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.
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.
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.
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.