An unusual Albatross from Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens more than any other author had helped to make the reputation of the Tauchnitz Editions in the 19th century. All of Dickens’ novels appeared in the Tauchnitz series and in some cases the Tauchnitz Editions are the true first printings in book form, printed from early proofs of the part-issues. There were also numerous volumes reprinted from the Dickens magazines, ‘Household Words’ and ‘All the Year Round’. The personal relationship between Charles Dickens and Bernhard Tauchnitz was very strong, as illustrated by the correspondence featured here a few weeks ago.
But all that was in the 19th century and was ancient history by the time Albatross appeared on the scene in 1932 as the latest challenger to the long-established Tauchnitz. They recruited a large number of authors previously published by Tauchnitz, but they can hardly have imagined that Charles Dickens would be among them. So it was something of a coup for them to obtain the right to publish Dickens’ version of the life of Jesus, written for his children, when it was released by his family in 1934. Dickens had not wanted it published, but after his death a handwritten version was passed down through his family, and continued to be read at Christmas.
When publication was finally agreed, the rights were handled by Curtis Brown literary agents, who had played a role in the original creation of Albatross. In most cases the rights to continental publication could not be obtained for at least a year after first UK publication, but in this case the delay seems to have been waived and Albatross obtained the rights not only to publish an English language version in continental Europe (which appeared as Albatross volume 207), but also to publish a German language edition. By this point in 1934 Tauchnitz were close to collapse, and it is almost as if the loss of Dickens to Albatross was the final symbolic blow to their heart. Before the end of the year, Tauchnitz had been sold to the printing firm of Brandstetter and editorial control had passed to Albatross.
The English language edition of the book was more or less a standard Albatross book. As the text is relatively short, it appeared in a large font size, and with wide margins, but still only stretched to 140 pages. The paper seems to be thicker than for most other Albatross books, presumably to bulk it out, but also of poor quality and subject to page browning. The German language version though is another matter, and seems to have been treated as a prestige publication. Unusually for Albatross, it’s a hardback book, written in Gothic Fraktur script, with illustrations at the heading of each chapter, and with a dustwrapper on heavier paper than normal. It was translated into German by Hans Mardersteig, who had been responsible as designer for the original design of the Albatross books when they launched in 1932, and the illustrations and book design were by Gunter Boehmer, a young German artist (then only 23) who was later to become much better known, and also to have other connections with Albatross. I’ll come back to those later, but there’s a brief preview here.