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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted on September 17, 2014, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged John Buchan, Nelson's Continental Library, Tauchnitz, Tauchnitz Competitors, Thomas Nelson, World War I. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.