Monthly Archives: September 2014

The forthright saga

Bernhard Tauchnitz prided himself on the relationships that he had with many of the leading British authors of his time.  His relationship with Charles Dickens for instance was based on friendship, trust and loyalty, and almost all of Dickens’ works were published by the firm.  Other authors may not have been quite so loyal, and many were tempted away to one or other of the competitors that sprung up from time to time in the European market.   As most of  these competitors were relatively short-lived, the authors often returned later to Tauchnitz, perhaps a little shame-facedly.

The First World War however brought a new situation, with Tauchnitz unable to publish new works by British authors and two major new series starting up in Paris.   The authors who submitted their latest works to either the Nelson’s Continental Library or The Standard Collection from Louis Conard, could hardly be accused of lack of loyalty in wartime, although it’s interesting to note that George Bernard Shaw was not among them, and was back with Tauchnitz by 1919.  Amongst the authors though who did jump ship was John Galsworthy and it’s worth looking at his behaviour in the light of his later role in changes that had a significant effect on Tauchnitz.

John Galsworthy

John Galsworthy

At the peak of his fame, John Galsworthy was a literary giant.  He had honorary degrees from a string of universities, was awarded the Order of Merit in 1929, after earlier turning down a knighthood, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932.  He was known for his plays as well as his novels and both enjoyed enormous commercial as well as critical success.   The critical reputation has not really survived and I’ve never seen any of his plays being revived, but his novels in ‘The Forsyte Saga’ are still popular, at least amongst television producers.   So it’s no surprise to see him with a long list of publications in Tauchnitz.

Tauchnitz 4372 The silver box   Tauchnitz 4375 The inn of tranquility

It took a while for Tauchnitz to identify him as an author deserving a place in their series.  He already had several successful works to his name before he got his first Tauchnitz publication with ‘Man of Property’ in 1909.  After that though they came rapidly, and by the time war broke out in 1914, there would have been a row of 12 Tauchnitz Galsworthys on his shelf.   He was then quick to seek alternative publishers and his novel ‘The Freelands’ was in the first batch of titles issued in the Nelsons Continental Library in 1915, before he moved again to have ‘The little man’ published in Conard’s ‘Standard Collection’ in 1916.

This was followed by four other volumes in this series, but in 1920 he offered a new collection of plays first to Conard, and only later to Tauchnitz, who published it as ‘A bit o’love and other plays’.   Todd & Bowden seem to suggest that the prior offer to Conard was because of contractual obligations, which he was then able to free himself from, in order to return to Tauchnitz.  I’m not sure how this fits though with his subsequent decision to withhold from Tauchnitz the next two volumes of the Forsyte saga.  ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were published instead in the Standard Collection in 1921 and 1922, now run by Collins rather than Conard.   By 1923 this series had ended and he was back again with Tauchnitz.

Standard Collection 193   Standard Collection 210

From then on Galsworthy stayed with Tauchnitz and the number of titles continued to grow, although he never seemed to be quite comfortable with them.  Corresponding through his literary agent, he was always forthright.  By March 1926, perhaps regretting his decision to publish elsewhere, he was pushing Tauchnitz to issue a combined edition of The Forsyte Saga, which they did in volumes 4733 to 4735.   ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were new to Tauchnitz, but ‘A man of property’ was already in the series and I can’t think of any other instance where the same book on its own was republished in the series under a different number.

Tauchnitz 4733 The Forsyte saga 1  Tauchnitz 4734 The Forsyte saga 2  Tauchnitz 4735 The Forsyte saga 3

At the same time he was pushing Tauchnitz for higher payments, with some success, and complaining that in his foreign travels, he had not seen enough of his books on the shelf.   By September though a more significant issue was being raised.  After his agent had already sent the text of ‘The silver spoon’ to  Tauchnitz for publication, Galsworthy intervened to insist on a year’s delay before the book was issued.  He was concerned to allow sufficient time for his British publishers to sell their higher-priced hardback edition in Europe before permitting a paperback edition.  The same proposal was then raised with the Society of Authors, who agreed that the year’s delay should apply to all works.  This significantly undermined the position of Tauchnitz, who saw near simultaneous publication as essential to their success.   It was one of many factors that weakened the firm throughout the 1920s, although it should be said that it was later no barrier to the success of Albatross.

By the time of his death in 1933, Galsworthy had some 28 volumes to his name in the main Tauchnitz series, and extracts from them had also been published in the Tauchnitz Pocket Library and the Students Series.   Further volumes were published throughout the 1930s including ‘The Freelands’, the first novel he had taken elsewhere, so that by the time the series ended, it featured almost all of Galsworthy’s works, even those he had originally withheld from Tauchnitz.  Maybe Tauchnitz had the last laugh after all.

Nelson Continental Library 9   Tauchnitz 5213 The Freelands

Nelson’s Continental Library in 1915, Tauchnitz in 1935

Advertisements

A wrong turning

Why was it Allen Lane and the Lane brothers, rather than William Collins and the Collins brothers, who launched Penguin Books and the paperback revolution in the UK?   In a previous post I suggested that Collins, through their key role in Albatross, were in a much better position to see the way the wind was blowing.   Before launching Penguin, Allen Lane had been in discussions with Albatross about a possible joint venture.   As Directors of Albatross, William and Ian Collins would surely have been aware of those discussions,, and so knew the way Lane was thinking.  They could hardly have been totally surprised when he went ahead with a paperback launch in the UK.

Part of the answer seems to be that they did indeed see the market opportunity and had a strategy to exploit it, which would have seemed entirely reasonable at the time.  It’s just that with hindsight their strategy turned out to be the wrong one.   They had launched a new series of cheap hardbacks in 1934 called the Collins sevenpence novels.   Sevenpence looks to be a very impressive price for a hardback, given that many new novels in hardback sold for more like seven shillings and sixpence at the time.  The list of titles in the series looks like a reasonable mix of popular fiction – novels from Somerset Maugham, Rose Macaulay and Michael Arlen, crime titles from Agatha Christie, John Rhode and G.D.H. & M. Cole, mysteries from Edgar Wallace and a selection of westerns.  Many of these same authors had already appeared in Albatross and would later appear in Penguin.  Yet this series was completely blown away by the launch of Penguins a year later and Collins had to scramble to replace it with a new paperback series.

Collins 7d The lone house mystery

So what went wrong?   Why were paperbacks at sixpence such a success when hardbacks at sevenpence weren’t?   Why did customers rush to buy Agatha Christie’s ‘The mysterious affair at Styles’ from Penguin, rather than Agatha Christie’s ‘The murder of Roger Ackroyd’ from Collins?

Certainly it’s possible that Penguin got the price right and Collins just missed it.   Sixpence was just one penny less, but it would have had a different feel to it, just as £1 now feels different from £1.20.   Penguin may also have got the distribution right, famously selling through Woolworths as well as through bookshops.   But the big difference seems to be the marketing, the brand and particularly the cover design, all elements that Penguin copied from Albatross.   The Collins sevenpence novels had illustrated dustwrappers, designed to appeal to the mass market they were aiming for, rather than the typographical covers of Albatross, designed to appeal to the much more select group of people who would buy English books in continental Europe.

The genius of Allen Lane seems to have been to realise that a mass market product didn’t have to look mass market.   The same design principles could be applied to it as to a much more up-market product.  Customers might only be buying an Agatha Christie or a Michael Arlen novel, and might only be paying sixpence or sevenpence, but they wanted it to look like serious literature, not look trashy.   That might seem obvious in retrospect, but at the time it would have been much less so.   The strategy of Collins to sell hardbacks at sevenpence in bright dustwrappers would have seemed entirely reasonable and perhaps much more likely to succeed than Lane’s sober paperbacks at sixpence.   It’s also worth remembering that Lane’s strategy was to some extent an anomaly in both historical and geographical terms.   The US market never embraced soberly designed paperbacks, and the UK market has moved a long way away from them now, but in Britain, in 1935, that was the right strategy.  Collins were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While the cat’s away …

Nelson were not the only publisher to try to take advantage of the enforced absence of Tauchnitz from at least part of the European market during the First World War.   Louis Conard, another publisher in Paris, saw the opportunity too, and was quick to act.   ‘The Standard Collection of latest copyrighted works by British and American Authors’ launched in 1915 with an impressive list of authors.  The first 10 volumes included works by H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Arnold Bennett, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and E.F. Benson, all of whom had previously been published by Tauchnitz.   Later volumes included works by Kipling, Galsworthy, Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, Katherine Mansfield and G.K. Chesterton, amongst others.  As the Nelson’s Continental Library was launched at almost the same time, there must have been quite a scramble to sign up authors.

Standard Collection 1

Conard clearly modelled their series on Tauchnitz, as Nelson did.  The books are the same shape, the same buff colour and the same price, at least to start with.   In comparison with Tauchnitz, their market would have been restricted geographically, but did the war itself create a new market?  Over 5 million British soldiers served in France and Flanders during the war.  They would have had little opportunity to visit bookshops, but it seems possible that at least some of these volumes might have found their way into battledress pockets.

By the end of the war the series had extended to over 100 volumes.  The price had risen steadily to 3.50 Francs by 1919 although this was described as a temporary price, and the quality of the paper had declined.   Conard persisted though and by 1920 was heading towards 200 volumes, as Nelson, with fewer than 100, was winding its series down.  The market dynamics were inevitably changing with the end of the war and the return of Tauchnitz to the market, and Conard too decided to move on.

Standard Collection 199

Same format, but now published by William Collins in Brussels

This though was not the end of The Standard Collection.  Some time around 1920, the series was taken on by the Scottish publisher William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. from a base in Brussels, and the price increased again to 4.50 Francs.   They continued it for another 2 years or so, and up to at least 230 volumes, before finally ending it.  The last volume I have seen is G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Eugenics and other evils’ published in 1922.  This is also the only volume I have seen with an illustrated dustwrapper, following the example of the Nelson series, although it is quite possible that there are many others.

Standard Collection 230 dustwrapper

Illustrated dustwrapper for volume 230 – ‘Eugenics and other evils’

This is the second in what I intend to be a series of posts about the publishers in competition to Tauchnitz.  I looked at Thomas Nelson a few days ago.  Louis Conard and William Collins Sons represent competitors two and three.

The child of a brief affair

The myth about the birth of Penguin Books involves an immaculate conception on a station platform in Exeter.  In a post earlier this year though, I speculated that the new baby bore a remarkable resemblance to the continental Albatross Books, which might indicate some parentage.

Penguin-1785-a Greene End of the Affair

I have now come across an article by Alistair McCleery, which confirms the link and goes much further. Allen Lane was not only well aware of Albatross and its innovations, but had explored the possibility of a joint venture between Albatross and the Bodley Head, the publisher of which he was a Director. It was only when this possibility foundered that he went ahead with the separate launch of Penguin Books. The use of a seabird as a logo was then not in the slightest coincidental, and nor were the other design features shared by the two series. Penguin was indeed the child of a brief affair between Albatross and the Bodley Head.

Albatross 398   Brighton Rock

It is hardly surprising that copyright issues caused the end of the affair.   British publishers were wary of the potential damage that paperback reprints, even limited to the European continent, could do to their hardback sales, and would have been far more concerned about UK paperbacks.   In the nineteenth century Tauchnitz had built much of its reputation on publishing the latest English literature in continental editions more or less simultaneously with the first UK publication.   But by 1930 authors and publishers were enforcing a delay of at least a year before allowing continental publication.   Within the UK they would be looking for a far longer delay, and this is reflected in the titles that Allen Lane was eventually able to publish in the early days of Penguin, most of which came 10 years or more after first publication and many much longer than that.

On the other hand it is not difficult to see the initial attractions.   Despite the impact its books had made, Albatross was a long way from reaching the kind of mass market success that Penguin would go on to achieve.  A typical initial print run for Albatross would have been a few thousand copies, perhaps even as low as 2,000, and unlikely to be as much as 10,000.  In the European market alone, it could not achieve the kind of economies of scale that that UK sales could have brought.  Penguin started at 10,000 and was later printing 100,000 copies or more of its more popular titles. The prices this enabled it to achieve were vital to its success.

The standard price in Germany for an Albatross book, as for Tauchnitz before it, was RM1.80, and as far as I can work out from exchange rates at the time, this was closer to 2 shillings than to the sixpence that Penguins initially sold for.  Certainly Albatross was a superior product, and its distribution network spread over many countries would have been expensive, but longer print runs could undoubtedly have reduced its unit costs substantially.  So a flirtation was understandable, and if it never led to marriage, the liaison did result in a beautiful child.

Taking advantage of an absence

I looked last week at how Tauchnitz just about coped with World War I – a war that placed it on the opposing side to most of its customers.  There were many more trials to come, but it did at least survive the war, and could return to its main business of publishing contemporary English literature for the European continent.

The recovery was slow.   Before the war Tauchnitz had been publishing around 70 new volumes a year in its main Collection of British Authors.  In 1919 it published just 6, followed by 12 in1920, 23 in 1921, 25 in 1922 and 29 in 1923.  Many of the books printed in this period were on poor quality paper, and the company also had to deal with the problem of hyper-inflation in Germany.  It also faced new competitors, who had taken advantage of the enforced absence of Tauchnitz from much of Western Europe, to launch new series.

Nelson Continental Library 50

Amongst these new competitors was Thomas Nelson and Sons, a Scottish publisher, which had set up a Paris office in 1910 and very successfully launched a series of French language novels, which was to continue for over 50 years.  Seeing the gap created by the absence of Tauchnitz from the market in France and other European countries, they launched the ‘Nelson’s Continental Library’ in 1915 and quickly recruited several authors who had previously contributed novels to Tauchnitz, including Marie Corelli, Rider Haggard, John Galsworthy and Jack London.  They were also able to call on works from John Buchan, who was a Director of the firm.

Nelson Continental Library 9

The books looked very similar to Tauchnitz edition, the same size and the same buff colour, and could easily be mistaken for them – in fact they still often are.  There was though one major difference, that would have made them stand out.   Many of the Nelson books had brightly illustrated dustwrappers.  I don’t know whether these were used on just some, or on all the books – I suspect maybe not on the earliest issues, but on all the later ones and on reprints.  Tauchnitz did eventually use dustwrappers on their paperbacks, but only many years later, and much less garish than these.  Like Penguin later on, Tauchnitz seem to have had an aversion to illustrated covers, fearing they would project the wrong image – perhaps attract the ‘wrong’ type of customer.

The initial price of the books was 2 Francs, the same price at which Tauchnitz had sold before the war.  But by volume 43 it had increased to 2.25 Francs, and after that there was a steady increase to 4.50 Francs for the later titles.   Unhelpfully the books carry no date or printing history, so it’s difficult to be sure about the dates or about first printings.  Usually the list of other titles on the back cover is the best guide, and the price can also be an indication.  As far as I can tell though, the series didn’t last long after the end of the war. The final titles may have been issued around 1921. The last volume I have is volume 88, by now with an illustrated wrapper attached directly to the book and no separate dustwrapper, but there is some evidence of later volumes, possibly up to volume 99.   Whether the series ended because of falling sales or increased costs, or the desertion of their authors back to Tauchnitz, I don’t know.

Nelson Continental Library 88

When Albatross, the company that eventually toppled Tauchnitz, launched in 1932, they were reported to be around the 40th competitor that Tauchnitz had faced in its long history. I can’t identify anything like that number at the moment, but I intend to look at as many as I can of them in this blog. Nelson’s Continental Library is the first of those.

A letter from Charles Dickens

If, like me, you have an interest in the Tauchnitz Editions, then a 150 year-old letter addressed to Bernhard Tauchnitz, is an exciting find.   If you’re at all interested in English literature, then a letter written and signed by Charles Dickens is something special.   A letter from Dickens to Tauchnitz wins on both counts.

24. Auktion

This one was written by Dickens in November 1860 accepting an offer of £35 from Tauchnitz for the publication of ‘The uncommercial traveller’ and ‘Hunted Down’.  The two works were published together as volume 536 of the Tauchnitz series just a few weeks later, their publication announced on 13 December 1860.  Dickens seems to consider ‘The uncommercial traveller’, a series of sketches from his journal ‘All the Year Round’, as being the main work for which payment is being offered.  He adds ‘Hunted Down’ apparently only as an afterthought, at the bottom of the letter, and it accounts for little more than 30 of the near 300 pages in the book.  Yet it is this short story that takes pride of place at the front of the book and on the title page.  Did Tauchnitz see this as the real prize?

Tauchnitz 536 Hunted Down title page

The 75th anniversary publication for Tauchnitz in 1912 included a long selection of extracts of letters from famous authors, with a special section for a series of letters from Dickens.  It is clear from these that Dickens had absolute faith in the reputation of Tauchnitz for fair dealing.  In relation to ‘Dombey and Son’ in 1846 for instance he wrote ‘… I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.  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 …’.

Letters from Dickens quoted in 1912 Anniversary history 3 Letters from Dickens quoted in 1912 Anniversary history 2

In this letter too, he accepts without question the proposal of £35 from Tauchnitz.   That may well have been a fair price, but it is worth noting that ‘Hunted Down’ is a story that has drawn attention because of the large amount of money initially paid for it.  Dickens was offered £1000 to write it for the ‘New York Ledger’, which published it in three instalments in August and September 1859.   He then published it in ‘All the Year Round’ in 1860, and here now he offers it to Tauchnitz as a makeweight in a £35 deal.   Its value seems to have fallen from £1000 to just a few pounds in little over 12 months!

This particular letter was not quoted in the 1912 publication, but there is an extract from a letter dated just 6 days later, on November 21st 1860.   ‘I beg to acknowledge with thanks, the safe receipt of your draft for £ .. Sterling, also, to send you the agreement with my signature and seal attached’.   Although the publisher’s discretion means that neither the amount of money nor the name of the work are quoted, it seems fair to assume that Dickens had already received both the contract and the payment of £35.   Tauchnitz it seems was a fast worker, and the postal service between Britain and Germany must also have been efficient, possibly even faster than it now is.

Letters from Dickens quoted in 1912 Anniversary history 4

Clearly Tauchnitz kept files of his correspondence with his authors, and recognised himself that the letters from Dickens were something special.  It would be reasonable to assume that they continued to be kept at the Tauchnitz offices and might have been in the premises destroyed by an Allied bombing raid in December 1943.   The survival of this letter suggests though that may not have been the case.  Perhaps they were kept by representatives of the Tauchnitz family when the business was sold in 1934.   This letter turned up last year in an auction in Germany, where it was described as a letter to the German publisher, Tauchnitz, but not identified as being from Dickens.   Do  other letters still exist out there somewhere?

Finally, if that’s not enough, there is another reason to celebrate this find.  ‘Hunted Down’ is one of the few stories to be set in the exciting world of life assurance and to have as one of its principal characters, an actuary, the career to which I have devoted most of my working life.

How to deal with a war against your customers

When your whole business is based on the cultural links between two countries, and hostilities then break out between them, you’re in a difficult position.  It can’t be easy at the moment to sell Russian folk music in Kiev.  So imagine how Tauchnitz must have felt at the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany a hundred years ago.

For over 70 years the firm had been publishing English literature in Germany and selling their books across the European continent.  A large part of their market, including selling to British and American travellers, disappeared more or less immediately and their basic product, contemporary English literature, became unacceptable to the censor.   Like any business in wartime they would also have faced many practical difficulties, including the loss of a large part of their staff.  From publishing at the rate of around 6 volumes a month up to August 1914, they were reduced to a total of 20 volumes in their main series between September 1914 and December 1918.

English Text-Books 10

And yet somehow Tauchnitz survived.  They may never have quite recovered their pre-war strength, but there were many reasons for that and arguably the signs of decline were evident even before the outbreak of war.  That they survived at all was due partly to a series known originally as ‘English Text-Books’ and later as the Tauchnitz Pocket Library.  It may have been born out of desperation, and was one of the least attractive of their products, but it may also have been one of the most important.

The series started life in 1916 as ‘English Text-Books – selected from the Tauchnitz Edition’  – a description perhaps chosen for political reasons, although the books don’t appear to have been aimed particularly at schools.  In practice they were all parts of books previously published, and even printed from the original plates with the original page numbering.  Most were relatively slim volumes, typically 100 to 150 pages in drab covers, and sold for around 90 pfennigs, just under 1 Mark.  The first selection consisted of 38 volumes, followed later in 1916 by a further 40 titles, with the series title now altered to ‘Tauchnitz Pocket Library’.   A lot of the first 38 were also reprinted either at this stage, or possibly in 1917, with the new series title.

English Text-Books 22a  Tauchnitz Pocket Library 22a

First printing and reprint with new series title (and censor mark on cover)

A final 11 volumes taking the series total up to 89, were published in 1918 and again earlier titles were then reprinted, distinguishable as reprints only by the rear cover listing all 89 titles rather than just the first 78.

They’re not easy to find now, particularly in first printing, and they are poorly represented in most Tauchnitz collections, although there is a full collection of them in the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig.

Tauchnitz Pocket Library 80a

A later issue in the series, from 1918

A tale of two Pocket Libraries

I’ve talked before about how Penguin transformed the market for paperback books in the UK in 1935, particularly by using non-illustrated covers, and how other companies reacted to this.  Recent posts have looked at how Collins in particular reacted with the launch of their White Circle series.

Hutchinson PL6

But the fastest company to react seems to have been Hutchinson.  The first Penguins appeared in July 1935 and by October of the same year, they had competition in the form of Hutchinson’s Pocket Library, clearly copying some of the principal design features of Penguins –  the same size, covers in similarly bright colours, dustwrappers in the same design as the books, and of course the same sixpenny price.  Perhaps most important though, is the lack of any illustration on the cover.  Hutchinson were an established paperback publisher, but their pre-Penguin paperbacks had illustrated covers. Within three months of Penguin’s launch, here they are launching a new series without illustrations.

Hutchinson CBS27  Hutchinson PLNF1

It seems to have been reasonably successful, running to around 75 titles before the outbreak of war and ran alongside various other series in different genres – the Hutchinson Crime Book Society published a similar number of books, competing with the Collins White Circle Crime Club  as well as the Penguin crime novels, and a Hutchinson non-fiction series competed with Pelican.  Pelican having launched in 1937 with a two volume book by Bernard Shaw, the Hutchinson non-fiction series launched in 1938 with a two volume book by H.G. Wells.  All of these series had covers in a standard non-illustrated design, following the fashion set by Penguin.

Hutchinson PPL13   Hutchinson PPL14

But there was also one other series – the Hutchinson’s Popular Pocket Library, a series of romantic novels.   The insertion of that one word ‘popular’ distinguished it from the more serious Hutchinson’s Pocket Library, but the real distinguishing factor was that this series had illustrated covers.   This comparison, more than anything, showed the effect that Penguin had had on the market.  Illustrated covers now implied a lack of seriousness, or pure escapism.   Novels with any literary pretensions at all, even crime novels, or in the case of Collins, westerns, had to have non-illustrated covers.  But books that were happy to flaunt their lack of any pretensions, could use illustrations.  The word ‘popular’ is being used here almost as a taunt – “we know this is escapist rubbish, but we don’t care – look, cover art!”.

Henry the Fourth Parts 1 and 2 with the RSC at Stratford

Henry IV Part I, as directed by Gregory Doran at Stratford is a riot.  The production is visually stunning, the lines are beautifully and clearly spoken, the cast is dominated by Anthony Sher as Falstaff, but is superb throughout, and it’s overall a first class theatrical experience.  Part II shares many of those same features, but created far less of an impression on me.  The comic invention that provided a balance to the fast moving action and the weighty historical themes in Part I, seemed to be dragged out interminably in Part II.  Having never seen, or even read, either play before, it seems presumptuous to criticise Shakespeare for this and it’s hard to fault the RSC production, but still that was how it felt to me.

King Henry IV Falstaff and Prince Hal

Sher’s Falstaff moves slowly and talks slowly but his comic timing is brilliant, as he comes up with more and more far-reached explanations for his cowardice and sloth.  I loved the mock trial scene in the tavern where Falstaff first acts out the king and then Prince Hal, and his vain attempts to rise from his back on the battlefield were comedy gold.  As a reveller in the tavern he was totally convincing, although the idea of him being allowed anywhere near a battlefield was absurd.  It’s hard at times to take the battle scenes seriously, when Falstaff is wandering in and out of the action, trundling a little cart behind him like a toddler, and allegedly leading a ragtag company of 150 men. 

If Falstaff dominates the stage, there are still great parts for Hotspur, Prince Hal and the King, and fine performances by Trevor White, Alex Hassell and Jasper Britton.  Hotspur is portrayed as rash and impetuous in the extreme, so that it’s not hard to imagine him a liability as a military commander, but harder to understand why King Henry would see him as a model for his own son.

Overall though I loved the first play, and wasn’t quite sure what went wrong between it and the second one.  Perhaps nothing except the curse of all sequels, that they try too hard to reprise the bits that seemed to go so well in the first.   But the tavern scenes in Part II don’t have the freshness they had in the first part, and there’s less action to fill the play out and move it on.  The waiter being frantically pulled in all directions provided some of the best moments in Part I, but by Part II he’s just dashing across the stage shouting ‘Anon’ in the search for a cheap laugh.  And the scenes in Gloucestershire where Falstaff goes to recruit soldiers and finds only cripples and simpletons just left you with an uncomfortable feeling of mocking the afflicted.  Still the play gets it together more for the end when Hal seizes the crown too soon and in quite a moving scene, has to backpedal in front of his father.  Then having finally inherited the crown, he perhaps inevitably, but chillingly, renounces Falstaff, along with his old life.

Bookmarking the old-fashioned way

I never really had any interest in bookmarks.  My interest has always been in the books themselves.  But sometimes it’s difficult to collect one without the other.  They tend to turn up together.  Bookmarks left out of books don’t usually last long.  But neatly pressed between the pages of a book, they can last as long as the book.

That’s certainly the case with Tauchnitz bookmarks that regularly turn up within the pages of old Tauchnitz Editions, usually the paperback ones rather than hardbacks.   Over the years I’ve found around 50 of these within books, as well as buying others separately, so I suppose I have to admit that I now collect the bookmarks as well as the books.

I suspect a lot of the surviving bookmarks are ones that were never really used for their proper purpose.   They were inserted as advertising into the books at the point of sale, tucked in completely between the pages.  In books that were never read they just stayed there, sometimes untouched for decades.   By contrast those that were actually used to mark a page and then left in a book would have protruded slightly, and become worn and discarded.  And if any were left in paperbacks sent to the bookbinder, they’d be discarded and replaced with a nice silk ribbon – nice but uninteresting

Bookmark April 1893

An early bookmark – slightly longer than the books

It helps that most of the Tauchnitz bookmarks are just the right size to disappear inside the books.   In fact they started off rather bigger and few of the early ones have survived.  Luckily more of the later ones have, because they’re a fascinating piece of publishing history.   Tauchnitz had bookmarks printed probably every month for over 20 years, between about 1893 and 1914 and each month’s bookmark recorded the books issued that month.  Between them they’re more or less a complete record of the 1500 or so books published in that period.    Or at least I assume they are.   If I’m right to say that they were issued every month, then there should be around 250 different monthly bookmarks.   The Tauchnitz bibliography found surviving copies of only 56 of them.  I’ve found quite a lot more, and heard from bookmark collectors who have others.  That still leaves us a long way short of 250, but near enough to make it look as though they probably do all exist.  I’d love to hear from anybody who has others.

  Bookmark May 1903 front   Bookmark May 1903 back 

Front and back of the May 1903 bookmark

The design of the bookmarks remained essentially unchanged for 20 years, although there were minor changes in the colours and the details.  That may seem surprising in these days of constant design changes, but the design of the books themselves had been largely unaltered from launch in1842 until the first major redesign in 1914 – a period of over 70 years.  Although the early bookmarks list the books in roughly numerical order, with a short blurb about each one, they quickly became more selective about which books they wanted to promote the most.  The choice of which book to list first is then evidence of which book the publisher saw as most prominent that month.

The last regular bookmark probably appeared in July 1914, just over 100 years ago, but a further bookmark dated January 1915 swept up the final books published before the war effectively put a temporary end to the publishing of English books in Germany.  They never reappeared after the war in this format, although there were still occasional advertising bookmarks issued, often promoting the works of one particular author.

The final bookmark in the series?