How to confuse collectors in five easy lessons … by Collins White Circle

My post a couple of weeks ago looked at the Collins White Circle paperbacks.  They should be a very collectable series, particularly the Crime Club editions, but Collins really didn’t make it easy for collectors.  Here’s a guide to their strategy.

Lesson 1 – Show previous printings without identifying what they are

Most White Circle paperbacks list several previous printings and it’s easy to assume that they are previous printings in the same format.  Usually they aren’t.   For instance, White Circle No. 1 was Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and the first printing as a White Circle paperback appears from the printing history to be an 8th printing.  As far as I can tell, all seven previous printings are hardback printings in the Collins Crime Club series.   Printings not by Collins don’t appear to be included, notably the first paperback printing in the Albatross Continental Library.

 Collins-Crime-Club-1  White Circle 001 printing history  White Circle 001 back cover

Front cover, printing history and back cover of the first printing of White Circle No. 1

The better test for whether or not a copy is a first printing, is to see what other titles and numbers are listed on the back cover and the last few pages – a genuine ‘first’ should not list numbers much beyond its own.   Happily most copies are first printings of a sort anyway – see lesson 3.

Lesson 2 – Develop an idiosyncratic numbering system

The White Circle numbering system started out sensibly enough, numbering the Crime stories from 1 upwards.  When westerns were added to the series they started at 101.  Mystery titles then set off from 201 and Romantic novels used the 300 numbers, although oddly mixed in with a separate series of novels from Galsworthy’s Forsyte saga. 

It wasn’t difficult to foresee what would happen.  The Crime Club novels reached number 100 and instead of jumping to some unused numbers further on, they started to sport a suffix.   So 101 is a western, but 101c is a crime novel.   Eventually both crime and western novels reached number 200, so 207 is a mystery novel, 207c is a crime novel and 207w is a western.  Even more oddly the Services Editions have a c prefix, whatever the genre, so c207 is a Services Edition, and happens to be a mystery novel.

Number 231 and c231.   231c also exists.

Number 231 and c231. 231c also exists.

Lesson 3 – Assign a new number to reprints

The first White Circle paperback printing of Philip Macdonald’s ‘The noose’ was issued in January 1938 as number 34 in the series.  The printing history showed it as the 13th printing but it was the first in White Circle.  It was reprinted in October 1939 as the 14th printing, but then became number 83 in the series.  So the 13th printing is the first in White Circle, but the ‘first printing’ of number 83 is actually a White Circle 2nd printing and is shown inside as a 14th printing.   There are many similar examples.  Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ was issued four times as numbers 32, 87, 129c and 257c.

Lesson 4 – In other cases, ignore previous printings entirely

The consequence of lessons 1 and 3 is that whatever the printing history says,  most standard White Circle paperbacks are ‘first printing thus’ – not necessarily a first printing in White Circle, but a first printing for that number.   Unfortunately this is far from true for the Services Editions, where Collins went to the opposite extreme, giving no indication of previous printings.   For example the first printing in Services Edition of ‘The black thumb’ by Conyth Little (volume c204) shows simply ‘First published 1943 Services Edition 1943’.  It was reprinted in 1945 and shows ‘First published 1943 Services Edition 1945’, which could easily be mistaken for a first printing.

      c204 The Black Thumb 1943 First  c204 The Black Thumb 1945 reprint

First printing and reprint of the Services Edition of ‘The black thumb’

There are several little differences between the 1943 first printing and the 1945 reprint, as with the other books that were reprinted, but you need to be a bit of an anorak about these books to recognise them.   Most book dealers of course have no idea, so reprints are often wrongly described as first printings.  

Lesson 5 – Have hidden series numbers that aren’t shown on the books

This is another classic tactic from the Services Editions series.    The first 16 books or so show no series numbers on the first printings, but do show numbers on any reprints.    It looks as though series numbers were assigned retrospectively, so they published the first 16 books, then started numbering at c217 and allocated numbers c201-c216 to books already published (Why c as a prefix?  Why start from c201?).   For those books that were never reprinted, the numbers have to be inferred from lists and from the evidence of other books.

I should add that I haven’t yet started on the Indian Editions, which look very similar to the UK White Circle editions, but carry no numbers and no printing history.   I’ll come back to these, but I’ve found it pretty well impossible to compile a reliable list of what exists.  I’d be delighted if anyone can help me.

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Posted on September 2, 2014, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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