Monthly Archives: April 2015

Going into Service – the start of the Collins series

The Collins White Circle series of Services Editions began in 1943 with the issue of 16 titles, probably in a printing of around 50,000 copies each.   That means around 800,000 books printed and distributed to the Armed Forces.   After 25 years of looking for them, I have found 5 and know of the existence of a handful of others, but in total the number of those 800,000 books still remaining seems to be barely in double figures.  There are no collections of them in public libraries or university libraries to the best of my knowledge.   WorldCat, the international library cataloguing system, which claims to catalogue 2 billion items in libraries around the world, has no record of them.  The only indication we have that they even existed, is the numbering of later books in the series, the lists of titles included in those books, and in some cases the evidence of later reprints.

Collins c201

The ‘first’ Collins Services Edition

The first 16 books were not themselves numbered in first printing.   Numbering started probably from the 17th book, which was given the number c217, but later reprints of some of those first 16 titles were given numbers in the range from c201 to c216.  These numbers are consistent with the order of the titles listed in later books, so it seems reasonable to suppose that numbers were allocated in this order to all the books.   On that basis, the first 5 books were crime titles, the first of them being ‘Seven dead’ by J. Jefferson Farjeon, the next three were mysteries, then followed by 8 westerns.

Collins SEs numbered and unnumbered

First printings are unnumbered, reprints have numbers

Westerns in paperback are always difficult to find in my experience.  I suspect they were more avidly read and passed around, so disintegrated more quickly, and then in later life were seen as more disposable.   Whatever the reason, all of the westerns in Services Edition are difficult to find, and those first 8 almost impossible.  If anyone knows of the existence of any bright yellow western paperbacks with Services Edition on the front, particularly any dated 1943, I’d love to hear from them.   I have just one of the eight in first printing and two others in reprints dated 1945.

Collins c216

An almost unique example of a 1943 1st printing western in Services Edition

Whether only those two were reprinted or not, I can’t say.  Certainly all three of the mystery titles were reprinted in 1945 (numbered c206 to c208) and at least one of the crime titles, but those are the only ones I have seen.  Reprints would normally be significantly easier to find than the first printings, so it seems unlikely that all of them were reprinted, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the westerns turn up one day.

Sherlock Holmes in Tauchnitz Editions

The Tauchnitz Edition included almost every significant novel written in English over a hundred year period, including of course the novels of Dickens, the Brontes, Hardy, George Eliot and a host of others, many of them now almost forgotten.  But surely some of the most significant, and the least forgotten, are the Sherlock Holmes novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.   They played a key role in spawning a whole genre of writing that still seems as popular as ever, had a lasting influence on a much broader range of English literature and continue to fascinate and stimulate new works.

So it goes without saying that they were published by Tauchnitz.  Not immediately, it should be said.  ‘A study in scarlet’, the first of the Holmes novels, was published in 1887 in a magazine, and initially attracted relatively little attention.  It was followed in 1890 by ‘The sign of four’ (originally titled ‘The sign of the four’) and it was really only after that that interest in the stories started to build.  The first book publication of ‘The sign of four’ was in October 1890 and the Tauchnitz Edition followed in February 1891.   Tauchnitz then published two other non-Holmes novels by Conan Doyle and a collection of short stories, before ‘A study in Scarlet’ appeared in March 1892.   The first printing of ‘A study in scarlet’ is therefore identified by the list of the 4 previous books by Conan Doyle on the back of the half-title, starting with ‘The sign of four’ and finishing with ‘The white company’.   Later editions list many more titles.   The first printing of ‘The sign of four’ of course lists no other Conan Doyle titles.

Tauchnitz 2812 A study in Scarlet title page

The first printing of ‘A study in scarlet’ lists 4 other Conan Doyle titles

After that, Tauchnitz published all the new Sherlock Holmes stories as quickly as it could get its hands on them.   ‘The adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ appeared in March 1893 (6 other Conan Doyle titles listed), ‘The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ in April 1894 (9 other Conan Doyle titles listed), ‘The hound of the Baskervilles’ in April 1902 (20 other Conan Doyle titles listed) and ‘The return of Sherlock Holmes’ in March 1905 (22 other Conan Doyle titles listed).   From the growing number of other titles, it’s clear that alongside these, Tauchnitz were also publishing other non-Holmes books by Conan Doyle.  There were also regular reprints of the Sherlock Holmes books, as always with Tauchnitz retaining the original publication date on the title page, but identified by higher numbers of other titles listed on the back of the half-title, or in the case of paperback copies, by the date at the top of the back wrapper.

The first printing of 'The hound of the Baskervilles' lists 20 other Conan Doyle titles

The first printing of ‘The hound of the Baskervilles’ lists 20 other Conan Doyle titles

Conan Doyle produced no further Sherlock Holmes books until ‘The valley of fear’ in 1915, by which time Germany was at war with Britain and Tauchnitz was no longer in the market for the publication of English novels.   The book was instead published on the continent in the Nelson’s Continental Library, based in Paris.

When ‘His last bow’ appeared in 1917, it appeared in the other main series that had sprung up to replace Tauchnitz, the Standard Collection, published by Louis Conard.    So it was not until ‘The case-book of Sherlock Holmes’ was published in 1927 that Tauchnitz could add another Holmes title to its list.  This final title (volume 4790) listed only 23 other titles by Conan Doyle, although it was the 32nd title to be published, probably because several of the books had gone out of print.   For much of its existence, Tauchnitz had listed all previous publications and tried to keep them all in print as well, but by this time some pruning of the backlist had become almost inevitable.

Tauchnitz 3796 The return of Sherlock Holmes vol. 1    Tauchnitz 4790 The case-book of Sherlock Holmes

19th century Tauchnitz editions are easier to find in hardback, 20th century ones in paperback

So sadly, despite a near 40 year publishing relationship with Conan Doyle, the entire Sherlock Holmes series is not available in Tauchnitz editions.   There are nonetheless 10 volumes, as part of a total of over 40 volumes by Conan Doyle, so the great detective gets rather more than an honourable mention in the history of Tauchnitz.

Tauchnitz Sherlock Holmes spines 2

All originally issued as paperbacks, but 19th century books were bound in a huge variety of styles

A Christmas Carol – the first printing?

In 1843 Bernhard Tauchnitz signed an agreement with Charles Dickens to publish authorised continental editions of his books.  ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, the first of Dickens’ novels to appear in an authorised edition, has already featured in this blog.  But his short story ‘A Christmas Carol’ was published almost at the same time by Tauchnitz and may even have got there first.

The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz lists the announcement dates in some detail.   Tauchnitz announced both books for issue within the next few days on 4 December 1843, with an official announcement in the Börsenblatt für den Deutschen Buchhandel on 8 December.  ‘A Christmas Carol’ was to be published  simultaneously with the London edition, which was eventually issued on 19 December.  ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ appeared in the Hinrichs’schen Buchhandung lists of publications on 18-20 December followed by ‘A Christmas Carol’ on 27 December.

That might suggest that ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ was published first, but on the other hand it is dated 1844 on the title page, whereas ‘A Christmas Carol’ is dated 1843.   The date of 1844 for ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ could be because this was only volume 1, with volume 2 to appear later in 1844, although Tauchnitz didn’t always follow this practice.  On the other hand it seems highly likely that ‘A Christmas Carol’ did appear in 1843, and indeed before Christmas.   Even if the Christmas book market was not as competitive in 1843 as it is now, there would have been an obvious commercial imperative to having it published before rather than after Christmas.   As books had to be distributed for sale across continental Europe, it could hardly have been left to the last minute either.  Could it actually have been published earlier than 19 December, in which case the Tauchnitz edition would be the worldwide first edition?

A Christmas Carol impression Aa Frontispiece
The frontispiece to the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’

We may never know the answer to that.  Certainly the Tauchnitz Edition was published very close to the date of first UK publication.  But as always with Tauchnitz Editions, there’s another problem anyway, which is to identify which copies represent the first edition.

A Christmas Carol impression Aa Half-title

Like all Tauchnitz Editions it was issued as a paperback, and a relatively small one, consisting of just 78 pages on quite thin paper.   The half-title identifies it as being part of the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors, but it was effectively an unnumbered special edition, too short to justify a series number or the normal volume price.  More significantly for its chances of survival, it was too slim a paperback for many purchasers to justify taking it to the bookbinders and having it separately bound.   Instead it is sometimes found bound together with another volume of Dickens, or an unrelated volume from another author.  But for the most part it has simply disappeared, with surviving copies of the first printing now very rare.

A Christmas Carol impression Aa Title page
The title page of the first edition

For a copy to be identified as the first printing, it must first have 78 pages (with the preliminary pages not included in the numbering), must show the publisher as Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun. on the title page and refer to the book being an ‘Edition sanctioned by the author’.   It should also say ‘Printed by Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ at the foot of the final page and have a frontispiece entitled ‘Marley’s Ghost’, described on the title page as being a coloured etching, although according to the bibliography it is really a coloured lithograph.   Even with all these qualifications, there remain two variants, one of which (impression Aa) finishes with ‘THE END.’ and the other (impression Ab) with ‘THE E   .’ – i.e with the letters ND missing.   The bibliography gives precedence to impression Aa, suggesting that the ‘ND’ of impression Ab was ‘apparently dropped in reimpression from standing type’.  That may be right, but it’s not clear to me why the alternative interpretation of a mistake in the first impression, quickly corrected in a second impression, could not equally be true.   Although printing errors happened only extremely rarely in Tauchnitz Editions, a rush to get the book issued in time for Christmas might conceivably have caused this?

A Christmas Carol impression Aa page 78
The final page of impression Aa

Todd & Bowden in the bibliography identified only a single copy of impression Aa, in their own collection, now held in the British Library, with three surviving copies of impression Ab in Amsterdam, Yale and Munich, the last of these in a private collection now held in the National Library of Scotland.   There’s now a further copy of impression Aa in my collection, which may therefore be an extremely rare example of the worldwide first printing of ‘A Christmas Carol’, or may not even be a first printing of the Tauchnitz Edition.  That’s the joy of book collecting!

A glorious year of theatre

Sue and I agreed at the end of March last year that we would go to the theatre at least once a month for the next year.   I don’t think I’ve ever managed that before in my life, but we’ve now achieved it and it’s been a glorious year.   There are links below to my reviews of each play, but overall we’ve seen some wonderful theatre and some outstanding performances.


Certainly it helps that we’re close enough to visit Stratford regularly, and we’re rarely disappointed by anything we see at the RSC.  I’ve enjoyed visiting the theatre there for many years, but it seems to me to go from strength to strength.   The new stage is just brilliant and a massive vindication of all the effort that went into transforming the theatre and the associated fundraising.   One of the most striking observations for me over the year has been how restricting the proscenium arch stages in other theatres are in comparison with the thrust stage at Stratford.   It’s given huge freedom to the directors there and they’ve seized the opportunity with both hands.   Even the highest priced seats at other theatres can sometimes offer a view that’s disappointing in comparison with the cheapest seats at Stratford.  We sat in the Upper Circle last week and had a fantastic view of a production that was constantly entertaining as well as thought-provoking.   The quality of acting and of speaking is invariably high, from the leading actors down to the smallest part, there’s almost always live music to support the productions, the sets and the costumes are beautifully done and the overall standard of production is superb.

RST thrust stage

The thrust stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford

When we’ve strayed further afield though we’ve found plenty to delight us.  Three very enjoyable trips to the Theatre Royal in Bath and one to the Everyman in Cheltenham to see touring productions, and two fantastic productions at the National in London.   If what we’ve seen over the last year is at all representative of the current standard of theatre in Britain, then it’s in rude health.

So what were the highlights?   In terms of individual performances, seeing Anthony Sher play both Falstaff and Willy Loman has been hard to beat, although Simon Russell Beale as King Lear may have run him close.  In terms of productions, it’s even harder to choose.   ‘Great Britain’ at the National Theatre was certainly a highlight, as was Sher’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, but overall I’m not sure there was anything I enjoyed more than the combination of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ and ‘Much ado about Nothing’ played with a single cast and a single setting at Stratford.   Not Shakespeare’s finest plays, and not played with a stellar cast, but both of them a visual delight, beautifully produced, directed, acted and spoken and hugely entertaining throughout.


Much ado about Nothing in the RSC production 2015

The other question then is what next?  The year may be finished, but the appetite has only been whetted, and I hope to see many more plays over the next twelve months and beyond.  Maybe a bit less obsessively scheduled as at least one every month, but still regularly seen, and if I can manage it, still regularly reviewed on this blog.

Full list of plays seen with links to the reviews

Moon on a rainbow shawl (Errol John) – Theatre Royal, Bath

King Lear (Shakespeare) – National Theatre, London

The roaring girl (Decker & Middleton) – Swan Theatre, Stratford

Wolf Hall & Bring up the bodies (Poulton / Mantel) – Aldwych Theatre, London

Great Britain (Richard Bean) – National Theatre, London

Henry IV Part I (Shakespeare) – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Henry IV Part II (Shakespeare) – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Regeneration (Barker / Wright) – Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl et al) – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

Love’s Labour’s Lost (Shakespeare) – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

The Christmas Truce (Phil Porter) – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Much ado about Nothing (Shakespeare) – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Arcadia (Tom Stoppard) – Theatre Royal, Bath

Oh what a lovely war (Joan Littlewood et al) – Theatre Royal, Bath

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller) – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Death of a Salesman – The RSC in Stratford

Perhaps an unusual play to take over the main stage in Stratford, normally devoted to the works of Shakespeare at this time of year, but ‘Death of a salesman’ comes with a huge reputation as one of the best and most significant plays of the 20th century.  If it’s a gamble by the RSCs Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, to  put on a non-Shakespeare production, then being able to call on Anthony Sher and Harriet Walter to star in it, must reduce the risk a lot, and he has ended up with a wonderful success to justify his decision.

Death-of-a-Salesman 5

Anthony Sher gives a great performance as washed up salesman Willy Loman, entirely convincing as his mood swings between buoyant optimism and suicidal depression.   I’ve never seen the play before so I can’t compare him against other actors, and it’s clearly a great part to get your teeth into, but I thought it was a stunning performance.   Harriet Walter has a less meaty part as his wife, but was the perfect foil, having to deal with his constantly changing moods, but always supportive, understanding his character better then he does himself and entreating their sons to make allowances for him.

Death-of-a-Salesman 4

Death-of-a-Salesman 3

As always the RSC produced a great ensemble performance, making dynamic use of the thrust stage, and the swings in time and setting as well as mood were well handled.  I particularly liked the transformation from a domestic scene to an outdoor one as actors rose standing still from below and then suddenly switched into action to create the criss-crossing bustle of the city streets.

Death-of-a-Salesman 1 Death-of-a-Salesman 2

Alex Hassell, having played Prince Hal to Sher’s Falstaff earlier in the year in Henry IV, produces another good performance as Biff.  He seems to be the RSC’s rising star, slated to play Henry V as well in the autumn, and as with Henry, here he has to play both the older Biff and his younger self, which doesn’t look easy to carry off.  There’s not the same growth and maturing that there is with Prince Hal, as Biff seems to be stuck in a pattern of petty theft.  But he too achieves some kind of maturity with his realisation that he may be better off working outside, even if it means giving up on the American dream that his father and his brother Happy (well played by Sam Marks) still seem enthralled by.