By the time P.G. Wodehouse first appeared in a Tauchnitz Edition in 1924, he was already a well-established and successful writer with around 20 novels to his name. For an author who went on to have around 40 books published by Tauchnitz, this was a surprisingly late start. But Wodehouse had started to come to prominence just as the First World War effectively took the German firm out of the market for new English language books, and the effects of the war lingered on for several years afterwards.
It was at least 1923 before Tauchnitz could get back to anything like a normal publishing programme and it never really recovered its former dominance of the market. The ability to spot promising new writers and publish their latest works almost simultaneously with the first UK editions, had been a defining feature of the business for much of the nineteenth century, but by the mid-1920s it was a fading memory. And Tauchnitz was entering a period that would prove to be one of the most turbulent of its existence. So we should perhaps be grateful that they were able to publish Wodehouse at all.
As usual with a new writer, Tauchnitz were keen to start with Wodehouse’s latest new work, rather than going back to earlier works. So the first in the series was a volume of short stories, ‘Ukridge’, published in the UK in June 1924, and then two months later in Tauchnitz as volume 4651, dated August 1924 at the top of the back wrapper on the first printing.
As always with Tauchnitz paperbacks, it’s the date on the back wrapper that’s important for dating, rather than the date on the title page, which remains fixed at the first printing year, even on reprints many years later. First printing paperbacks from this period also have a distinctive two column format for the latest volumes, which was not used on reprints.
For Tauchnitz Editions from the 1920s and 1930s far more copies do survive in paperback than is the case for 19th century novels and they’re much easier to date than bound copies, so I’ve focused on these.
Wodehouse’s next new novel was ‘Bill the Conqueror’, published in the UK in November 1924 and again following rapidly in Tauchnitz as volume 4669, dated January 1925 in the first printing (and listing only ‘Ukridge’ on the back of the half-title). Another volume of short stories, ‘Carry on, Jeeves’, appeared in the UK in October 1925 and the novel ‘Sam the sudden’ came out in the same month. Both were taken up by Tauchnitz – ‘Carry on, Jeeves!’ as volume 4710, dated November 1925 and ‘Sam the sudden’ as volume 4714, dated January 1926.
The pattern seemed to be set, with Tauchnitz taking each new work of Wodehouse’s as quickly as possible after UK printing. But prolific as Wodehouse was, new works were not coming fast enough to satisfy the appetite of continental readers, and there was still a temptingly long list of older works that could be issued. So along with the next volume of short stories, ‘The heart of a goof’ (volume 4641, dated July 1926), Tauchnitz also published a much earlier work ‘ Love among the chickens’ (volume 4640, July 1926), that Wodehouse had first written in 1906 and then rewritten in 1921.
Two other older works, ‘Psmith, journalist’ (vol. 4776, April 1927) and ‘Leave it to Psmith’ (vol. 4777, April 1927) followed in 1927 and from then on two or three new volumes were added almost every year, in a mix of completely new works and older works, both novels and short story collections. By mid 1929, when Curt Otto, the Managing Director, died, fourteen volumes of P.G. Wodehouse had been issued by Tauchnitz.
The incoming General Manager, Christian Wegner, set about making some significant changes, starting with a modernisation of the cover design for the series. After keeping essentially the same cover design for the first 70 years of its existence, a first real change had come in 1914, and now it was entering on a period of continual change. The new design appeared on a Wodehouse novel for the first time, with publication of ‘Mr. Mulliner speaking (vol. 4963, November 1930), followed quickly by ‘Very good, Jeeves!’ (vol. 4983, March 1931) and ‘Summer lightning’ (vol. 4995, June 1931).
Fourteen books appeared in the revised design taking the total to 28 and then from 1935, there was another change. Wegner had left under a cloud, but by mid 1934 he was effectively back as one of the managers of Albatross Books, which took over editorial control of Tauchnitz. The two lists for Albatross and Tauchnitz were managed together, but with Wodehouse remaining very much a Tauchnitz writer, with no entry to the (arguably more prestigious) Albatross list.
Another new cover design was launched in mid 1935, this time colour-coded to indicate genre. All Wodehouse volumes were coded orange, the colour for ‘tales and short stories, humorous and satirical works’. Shortly afterwards the size of the books changed to match the size of the Albatross volumes and dustwrappers in the same design as the covers were introduced, again in line with Albatross.
A further new design was introduced in 1938 that used colour more strikingly, but by this time war was approaching fast, and with it the end of the Tauchnitz series.
‘The code of the Woosters’, issued in June 1939 as volume 5357, was the last Wodehouse title to appear in the series before the outbreak of the Second World War, but it was not to be the last title of all. Wodehouse had been living in Le Touquet in France and was interned by the Germans after the invasion of France. He wrote ‘Money in the Bank’ on a typewriter provided by the Germans while in internment and the text was made available to Tauchnitz. It appeared in August 1943 as the very last volume in the Tauchnitz series, volume 5370, bringing the total number of Wodehouse works published in the series up to thirty-nine. It was the only new writing in English to be published in the Tauchnitz series after 1939.
Along with the infamous broadcasts on German radio, this was another example of Wodehouse being perhaps too willingly duped by the enemy. Certainly for them it was a publicity coup, and the book seems to have been printed in substantial numbers, although it’s hard to imagine much market in Germany in 1943 for Wodehouse’s brand of comedy.
The story should really end here. Shortly after publication of ‘Money in the bank’, the Tauchnitz premises were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid and after 100 years and 5370 volumes, the Tauchnitz Collection of British (and American) Authors came to an end.
But in fact it’s not the end of the story. After the war there were various attempts to revive Tauchnitz. A series of books reprinted from Hamburg, included ‘Money in the Bank’ as volume 16 in 1949. Then a short series of mostly new works published from Stuttgart, included two Wodehouse volumes -‘The mating season’ (volume 107 in 1952) and ‘Ring for Jeeves’ (volume 137 in 1954).
Neither of these post-war ventures was much of a success, and although no new volumes were published after 1955, unsold stock hung around for many years. In an attempt to shift it, more modern covers were added in the early 1960s and ‘Ring for Jeeves’ was certainly one of the books to appear in this style, at least the eighth style of wrapper to be applied to Wodehouse volumes by Tauchnitz.
There were a large number of fiction magazines in Victorian Britain, publishing short stories and /or serialised versions of full novels. Dickens had been one of the pioneers of the format, editing ‘Household Words’ and ‘All the year round’ for many years. By the 1890s, there were many more magazines and a small industry of authors providing appropriate material for them.
So, it was probably natural that Tauchnitz, the dominant publisher of English language books on the continent, should be interested in the idea of publishing a continental equivalent. The Tauchnitz Magazine was launched in August 1891 as a monthly magazine of 80 pages, usually with between five and seven short stories, followed by some publishing industry gossip and a review of the latest volumes of the Tauchnitz Edition.
Each issue was sold in light blue wrappers, highly decorated, with a heraldic crest at the top combining the arms of both Britain and the United States with those of Tauchnitz himself. The eighty pages of text were preceded by around six pages of adverts and there was also advertising on the back and on the inside of the covers, often but not always for other Tauchnitz publications.
According to an introduction in the first issue, the magazine aimed ‘to satisfy a want long felt by all readers of English and American literature on the Continent, and especially by English and American tourists’. The price is at first shown as 50 pfennigs or 65 centimes, but on later issues only as 50 pfennigs, suggesting that sales may have been limited principally to Germany. This is also suggested by the German language being used in some of the advertising in later issues for Tauchnitz Dictionaries and the Students’ Edition.
The first few issues were edited in the UK under the control of James Payn, editor of the Cornhill magazine and a regular Tauchnitz author. From issue number 6 onwards they were edited in Leipzig, but followed the same format, with many of the stories appearing also in one or other of the UK fiction magazines, such as the Strand magazine, the Idler or Longman’s magazine. It’s possible that in other cases the Tauchnitz magazine may have been the first or only publication for a story, but I’m not aware of any comprehensive research into this.
Generally the stories were by much the same authors as appeared in the main Tauchnitz series, among them Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Jerome K. Jerome. But there were less familiar names too such as George Burgin, Francis Gribble and George Lionel Stevens.
The magazine survived for only two years from August 1891 to July 1893. Circulation is likely to have been low, possibly only a thousand copies or so, and few have survived. Copies in the original wrappers are now rare (do contact me if you have any), but some copies were bound, usually in volumes containing six issues. In most cases the bound volumes do not contain either the original wrappers or the advertising pages, but of course they’re much more likely to survive than unbound magazines.
I’ve been collecting UK Services Editions for around thirty years. I can remember the moment I started, when I was looking for something else and came across a couple of Guild Books Services Editions in the Hay Cinema bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. I can remember other important moments along the way as well, when I suddenly found one I’d been particularly looking for, or found a whole batch of Services Editions together. After thirty years, I have put together a collection of around 400 different titles, but there are probably about 500 altogether, so I still have 100 to find. And I’ve ground to a halt. Almost nothing new for a couple of years now.
So I need help. I should say that the books are certainly rare, but sadly not very valuable, at least in monetary terms. Most of the copies I have, cost me no more than two or three pounds each. A few were more expensive, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that I’d have wanted to buy, but didn’t because it was overpriced. The problem is not that I can’t afford to buy copies that come up for sale. The problem is more that when copies turn up, they’re more likely to be thrown away as worthless, rather than even offered for sale.
These are thin paperbacks, printed on poor quality wartime paper (sometimes apparently made from barley, instead of esparto grass, which was more or less unobtainable in wartime) and often in poor condition, tattered and written on. But there is no collection of them in the British Library, or the Imperial War Museum, or the Bodleian Library. Collins, who published over 150 of them, have no record of them in their archives. There is not even a comprehensive list of what exists, so far as I know, although I’m doing my best to compile one. I have come across one other collector interested in them, but that’s it. I really feel that if I can’t find the remaining titles, they will be lost forever.
The longest series of Services Editions came from Guild Books. They’re very recognisable, as ‘Services Edition’ is scrawled right across the front of the covers, but they do come in two different formats, narrow and wide, as illustrated below. The wide format ones are all from 1946 and are mostly reprints, although not marked as such, so are of less interest, although there are a few I’m looking for – ‘Death in the doll’s house’, ‘Those Sinning girls’, ‘Men of Branber’ and ‘The pursuit of love’.
I still need far more of the narrow format Guild Books editions. They’re too many to list, and in many cases I don’t even know the titles. But any narrow format book dated 1943, many dated 1944 and almost any with red covers are difficult to find, and there’s a fair chance I’m looking for them.
The other long series came from Collins and are less easy to spot. They’re distinguished from other Collins White Circle paperbacks by having ‘Services Edition’ printed on the cover, but this is often quite small and easily overlooked. There are still fifty or sixty I’m looking for, particularly any dated 1943 or 1944 and any yellow westerns of whatever date.
Between them those two series account for almost 400 titles and the other series are relatively short. I have all the red-striped Hutchinson editions and all the Penguin Services Editions (although Penguin Forces Book Club editions are always welcome). I’m a bit less sure what exists from Hammond, Hammond & Co., Nicholson & Watson and Methuen, but I may well have all of these too. But there are certainly more of the H&S Services Yellow Jackets than I’ve been able to find, including ‘Greenmantle’, ‘Riders of the plains’ and ‘The range boss’.
Perhaps slightly outside the strict definition of Services Editions, I’m also keen to find copies of the Hutchinson ‘Free Victory Gift’ paperbacks, almost any of them, but certainly including ‘Feud at Silver Bend’, ‘Amazing Spectacles’, ‘The banner of the bull’, ‘Further adventures of Dr. Syn’, ‘Team work’, ‘The gentle knight’, ‘Contraband’, ‘Crime at Crooked Gables’ and ‘Keep it dark’.
And finally, the rarest of them all, in my experience, are the Indian editions, produced for the Army and the RAF in India and South East Asia. Around 40 different titles were produced for this series, but I have only been able to find copies of five, and I know of no other collection of them anywhere.
So I need help. If you have any of these books that you can offer to me, or can point me in the direction of where I might find some, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me through the ‘About Al’ page. And if you have hard-to-find books you’re searching for yourself, do let me know, particularly if they’re paperbacks.
There is a long history of English language books published in Continental Europe that goes back way before the launch of the Tauchnitz series in 1841. One of the most significant series in the period just before Tauchnitz, and one that almost certainly influenced the young Bernhard Tauchnitz, was Baudry’s Collection of Ancient and Modern British Novels, published in Paris from 1831.
Louis-Claude Baudry (or sometimes Claude-Louis Baudry) seems to have been established as a bookseller in Paris from around 1815 and perhaps a little later as a publisher. Early on he decided to specialise in foreign language publications. A printing in English of ‘The letters of Junius’, published by Baudry & Lance in Paris in 1819, refers to their business as the ‘English, Italian, Spanish, German and Portuguese Library’. References to Lance soon disappear and the description of the business changes over the years, sometimes referred to as ‘Baudry’s Foreign Library’, but it eventually settles on ‘Baudry’s European Library’.
A New Year catalogue for 1829 makes clear the specialisation of the business in foreign language books and refers to the availability of “more than 40,000 volumes of the best works in English, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese, ancient and modern, new and second-hand”.
It’s unclear how many of these books would have been actually published by Baudry, rather than just sold by the bookshop. But shortly after this, the firm launched numbered series of books in several European languages, including in English, ‘Baudry’s Collection of Ancient and Modern British Novels and Romances’. The reference to ‘Romances’ was later dropped, but seems in particular to have been applied to the novels of Walter Scott, which featured heavily in the early titles, accounting for rather more than half of the first 50 volumes, including the first volume, ‘Waverley’.
Scott was still alive when the series started, but died in 1832 and would have received no payment at all for the use of his work. There were no international copyright agreements at this time, and publication of foreign titles with no payment to the author was standard practice. It seems ironic that one of the Scott novels published by Baudry was ‘The Pirate’ (volume 22 of the series), given that Baudry was a pirate publisher on a grand scale.
After the initial concentration on Walter Scott, the series settled down to cover a wide variety of authors, with Fenimore Cooper, Bulwer Lytton, G.P.R. James and Captain Marryat prominent among them. Like Tauchnitz after him, Baudry seemed to draw no distinction between British and American authors. Although the series title referred to British novels, it included numerous volumes by Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving, as well as other Americans such as Alexander Mackenzie and George Bancroft and a Nova Scotian in Thomas Haliburton.
Like Tauchnitz, and like most continental publishers of the time, Baudry published their books as paperbacks. But many were then taken to the bookbinder, and as these are generally the copies that survive best, in practice most of the copies found nowadays are hard bound.
Also like Tauchnitz, it’s difficult to distinguish first printings. As far as I can tell, most copies are correctly dated, in the sense that the date on the title page is the actual printing date of that copy. However with no indication of previous printings, it’s not easy to tell whether earlier printings exist or not. I’ve been unable to find a full bibliography of the main series, but I do have a rough list of numbers and dates that I’d be happy to share with anyone who’s interested.
There seem to have been around 450 numbered volumes in the series published between 1831 and 1850, of which about 350 appeared in the decade before the arrival of Tauchnitz to the market. After that the rate of publication of new volumes slows down noticeably, presumably because of the increased competition.
Baudry had sold its books partly on price, claiming to be far cheaper than the same books sold in Britain. The standard price per volume was 5 Francs, equivalent to around 4 shillings in UK Sterling at the time, for books that might have sold for 12s 6d or more in Britain in hardback. But Tauchnitz volumes, considerably smaller in terms of the amount of paper used, sold for more like the equivalent of 1s 6d and would have undercut Baudry.
In the end though the business was killed off, not directly by Tauchnitz, but by legislation. An Anglo-French Copyright treaty was signed in 1851, making it impossible to continue to publish English novels without authorisation. And as Tauchnitz had obtained exclusive authorisation from almost all the leading English novelists, Baudry had little room for manoeuvre. An International Copyright Act followed in 1852. The series of English language novels came to an end, although Baudry’s European Library continued, publishing mostly books on learning foreign languages, particularly English.
The English language series is the only one that I’ve looked into, but there were parallel series in several other languages, certainly Italian and Spanish, running at much the same time.
In a recent post on Pelican Books, Penguin’s non-fiction imprint, I looked at the left-wing bias in the early days after their 1937 launch – clear, but undeclared. But there’s another aspect that deserves looking at, which is their part in moving Penguin from being a pure paperback reprint publisher, towards having a stronger role in commissioning new works.
Before Penguin, paperbacks in the UK were almost always reprints. It’s a model that is still extensively used today. Books are published first as expensive hardbacks, and only after sales at the higher and more profitable price have been maximised, does the paperback follow. Publishers have always been frightened that paperback sales would undermine sales of the more expensive hardbacks.
When Penguin launched in 1935 their list was not only all reprints, but really quite old reprints. Their first ten books were published on average 12 years after first publication. That increased to 17 years for the second ten and almost 20 for the third ten. It was not easy to persuade publishers to release the paperback rights for more recent novels.
These two early Penguins had been first published in the 19th century
So when Pelican launched two years later, it was natural that they should scour the market for reprint rights on non-fiction titles that had been best-sellers 10 years or so earlier. And for the first few years, that was indeed largely what they published, subject to that bias towards left-wing authors and left-wing content.
To launch the series though, they wanted something a bit different and they succeeded in persuading George Bernard Shaw, not only to allow a reprint of his ‘The intelligent woman’s guide to Socialism and Capitalism’ (published 9 years earlier), but to extend it by writing two new chapters on Sovietism and Fascism. As far as I know, these two chapters were the first new writing, not already published elsewhere, that Penguin had ever issued.
The book sold well, although judging by the number of copies surviving in pristine condition, many copies may have remained unread. That’s perhaps just as well, as Shaw was barely a democrat and certainly no strong opponent of either fascism or sovietism. He was attracted by, and effectively duped by, what he saw as strong leaders such as Mussolini and Stalin, and saw much to admire in Hitler. The arguments in his new chapters would not have stiffened many spines in pre-war Britain.
The book may though have given Penguin a taste for the publication of more new works. One of the other early Pelicans, ‘Practical Economics’ by G.D.H. Cole (volume A6) was also a new work specially written for the series. Indeed as this was an entirely new book and the first nine Pelican volumes were issued simultaneously in May 1937, this one rather than Shaw’s, should arguably be considered the first new work to be published by Penguin.
Others followed, although only sporadically at first in the Pelican list. The focus for new writing moved decisively away from Pelican with the launch of the Penguin Specials in late 1937. The first book in this series was a reprint, but the vast majority of the volumes, coming thick and fast after that, were new works written specially for the series – books written and published in almost record time as they reacted to fast-moving international events. In some ways the Penguin Specials were closer to journalism than to traditional book publishing.
By mid-1940 the Penguin Specials had published around 40 completely new works. In comparison there were only about 10 new works in the Pelican list by this point. The academics and intellectuals who wrote for Pelican were certainly not used to writing at the speed of journalists. Nevertheless the combined effect of the two series and others like the King Penguins, was that astonishingly, by 1941 Penguin was publishing more original works than reprints. There’s a fascinating graph in one issue of Penguin’s Progress that shows how from a standing start in 1937, new works climbed rapidly to around 60 a year, while reprints fell from up to 90 a year, down to more like 50.
That’s an amazing change in a few short years and one that goes against most people’s preconceptions. It led to the surprising position where Penguin was selling hardback rights to other publishers for books that had been first published as paperbacks. And where Penguin also ended up publishing quite significant numbers of hardbacks itself. But that’s another story.
I’m still on a bit of a personal mission to show that Penguin revolutionised, but did not invent, the sixpenny paperback. The success of Penguin was so overwhelming that in retrospect it has obscured what went before and rather created the impression that Penguins appeared out of nowhere. In practice Penguins evolved from a long history of sixpenny paperbacks going back to Victorian times. I’ve already written about the Chatto & Windus series that ran from 1893 to the 1920s and about the Hutchinson series that ran roughly from 1925 to 1935. There are still many more to cover and this post now looks at pre-Penguin sixpenny paperbacks from Collins.
Collins are an interesting example, because for a long time after Penguin’s launch they were perhaps their closest competitor, with the Collins White Circle series. To see the effect that Penguin had, it’s interesting to compare Collins paperbacks from just before and just after that 1935 watershed.
The immediate changes caused by Penguin’s launch are not hard to see. Almost overnight, paperbacks became smaller, lost their cover illustration (other than a stylised design), gained a dustwrapper and generally became a bit more sober, respectable and middle class. As I’ve pointed out before, almost all of these changes were an aberration in historical terms and the earlier ones look rather more like modern paperbacks than the later ones do.
Collins had experimented with paperbacks over many years in various different formats and prices. They published a traditional series of large format 6d paperbacks in the early years of the twentieth century and then after the First World War tried out books in a smaller but chunkier format at ninepence.
Collins 6d from around 1905 and a 9d paperback possibly from the 1920s
But then towards the end of the 1920s they launched a more modern looking sixpenny series. The design clearly owes something to the Hutchinson series of Famous Copyright Novels. Where the Hutchinson covers were predominantly red, Collins were predominantly green (and incidentally, Hodder & Stoughton’s were yellow). Where Hutchinson had the title in yellow and the author’s name in white, Collins often had the title in red and the author’s name in yellow, although sometimes the colours switched round. Significantly in the light of what was to follow, both series moved away from fully pictorial covers to a more restrained design where the picture takes up only part of the cover.
Collins on the left, Hutchinson on the right
My guess is that this Collins series started around 1928. That’s largely based on the fact that several of the early books were first published in hardback around 1924/5, and one seems to be from 1927. Others went back much further, including books by Walter Scott, Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Most of the books were romances, adventure stories, crime stories or westerns.
Collins was starting to build a speciality in the fashionable field of crime fiction and this was cemented by the launch of the Collins Crime Club in 1930. It helped of course that they were the publisher for Agatha Christie, whose books were setting the standard for crime writing. The Crime Club was followed by the Wild West Club and as the 6d series went on, it was increasingly dominated by these two genres.
As with most pre-Penguin paperbacks, little is recorded of the Collins series, and I don’t know of any collectors, although I would have thought it was fairly collectable. It almost certainly includes the first paperback printings of many Agatha Christie stories as well as those of many other crime writers. I have a partial listing , drawn from the covers of the few copies I have, or have seen, which I’d be happy to share, and I’d like to hear of any other lists.
A few of the books seem to have switched away from the standard green covers to other colours, most strikingly a copy I have seen of Agatha Christie’s ‘Partners in Crime’ in red covers and a western from Hugh Pendexter in orange. As far as I can tell though these were exceptions and the vast majority of books were in green.
Unfortunately the books are undated and I can’t be sure for how long they continued. But I think the series went on right up to the launch of Penguin in July 1935. Suddenly then it looked old-fashioned and down-market in comparison to Penguin’s stylish but unillustrated covers. The inclusion of an Agatha Christie novel, ‘The mysterious affair at Styles’, in Penguin’s first ten was also an arrow aimed directly at the heart of Collins. This was Christie’s first novel and was (thought to be) available to Penguin because it had been published by the Bodley Head, before her move to Collins. Problems with the copyright led to it later being withdrawn and replaced by an alternative Christie title, but that didn’t help Collins.
By March 1936, the new Collins series was ready for launch. The first books in Penguin format were branded only as Crime Club books, but before long the overall ‘White Circle Books’ brand started to be used and it continued to be a significant challenger to Penguin, particularly on Crime and Mystery books, for the next 20 years.
By the 1950s though, Collins were starting to bridle at the self-imposed restrictions on the use of cover art, as indeed Penguin were. They started to experiment with going back to illustrated covers and a few books were issued that look remarkably like the 1930s predecessors to Penguin (although no longer at sixpence). Going back to the past was not the answer though. Cover art would of course return, but in a more modern form.
It’s time to take another look at one of the many sixpenny paperback series that flourished before Penguin came along in 1935 to revolutionise the market – by selling paperbacks at sixpence. I come back to this popular misunderstanding of what Penguin’s paperback revolution was all about, because it certainly wasn’t about price.
The last sixpenny series I wrote about was the Hutchinson series of Famous Copyright Novels that ran from around 1925 to 1935. But the concept goes back much further than that. Chatto & Windus were selling sixpenny paperbacks from at least 1893 and the firm itself published a celebration of them in 1985 in a colourful book through their Hogarth Press imprint, called ‘Sixpenny Wonderfuls’. Thanks to a reader of the blog for bringing this to my attention. The title is intended as a reference and a contrast to the ‘penny dreadfuls’ that sold in vast numbers throughout the Victorian era, and reinforces the point that even sixpence was not a particularly cheap price for a paperback in those days. These books were by no means at the bottom of the market.
Perhaps inevitably ‘Sixpenny Wonderfuls’ focuses more on the colourful and dramatic covers than on the contents of the books, and that in a way is the point here. These books sold because of their cover illustrations – forty years later Penguins sold because of their lack of cover illustrations.
I don’t know of any complete list of the Chatto and Windus Sixpennies and I don’t have any collection of them, so the illustrations here come from the Chatto book. It sounds though as if the firm itself may have some quite detailed records, covering not only titles but printing numbers. They note that one of the first titles, ‘The cloister and the hearth’ by Charles Reade, had an initial print run of 50,000 in 1893 and went on to sell 380,000 copies in its sixpenny edition over the next 15 years. And that was a book that was already over 30 years old at the start of the series. You’ll be lucky to find a single copy of it today though. The internet is awash with hardback copies, but those hundreds of thousands of paperbacks have disappeared almost without trace.
There is probably even less chance though of finding a copy of ‘Antonina’ by Wilkie Collins, also published in 1893 in the series, but selling only 1,240 copies according to Chatto’s records. Clearly it was a hit-and-miss business.
Nevertheless the series seems to have prospered and I would guess it covered perhaps a couple of hundred titles over its 30 year history. It survived the First World War, although with few new titles being added, and in the post-war years it found it difficult to generate the levels of sales achieved pre-war. It’s unclear exactly when the series ended. Copies may have continued to be sold even into the early 1930s, but in terms of new titles it probably ended in the early 1920s.
The idea of sixpenny paperbacks certainly didn’t end then. New series from Hutchinson and from Collins were only getting going at that point, and Penguins were not even a gleam in Allen Lane’s eye, but the fashion for Chatto and Windus’ stories and their dramatic cover illustrations had come to an end.
The series was dominated by adventure stories and relatively light romances. Books by Ouida and B.M. Croker sold well, as did those by Walter Besant and Charles Reade. Their names may not be widely recognised today, but many of the other authors would be. The series contained books by Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Emile Zola and Arnold Bennett. For comparison, it’s worth remembering that despite the reputation for quality, most of the authors and titles of the first couple of hundred Penguins are now justly forgotten. Amongst the few still remembered are Conan Doyle and Bennett.
This is the story of a very unusual Penguin from the other side of the world.
At first sight it’s very clearly a Penguin. The broad bands of colour and the Penguin symbol make it instantly recognisable, even though the bands are red rather than the more familiar orange. The more striped effect at the top, and the text-heavy cover, mark it out as a Penguin Special, one of the series of topical books on current affairs that sold millions in the run-up to, and the early years of, the Second World War.
But after that first impression, other things don’t seem quite right. Firstly it’s the wrong size. Basically all Penguins at that time (this was printed in 1940) were of a standard size – the size that Penguin had adopted from the European series of Albatross Books, and which in turn had been copied by almost all other British paperback publishers. This one is larger, roughly 14 cm by 22 cm. It’s also made up of a single gathering, stapled in the middle, so has a rounded spine, unlike the flatter spine of almost all other Penguins.
Then the cover has been printed in three colours – black, blue and red. Almost all other Penguin covers at the time were printed in two colours, typically orange and black. This one has an extra colour to allow the British and Australian flags to appear, and that also seems to account for why it’s red rather than orange. Interestingly it’s not the current Australian flag. The version then in use was the Australian Red Ensign, which changed to blue only in 1954. It’s also noteworthy that the penguin logo is printed in blue rather than black.
This is an Australian printing of course, but that in itself is not particularly unusual. Over 70 UK Penguins were reprinted in Australia during the war years, given the difficulty in exporting copies from the UK. They were published through a local company, Lothian Publishing Company Pty. Ltd., whose name generally appears on the title page, below that of Penguin Books. But this book has no mention of Lothian, crediting only a local printer in Melbourne.
Lothian’s own list of the Penguin books they published in Australia does though include it and shows it as the very first such book in August 1940, almost two years before any others followed. Why did this particular book justify such an unusual step?
The author, Sir Richard Acland, was a British Liberal Party MP (and a 15th generation baronet), who had been stridently against the policy of appeasement being followed by the UK Governments under Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. In 1938 he had engineered a famous by-election in Bridgwater, a Conservative-held constituency neighbouring his own in Barnstaple, and persuaded a journalist, Vernon Bartlett, to stand as an ‘Independent Progressive’ anti-appeasement candidate. Both the Liberal and Labour parties agreed to stand down in favour of Bartlett, leaving him a clear run against a Conservative candidate in the election, which he won by a relatively small majority.
Acland’s book, ‘Unser Kampf’ was written after the outbreak of war and published as a Penguin Special in the UK in February 1940 – volume S54 of the series. It is a plan for a new world order to be established after the war, and almost a manifesto for a new political movement. Acland went on to be one of the main founders of the Common Wealth Party in 1942, with J.B. Priestley and Tom Wintringham amongst others. He stood for the new party in the 1945 election, but it fared badly and he lost his seat, later defecting to Labour and being elected as a Labour MP.
Clearly his book was a significant contribution to the debate at a time of high interest in public affairs. but was it any more than that? It was not one of the Penguin Specials chosen for reprinting in the US (although interestingly one of Tom Wintringham’s books was). Did it then have any special relevance in Australia, more than any of the other Penguin Specials, several of which dealt with similar subjects? I’m not convinced that it did, although the Preface to the Australian Edition suggests that “To enable the demand to be met, it has been found necessary to reprint in Australia”.
It is unclear who wrote this rather evangelical preface. It refers to both the author and the English publishers (Penguin Books) in the third party, and thanks them for agreeing to no royalties or copyright fees. So presumably somebody else wrote it and it reads as if written by a supporter of Acland, rather than by a publisher. I suspect that it was local supporters of Acland, or his ideas, who promoted the idea of reprinting it in Australia, and possibly approached Lothian with the suggestion. Could that in turn have been what sparked later negotiations between Lothian and Penguin about reprinting other titles?
It does seem to have been reasonably successful, with 10,000 copies in the first printing of August 1940, followed by a second printing of a further 10,000 copies in the same month. Enough to interest Lothian in extending the collaboration with Penguin?
There are still other oddities though with this very odd book. The UK edition is titled ‘Unser Kampf’ with ‘Our struggle’ as a sub-title, while the Australian edition reverses this. Were Australians thought to be even more uncomfortable with foreign languages than the British? Or less familiar with the title of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’, which it echoes? It seems just a little condescending.
And despite the changes to the front cover, the back cover just copies the UK back cover other than to add ‘Printed in Australia’. So it has a list of the ‘Latest Specials’, most if not all of which, would not have been available in Australia.
Acknowledgements: Some of the information about Australian printings in this post, comes from an article written by Chris Barling in the Penguin Collector’s Society newsletter for May 1987. For more about the Bridgwater by-election of 1938, see https://vernonbartlett.co.uk/
The fact that ‘Middlemarch’ never appeared in the Tauchnitz Edition, was a matter of lasting regret to its founder, Bernhard Tauchnitz. His series contained almost every other major work of English literature published in his lifetime and beyond, including all of George Eliot’s other novels, but not Middlemarch. Eliot was instead induced to publish a Continental Edition of this novel in the new ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’.
I’ve already written about this in previous posts. The story of George Eliot’s publications in Tauchnitz is covered here (Part 1 and Part 2) and the story of Asher’s Collection in these posts (Part 1 and Part 2). But I’ve recently come across other evidence that shows just how sensitive Tauchnitz was about the loss of Middlemarch.
After Eliot’s death in December 1880, her husband John Cross edited ‘George Eliot’s Life as related in her letters and journals’, published in the UK in 1885 and more or less simultaneously in the Tauchnitz Edition. Comparison of the texts of the two editions shows several small differences in the sections relating to the continental publication of Middlemarch.
I have noted before that Tauchnitz adds a footnote at one point. On 8th May 1872, in reference to Middlemarch, Eliot writes in her journal ‘Cohn is publishing an English edition in Germany’ (Albert Cohn was the publisher of Asher’s Collection). In the Tauchnitz version only, there is a footnote saying ‘ The author was subsequently induced to publish”Daniel Deronda” and her succeeding works again in the Tauchnitz Edition. Baron Tauchnitz paid £250 for “Daniel Deronda”.
Then on 25th February 1873, Eliot writes ‘Cohn of Berlin, has written to ask us to allow him to reprint “The Spanish Gypsy” for £50, and we have consented’ (The poem appeared in Asher’s Collection in 1874, under the title ‘The legend of Jubal and other poems’). Again Tauchnitz cannot resist adding the note ‘See foot-note on page 71’.
Tauchnitz it seems is prepared to allow reference to Cohn (spelled Kohn in the UK edition) provided a footnote is added, but direct references to Asher’s Collection posed more of a problem. On 24th March 1872, Eliot writes (in a letter to her UK publisher, John Blackwood) ‘I fancy we have done a good turn to English authors generally by setting off Asher’s series, for we have heard that Tauchnitz has raised his offers. There is another way in which benefit might come that would be still more desirable—namely, to make him more careful in his selections of books for reprint. But I fear that this effect is not so certain. You see Franz Duncker, who publishes the German translation of “Middlemarch,” has also begun an English series. This is really worth while, for the Germans are excellent readers of our books.’ The only bit of this whole section that survives in the Tauchnitz Edition is the phrase ‘The Germans are excellent readers of our books’.
On 4th October 1872, she writes again to Blackwood, ‘Asher’s cheap editions are visible everywhere by the side of Tauchnitz, but the outside is not, I think, quite equally recommendable and recommending.’ This might be thought more complimentary to Tauchnitz, but again the sentence just disappears in the Tauchnitz Edition. References to Asher in the Summary of Chapter 16 and in the index are also censored. The name of Asher was it seems not to be mentioned in polite society. Were these changes approved by John Cross, or was Tauchnitz censoring the books without the editor’s approval?
It is worth noting that by this point in 1885, Asher’s Collection was not in any sense a serious competitor to Tauchnitz. Just two volumes were added to the series in 1885 and only a handful more in the next few years, before it disappeared completely. Tauchnitz had recovered for his series, not only George Eliot, but almost all of the authors who had been seduced away. George Eliot had died and Asher’s Collection had been vanquished, but clearly the loss of Middlemarch 13 years earlier, still rankled with him. Perhaps even more, it was the fact that he had had to pay so highly to bring Eliot back. He was still feeling hard done by about his £250. Although as ‘Daniel Deronda’ and Eliot’s other works in Tauchnitz continued to sell well for many years to come, it seems likely that he more than recovered his investment.
Part 1 of this topic looked at the early one-off publications by Tauchnitz for school use and for home students of English. They were not really a serious attempt to access what was potentially a substantial market. From 1886 though, Tauchnitz got serious. The Students’ Series for School, College and Home took classic English texts, mostly already published in the main Tauchnitz series and gave them to a German academic. Their job was to take an excerpt or abridge a novel, add footnotes for German students and write an introduction in German.
Fifteen volumes of the new series were issued in 1886, starting with ‘The Lady of Lyons’ by Edward Bulwer Lytton, who had already had the honour of opening the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors 44 years earlier. He was quickly followed in this new series by works from George Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson, W.M. Thackeray, Thomas Carlyle and Sir Walter Scott – something of a parade of the great and the good from the first 40 years of Tauchnitz history, although Dickens had to wait until volumes 9 and 10.
The books were issued in two formats, as paperbacks and in a hard binding with plain paper boards and a red fabric spine. Few people would pay to have the paperbacks privately bound, and few of them have survived in the original wrappers, so almost all surviving copies are in the standard hard binding. It generally cost only 10 pfennigs more than the paperback edition anyway (for instance 0.80 Marks rather than 0.70 Marks), so it seems likely that this was how most of them were sold.
First printings of the early editions are rare. Todd & Bowden, the Tauchnitz bibliographers, found an 1886 copy of only three of the first 15 titles. They were unable to find any copy at all of four of these books and of the overall series there were 21 of the 41 volumes for which they could not locate a single copy. This probably exaggerates the rarity though, as most libraries have limited interest in schoolbooks and tend not to collect them. My own collection now includes copies of 33 of the 41 titles, including many of those previously unlocated.
But early printings are still difficult to find. I now have what I believe to be first printings of six of the first 15 titles. The key is that they are dated 1886 on the back cover and have no volume number on the front. As more generally with Tauchnitz, even reprints from many years later still have the original publication date on the title page and the front cover, so we have to look for clues elsewhere. Early issues have the printing date on the back cover. For later issues, the approximate date can be established by checking what other titles are advertised, or often by checking the edition number of the English-German dictionary regularly advertised on the back cover. New editions of the dictionary were regularly issued, so for instance an advert for the 39th edition of the dictionary dates the book to roughly 1904 to 1907, when the 40th edition was published.
A first printing of volume 4
The example of volume 4 above is typical. It is dated March 1886 on the rear and unnumbered on the front. It lists only the first eight volumes as already available and a further six titles as in course of preparation. Two of these six volumes did appear in due course substantially as promised, although ‘Sketches’ by Dickens split into two volumes. Of the other four, one never appeared, and three were published under other titles and/or with different academics supplying the footnotes.
After the initial rush, production of new titles started to slow down. There were six volumes added in 1887, another five in 1888 and a total of 11 between 1889 and 1893. After that it was only occasional titles, one in 1896, one in 1900, one in 1902 and bizarrely a final title during the First World War in 1917. Reprints from around the turn of the century seem to be relatively plentiful though, so the existing titles must have been selling well enough. Perhaps there was simply no need for lots of different titles. After all few people remain a student for long enough to get through more than 41 books, before either giving up, or graduating to full novels.
From volume 38 onwards in 1896 there was a bit of a change of direction. Instead of adding footnotes under the relevant text, comments were provided in a separate booklet along with an English-German dictionary of the most difficult words. The ‘Anmerkungen und Worterbuch’ were sold separately, generally at a price of around 40 pfennigs. Dictionaries were also compiled for many of the earlier titles that were still on sale and again sold separately from the books at prices ranging from 20 pfennigs to 1 Mark.
The series continued to sell into the early 1920s, but eventually, after 40 years, Tauchnitz seems to have come to the conclusion that it needed a refresh. A new series, the Tauchnitz Students’ Series Neue Folge, launched in 1926. That may some time be the subject of Part 3, and if I ever get round to it, there’s a Part 4 waiting in the wings as well.