a two volume edition of Corneille was published in 1852 and a final volume of Voltaire’s ‘Henriade’ in 1859.
The first printings of all bar the final volume showed the publisher’s name on the title page as ‘Bern. Tauchnitz Jeune’. The final volume and reprints of earlier volumes show the publisher as ‘Bernard Tauchnitz’ (using the French, rather than German spelling of Bernard). I haven’t seen enough copies to be able to distinguish any other variants, although as always paperback copies can be distinguished by which other volumes in the series they advertise on the wrappers. It seems likely that the series continued to be sold even after the final volume appeared in 1859, although possibly only until stocks were exhausted.
Like other Tauchnitz Editions, the French volumes are now found in a wide variety of bindings
Having failed to achieve any competitive advantage in publishing French literature, Tauchnitz then retired from the fray and concentrated on English literature. The firm did eventually return to publishing in French many years later, but not until the Second World War. By then the circumstances were very different, and that’s another story.
I used to work for a company, Eagle Star Insurance, which claimed to have been founded in 1807. It was useful for an insurance company to have been around for a long time. It gave you more confidence that it might still be around when you came to make a claim, or when your 30 year pension policy finally matured.
The claim was nonsense, really. Eagle Star had actually been founded by Edward Mountain as the British Dominions Marine Insurance Company in 1904. It later bought up older companies, including the Eagle Insurance Company (founded in 1807) and the Star, before renaming itself as the Eagle, Star and British Dominions in 1917. Twenty years later it dropped the British Dominions bit to become just Eagle Star, and adopted the history of the Eagle company, as well as its name. In my time there, Eagle Star employed an archivist and had a small museum with such treasures as an insurance policy issued to Charles Dickens.
But when Eagle Star in turn was bought up by Zurich Insurance Company, that history was no longer wanted. Zurich had a little earlier celebrated the 125th anniversary of its founding in Zurich in 1872 and had its own museum. It had no interest in tracing new roots back to London 65 years earlier. The Eagle Star museum was closed and a new home was sought for the archive. It ended up in the City of London’s Guildhall Library, where it still is, including that Dickens policy.
Publishing is another industry, like insurance, where large numbers of companies have been amalgamated into a small number of modern conglomerates. So when HarperCollins, a business that has been around for less than 30 years, announces that it is celebrating its 200th anniversary, it’s a reasonable question to ask exactly what it is that goes back 200 years. For example, Thomas Nelson, one of the many publishing companies belonging to HarperCollins, was founded in Edinburgh in 1798. It could have celebrated its 200th anniversary almost 20 years ago. ‘William Collins, Sons’ was founded in Glasgow in 1819, so still has two years to wait.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the company that dates back 200 years is the American firm of J & J Harper. I suppose they’re regarded as the company that came out on top in the various mergers, and it’s the winners who get to write the history. So the history of HarperCollins starts in 1817. And it has to be said that it’s an impressive history, showcased in their wonderful anniversary website at http://200.hc.com/
The business has combined so many publishing companies over the years that the list of books first published by its various subsidiaries is long and includes many titles that have become part of the culture. William Collins was Agatha Christie‘s publisher for most of her books, J. B. Lippincott was the publisher of ‘To kill a mockingbird’ and Lippincott’s Magazine saw the first publication of the Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The sign of (the) four’. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was first published by George Allen and Unwin, C.S. Lewis’s early Narnia books were published by Geoffrey Bles, and Harper Brothers published American classics such as ‘A tree grows in Brooklyn’, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, and later ‘The Exorcist’. All of these are now part of HarperCollins. It has collected history as if it were collecting stamps.
So Happy Birthday, HarperCollins, and congratulations on your first 200 years … or so.
The relationship between Charles Dickens and Bernhard Tauchnitz was much closer and friendlier than is often the case between authors and publishers. The letters between the two men were both very numerous and very cordial. They were also preserved for a long time. But where are they now?
“I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.’, writes Dickens in 1846, “But I have every reason to rely upon your honourable intentions; and if you will do me the favour to state your own proposal, I have little doubt that I shall be willing to assent to it …”. Then in 1854, “… It was a matter of real regret to me that I was abroad when you were in London. For it would have given me true pleasure to have taken your hand and thanked you with all heartiness for your friendship. I hope to do so on the occasion of your next visit, and also that it will not be long before you return here. Mrs. Dickens and her sister unite with me in best regards to yourself and family.”.
Bernhard Tauchnitz and Charles Dickens
The two men had known each other since 1843, when Dickens was 31 and Tauchnitz just 26. Dickens was undoubtedly the star author in the Tauchnitz series. The Tauchnitz Editions were the only authorised editions of Dickens’ work to be published in continental Europe in English, and covered all of his novels, as well as a long series of volumes reprinted from ‘Household Words’. So the correspondence between the two men is evidence of a long and trusting relationship.
The letters from Dickens were kept by Tauchnitz, along with correspondence from other authors. When the firm celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1887 by publishing an anniversary history and catalogue, the book included excerpts from letters sent to Tauchnitz from various authors who had by then died, including Dickens. A shorter anniversary publication 25 years later in 1912 gave even greater prominence to the correspondence. This time a dedicated section on letters from Dickens preceded a general section on letters from all other authors.
In 1937 the Centenary publication contained facsimiles of a small number of author letters, with pride of place again going to a letter from Dickens. This was followed by a selection of contemporary letters of congratulation on the centenary from prominent people such as the British Prime Minister and the Archbishop of York. At that point it seems clear that the archive of author correspondence was still in existence. Presumably it remained the property of Tauchnitz, by then legally owned by Brandstetter, the firm that printed both Tauchnitz and Albatross books. However Albatross, based in Paris, exercised editorial control over both firms, so it’s certainly possible that some or all correspondence had moved location.
In December 1943, the printing works of Brandstetter in Leipzig were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, and it has since been widely assumed that the archive was destroyed at that time. On the 125th anniversary of Tauchnitz in 1962 what remained of the Tauchnitz firm, by then based in Stuttgart, published a final short Festschrift. It again quoted extracts from two letters from Dickens, but as both of these had already been published in the earlier anniversary histories, they do not provide evidence that the archive was still in existence. Instead, rather ominously the Festschrift (roughly translated) says that ‘… most of the documents relating to the history and development of the firm in its old home town of Leipzig were destroyed in 1943, or are currently unobtainable as a result of the unhappy division of our country’.
That unhappy division came to an end in 1990 and with it the first evidence that at least some of the documents had survived. For that evidence we are indebted to Gunter Böhnke, who discovered and transcribed some of the letters from Dickens to Tauchnitz, and to his son, Dietmar Böhnke, a lecturer at the University of Leipzig, who has more recently published them. Gunter Böhnke in 1991 discovered 34 of Dickens’ letters to Tauchnitz and about 30 others by various Dickens family members and other publishers, in the archive of one of the state owned publishing and printing firms that were about to be dismantled following German reunification. He photocopied and transcribed them before handing them back. Unfortunately they have since been lost and there is now no record of what has happened to them.
Other evidence that the archive may have survived comes from a single letter that I was able to buy at auction several years ago – see my post on A letter from Charles Dickens. This letter was not one of those transcribed by Gunter Böhnke, and was not acknowledged in the auction as being from Dickens, so presumably it must have been separated from other letters, probably before 1991.
It appears that at some stage the Tauchnitz archive was broken up. Large parts of it may by now have been lost or destroyed, even if they survived the 1943 attack. But there does remain the intriguing possibility that other letters, including those seen in 1991, still exist and may turn up again some day. That could include not only multiple letters from Dickens, but a treasure trove of letters from other leading authors of the 19th and 20th centuries.
By the time war broke out in 1939, the Collins White Circle series was well established as a serious competitor to Penguin, particularly in the area of genre fiction – crime, mystery, westerns and romantic novels. The Crime Club section of the series had published around 80 titles and the Westerns were up to 30 or more. Titles continued to be added throughout 1940 and 1941, but gradually paper rationing started to bite. Books had to meet the War Economy standard and the flow of new titles slowed to a trickle.
A paper quota was available though for the paperback Services Editions, and this was one area where Penguin had got it wrong, launching the misconceived ‘Forces Book Club’ and then withdrawing from the market. It was an opportunity for Collins to make an impression, and their product was in some ways ideal for it. Romantic fiction was not going to work, for what were then almost exclusively male armed forces, but the other categories in their White Circle series could carry straight across. Crime novels and Westerns were just what the Services wanted.
White Circle Westerns in standard format and in Services Edition
Over the period from 1943 to 1946 the Collins series of Services Editions published 164 titles, including at least 33 Westerns, and probably 36. I don’t know exactly how many because I have no idea of the titles of the books numbered c327, c328 and c330. If anyone does know, or even better has a copy of any of these books, I’d be delighted to hear from them. The other books with similar numbers are Westerns, so it seems likely that these are too, but I can’t be sure.
Certainly the series started with eight Westerns in the first sixteen titles. See my post on the early Collins Services Editions for more detail. It’s enough for now to say that those first eight Westerns have almost disappeared without trace. In over 25 years of searching for them, I have found only one in first printing and two others in reprints.
The next batch through to the end of 1944 is not much better. I have found copies of just four of the twelve books, but I do at least know the titles of the others, although not their series numbers. Any evidence of the books below in Services Editions would be welcome.
|Curran, Tex||Riding fool|
|Dawson, Peter||Time to ride|
|Ermine, Will||Watchdog of Thunder River|
|Lee, Ranger||Red shirt|
|Lee, Ranger||The silver train|
|Robertson, F. C.||Rustlers on the loose|
|Robertson, F. C.||Kingdom for a horse|
|Short, Luke||Ride the man down|
That leaves a further thirteen, possibly sixteen, Westerns published in 1945 and 1946. I have copies of seven of them, some of which I’ve seen more than once, so I suppose they’re a little more common, which is what you’d expect, but they’re still frustratingly difficult to find.
That’s true of almost all Services Editions, but Westerns do seem to be particularly rare. It’s true for the smaller number of Westerns in the Guild Books series of Services Editions as well. I’m pretty sure that the Westerns were printed in at least as large quantities as other titles, but they seem to have survived less well. I can only assume that’s because they had more use, they were read more avidly and more often, passed around more or borrowed more often from unit libraries. Services Editions were printed on poor quality paper, and often stored and read in battlefield conditions, and in hot damp climates, so they wouldn’t survive repeated use for long.
Or possibly Westerns were just seen as more disposable, and have continued to be seen in that way. When service libraries were being cleared out, were Westerns more likely to be thrown away? If they survived that clear-out and were accepted into somebody’s home, were they still more likely to end up in the bin than other types of fiction? If they got as far as a second-hand bookshop, would bookdealers have considered them worthy of a place on the shelf? Or would they have ended up in a box in a dark corner or have been consigned to a cellar to moulder and die?
Most of the Westerns in the series were written under pseudonyms, and around a third of the books came from a single author, Charles Horace Snow. He contributed books under three different names – four books as Ranger Lee, four as Gary Marshall and three as Wade Smith. Another eight books came from two brothers – four by Frederick Glidden under the name of Luke Short, and four by his brother Jonathan under the name of Peter Dawson.
I don’t think any of them are much read now. Westerns were enormously popular in wartime and in the postwar years, but interest in them seems to have gone down and down. Finding copies of these books, or even any information about them, is a race against time.
On the title page of early Tauchnitz Editions, the publisher’s name is shown as ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ On any edition published after 1852 it is shown as ‘Bernard Tauchnitz’. That added Jun. is an important indicator of the age of the book. But why and how?
When Bernhard Tauchnitz started his own publishing firm in 1837, he was not even 21 years old. He was certainly young, but’junior’ usually means younger, rather than young. So who was he younger than? I haven’t been able to find any evidence of his father’s name, but it would make some sense if his father had also been Bernhard Tauchnitz.
However, according to an article written by Tighe Hopkins in 1901, Bernhard’s father had died while his son was quite young, so even if he was called Bernhard, there was probably no need to add ‘Jun.’ to distinguish the son from his father. But if not needed to distinguish the two, it may still have been a way of referencing and paying respect to his father.
Extract from an article by Tighe Hopkins in 1901
Or was it more a way of distinguishing Bernhard from his uncle Karl Tauchnitz, whose name was already well known as a printer and publisher in Leipzig? Bernhard had been apprenticed to his uncle Karl for several years before launching his own firm. It was where he had learned the publishing business. The firm of Karl Tauchnitz published cheap editions of Latin and Greek classics, and had introduced to Germany the stereotype method of printing.
There was certainly some risk of confusion between the two companies, and many of Bernhard’s early publications were also in Latin. But they had different first names, so it’s not obvious that adding ‘Jun.’ to one of them would make much difference. Anyway Karl Tauchitz had died in 1836 (possibly one of the factors pushing Bernhard to start his own business) and the business had passed to his son, also called Karl (or Carl). So in some ways there would have been more justification for adding a ‘Jun.’ to Karl Tauchnitz’s name.
The description ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ is mostly now seen on English language books, but it’s worth noting that it first appeared in 1837 or 1838, some 4 years before the start of the ‘Collection of British Authors’. It was probably first used on Latin books and in that context makes perfect sense. Junior may now be mostly thought of as an English word, but its origin is in Latin, as a contraction of ‘juvenior’ meaning younger. Was that why Bernhard chose ‘Jun.’ rather than the German equivalent, ‘der Jüngere’. I’m not sure how normal it is to use Jun. as an abbreviation in German. It was certainly used by Tauchnitz on German books as well as on Latin and English ones, but on French books he used instead ‘Bern. Tauchnitz Jeune’.
Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun. imprint in a Latin book (with a neat monogram as well)
Imprint from a French language edition
At the end of 1852, Tauchnitz dropped the ‘Jun.’ and styled himself simply ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ on all subsequent title pages. He was by then 36 and a very successful publisher, so perhaps Junior was no longer appropriate. Now, 150 years later though, it’s useful that there are these two different descriptions. Tauchnitz Editions are very difficult to date, and they provide a quick way to distinguish early editions.
In broad terms, any book that says ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ is printed before 1853, and anything that says ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ is no earlier than late 1852. In particular the first printings of volumes 1 to 246 in the Collection of British Authors, all (with the one exception of volume 237) say ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’. Any copy of these books that says ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ must be a reprint, even if there is nothing else to indicate it as such.
It’s the very first thing I look for in any early Tauchnitz, in particular any volume dated 1852 or earlier on the title page. A lot of these books were reprinted many times, over almost the next 100 years, and all still with the original first printing date on the title page. So reprints vastly outnumber first printings, and it’s far more common to see ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ on the title page rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’. But as soon as you see it, you know it’s a reprint.
Pirate publishers in Continental Europe and in America were a constant irritant to Charles Dickens. There was probably no other author who suffered as much at their hands. Dickens’s early works were widely pirated in Europe until the first international copyright treaties, starting with the treaty in 1846 between Prussia and the United Kingdom.
Even many years after that, they were still being pirated in the US and Dickens became a very vocal campaigner for the introduction of international copyright laws. He never succeeded in his lifetime. It was not until 1891 that the US introduced an International Copyright Act, and even then it refused to join the international Berne Convention. Perhaps worth remembering when Americans complain about the lack of copyright protection in China and elsewhere? Trump will not be the first US president to co-operate with other countries only when it suits him.
All this was far into the future when Bernhard Tauchnitz first launched his series of English language novels in Germany in 1841. He was free to publish the novels of British Authors without any restriction or any payment, and he enthusiastically joined the pirate band. To his credit, he realised relatively quickly that the life of a pirate was not for him and set about building relationships with authors, including Dickens. But for the first 18 months or so, Tauchnitz Editions were unauthorised pirate editions.
Dickens was the new rising star of English literature at that time, challenging the establishment of writers such as Bulwer Lytton, G.P.R. James, Captain Marryat and Walter Scott (who had died 10 years earlier). The works of all of these authors were widely available in Europe in unauthorised editions, both in English and in translation. So Tauchnitz was far from the first to publish ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ when it appeared as volumes 47 and 48 of his ‘Collection of British authors’ in 1843.
Dickens wrote the novel in 1838 / 1839, publishing it in monthly instalments from March 1838 to October 1839. Before the final instalment was published, possibly even before it was written, pirate versions of the earlier chapters were appearing. In 1838, Georg Westerman in Braunchweig was already publishing ‘Leben und Abenteuer des Nicolaus Nickleby. Herausgegeben von Boz, dem Verfasser der Pickwicker‘. By 1939 the novel had been published in English by J.J. Weber and Frederick Fleischer in Germany and from Paris had appeared in Baudry’s European Library. In the same year it was published in the US by Lea and Blanchard in Philadelphia and apparently by two New York publishers, William H. Colyer and James Turney. It seems fairly safe to assume that none of these publishers paid anything to Dickens.
A pirate German language edition of Nicholas Nickleby, already in 1839, the Second Edition
By early June 1843 when the Tauchnitz Edition of Nickleby appeared, Tauchnitz had already published ‘The Pickwick Papers’ as volumes 2 and 3 of his series, ‘American Notes for general circulation’ as volume 32 and ‘Oliver Twist’ as volume 36. After Nickleby, ‘Sketches by Boz’ followed a month or two later, bringing the number of unauthorised Dickens volumes to seven. But change was underway. Dickens had returned from a six month tour of America in 1842 outraged at the piracy of his works. In May 1843 he chaired a first meeting of the ‘Association for the Protection of Literature’. Six weeks after that Tauchnitz made his move, proposing voluntary payment to authors. His first authorised volume, by G.P.R. James, appeared in August 1843, and by the end of the year he was able to publish a fully authorised edition of Dickens’ latest work, ‘A Christmas Carol’.
So that first unauthorised printing of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ in a Tauchnitz Edition was one of the last few pirate editions Tauchnitz ever published. It can be identified by the lack of any copyright notice on the title page. All later printings still show 1843 on the title page, but say clearly ‘copyright edition’. Any copy printed after about 1853 will also show the later form of the publisher’s name, as ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’
The title page from a later reprint showing ‘Copyright Edition’ and ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’
It’s not clear to what extent the agreement with Dickens was retrospective, offering payment for works already published and copies already sold. But it would be surprising if Tauchnitz didn’t offer some payment to wash away his previous sins. Certainly he seems to have done enough to earn the gratitude of Dickens and to establish cordial relations with him for the rest of his life. But however much absolution Tauchnitz later received, that first Tauchnitz printing of Nicholas Nickleby still has a tinge of piracy about it.
Having recently written a post about the Jarrold’s Jackdaw Library, it seems appropriate to follow it up with one about the Toucan novels. The two series seem to go together in several ways. They both came from the Hutchinson group of publishers, and they share a physical similarity, not only with each other, but with almost all the new paperback series launched in those few years after Penguin’s breakthrough. They also share, with each other and with Collins, the use of a white circle as the main title panel.
And of course they both use a bird as their brand and series title. They were far from the only series to do so in the period after the launch of Penguin Books.
Toucans and Jackdaws – birds of a feather
In choosing a Toucan as their brand, Hutchinson may have had one eye on Penguin and on Jackdaw, but they probably had the other eye on Guinness, whose famous toucan had appeared just two years earlier. What would previously have been a rather obscure bird, had been propelled to the centre of media attention by the Guinness advertising campaign.
In reviewing Jackdaw, I asked the question why Hutchinson needed another paperback series in October 1936. At that point they already had the Hutchinson Pocket Library, the Hutchinson Popular Pocket Library and the Crime Book Society series, all launched within the previous 12 months. So it’s even more strange that just 4 months later they launched yet another new series and another new brand. Was there really a market space left for the Toucan Novels when they appeared in February 1937?
I can’t work out whether it was a deliberate strategy not to put all their eggs in one basket, or just a lack of strategic co-ordination within the group.
Other Hutchinson 6d series from 1935 / 1936
Toucan at least showed some evidence of co-ordination, as the books came from several different publishing imprints within the Hutchinson Group. Most of the first group of titles came from Hurst & Blackett, although there were two from Hutchinson itself. Then a group of books from Stanley Paul and another from John Long. But like Jackdaw, and like several other new paperback series in the 1930s, there was then a pause after an initial rush of titles. It took time for the market to adjust to yet another new paperback series, and time for the initial print run to sell out.
After volume 20 appeared in June 1937, there were no new titles for almost a year, then a small group of titles in summer 1938, but it was not until May 1939 that the series really got going again. The main publisher in this second phase was Stanley Paul, although there were also books from Hurst & Blackett and a few from Skeffington & Son.
The covers of the early books were printed in two colours to highlight the Toucan’s yellow beak, and most of the early books were in a purply crimson colour, with a few in green. The group of books from volumes 17 to 20, all published by John Long, are missing the yellow highlighting on the book covers, although it is still there on the dust-wrappers. Was this an economy measure, saving on two colour printing in a place where it would not normally be noticed by the purchaser? Or was it just a mistake?
Front cover and dust-wrapper of volume 17
It turned out, perhaps inadvertently, to be a herald of the future. From around volume 32 onwards, possibly earlier, all or almost all books were printed with yellow covers. This allowed the toucan’s beak to be yellow without the need for two-colour printing, although it did lose some of the earlier impact. A little while later, dust-wrappers were dropped, and then prices started to creep up, with some volumes selling for a while at 7d, before wartime economy measures really started to bite.
An early Toucan in green and a later one in yellow
By mid 1940 it was impossible to continue on anything like the pre-war basis, and the numbered series came to an end with volume 62. A few more books were published during the war, effectively as one-offs, but they had to meet the war economy standard, which meant low paper quality, small fonts and small margins, making the most of the paper rationing that was hitting all publishers. I know of two wartime Toucans at 9d, although there may well be others. Then later, at least three books at 1s 3d, and post-war others at 1s 6d.
The books published in the Toucan series had no great literary pretensions, and few of them are much remembered today. The authors are generally pretty obscure, although there is one Edgar Wallace title and perhaps most significantly, two of the Maigret books by Georges Simenon. Simenon was at that time so little known in Britain that he had to be described on the book cover as ‘The Edgar Wallace of France’.
As a final comment, seven books in the Hutchinson Group series of Services Editions were also referred to as Toucan Novels in a brief mention at the top of the cover. It’s not entirely clear what the point of this was, as there was no other Toucan branding, and only one of the books had previously appeared as a Toucan novel. Indeed three were from a publisher, Rich and Cowan, which had not previously contributed books to the Toucan series. But it’s one of many examples of confusion in branding within the Hutchinson Group at that time.