The first 70 Guild Books Services Editions in 1943 and 1944 were a breakthrough for the British Publishers Guild, but they were far from the end of the story. The series continued through to a total of 231 titles, accounting for not far off half of all UK Services Editions.
As with the first 70, there is no full list of what exists and no collection in any major library, so it needs a lot of detective work to track them down. Fortunately the later issues are a little easier to find than the early ones, and I now have copies in one form or another of 146 of the 161 titles from S71 to S231. I think I know at least the titles and authors of 10 of the 15 missing books, but there are still 5 gaps where I don’t even know the title. Of course it’s possible that these 5 are just gaps in the numbering system and were never issued, but as I’ve been gradually filling in gaps for the last 25 years, it seems likely that they’re out there somewhere, as are the other missing titles from the first 70. The list, as far I’ve been able to complete it, is on my Services Editions website.
The books continued to come from a wide range of publishers, with 22 having contributed at least one book by the end of the series, and they were also printed by a range of different companies. Up to volume S209 though they were in a consistent size and format, differing only in the colour of the cover. Then around the end of 1945, all printing switched to the Amalgamated Press and the books changed to a wider format. The same cover design was used but the books were now too wide for it, so a narrow strip is left either side of the diagonal stripe on all these later books. More confusingly, a lot of the earlier books were also reprinted in this format, but without any alteration to the printing history, so that there is nothing other than the format to indicate that these are reprints. In practice any book that is in the wider format is likely to be from 1946, whatever the printing history says, and if it is numbered before S209 then it is a reprint.
Numbers S209 (standard format) and S210 (wider, ‘digest’ format), both showing evidence of WH Smith stickers
The publication of Services Editions ended later in 1946 and remaining copies were sold to WH Smith, who sold them on to the general public with a special sticker on them. In practice a high proportion of the books that turn up now, whether they have stickers on or not, are ones that were sold off in this way, rather than copies actually used by the services. Inevitably most of them are in the wider format and a lot are reprints of earlier titles. Without these reprints, my own collection would be a lot thinner and my knowledge of what books exist would be a lot less complete, but of course it would be nice at some stage to track down first printings.
It’s known that the first 70 titles were ordered in an initial print run of 50,000 copies each. As later titles are a bit easier to find, it seems fair to assume that their print run was at least as large. That would make over 10 million copies printed of the first 209 books in narrow format. They were small fragile books on poor quality wartime paper. Many, if not most, will have been sent abroad, read repeatedly, stored in battledress pockets, and generally poorly treated. It is perhaps not surprising that few have survived.
The wider format books from 1946 have survived in greater numbers, although the paper is often heavily browned, and there is usually some rusting on the staples. Only 22 new titles were published in this format, but a lot of other titles were reprinted, adding up to possibly over 100 titles in total – so perhaps another 5 million books. Their chances of survival were probably better because so many of them were released to WH Smith for resale. Even so, some individual titles are very difficult to find, and there are some that I have never seen. Overall there are remarkably few remaining books for a series of which some 15 million copies were printed just 70 years ago.