Monthly Archives: July 2015

How Pan Books won the battle for illustrated covers

I’ve written before about how Penguin transformed the UK paperback market, particularly by making illustrated covers look both old-fashioned and down market.  It was rather odd really.  Before 1935 illustrated covers had dominated the paperback market and with hindsight we know that illustrated covers were to dominate in future as well.  But for more than a decade after the launch of Penguin in 1935, no paperback publisher who wanted their books to be taken at all seriously, could use much in the way of cover art.

The inevitable fightback is probably most associated with Pan Books, which became known for its bright cover illustrations and later for its paperback editions of James Bond books.   It eventually became a serious rival to Penguin and pushed them further and further to using illustrated covers themselves.   But that was quite a long way down the line when the business was set up in 1944 by Alan Bott, a former World War I fighter pilot, who had been one of the founders of the Book Society.   It’s not clear that he had any intention either of rivalling Penguin, or of reintroducing cover art to paperbacks when his first books appeared.  The first two, in 1945, were a paperback collection of ‘Tales of the Supernatural’ and a small hardback edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’.  Two more paperbacks followed in 1946, but other than a small logo, they had no cover art and were unnumbered.

1945 Tales of the supernatural   1945 A Christmas Carol

The first two Pan Books

  1946 A sentimental journey   1946 The suicide club

… and the next two

By early 1947 it was still not clear where the business was going.  Two more hardback books appeared, one of them an almost identical copy of a book that Alan Bott’s earlier venture, The Book Society had published only months before.   There seemed to be no coherence at all to the publishing programme, and certainly no indication of what the business was to become.   Part of that may have been because of the continuing effects of paper rationing after the war.   It was difficult for any new publisher to obtain access to paper in large quantities, and for Pan Books the problem was solved only when they reached agreement for books to be printed in France.

  1947 Diary of a nobody Book Society Edition from 1946  1947 Diary of a nobody

Book Society edition 1946 (left) and Pan books edition 1947 (right)

That arrangement was in place in early 1947 and it was not long before the first books in the numbered series of paperbacks appeared and the style that was to be associated with them, started to emerge. Number 1 in the series was a selection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, and number 2 ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton.  These were fairly safe choices, but the radical element was the use of illustration on the cover.   Nothing too colourful of course – fairly simple and stylised drawings, but still a significant break from what had been the orthodoxy of the previous 12 years.

 Pan 1 Ten stories   Pan 2 Lost horizon

Just as Penguin has its own creation myth involving Allen Lane on a railway station, Pan Books has the story of how books were sailed down the River Seine from Paris each week on an old Royal Navy Motor Launch, and then up the Thames to its warehouse in London.  A lot of books must have made that journey, because by the end of 1947 the series had reached about 25 books and seemed well established, with the use of cover illustration a definite part of its style.  By mid 1950 the series was well past 100 and illustrations were in full colour, were taking up more of the front cover and were becoming more naturalistic.   Around the same time, printing switched back to the UK and the motor launch could be put into retirement.

 The Joker  Claudelle

Pan covers from 1950 and from 1960

Within another 5 or 6 years illustrations would take over the entire cover, and by that time the battle for the future of cover art had been won.  Penguin would remain an important player in the market and would eventually adopt illustrated covers, but it would no longer be setting the terms on which all the other companies had to compete.

A dedication from the publisher – Tauchnitz volume 500

The 500th volume in any series of books is an achievement well worth celebrating, and Bernhard Tauchnitz was justifiably proud when he reached that milestone in 1860.  ‘It is with feelings of high satisfaction and most sincere gratitude, that I beg leave to offer to the Public the five hundredth volume of my Collection of British Authors’, he wrote in the preface.  ‘And why should I not be proud, when looking upon the splendid series formed by these five hundred volumes …’.

It was certainly a considerable achievement over a period of 18 years since the first volume appeared in 1842.   He was not to know at that point that the series would go on to more than 5000 volumes, a milestone reached in 1931 with considerably less fanfare.  Even within his own lifetime, it reached over 3000 volumes, so there were plenty of other occasions to celebrate.

Tauchnitz 500 title page     Tauchnitz 500 page 1 of preface

The 500th volume was a specially commissioned edition of extracts from key texts in English over 5 centuries, from Wycliffe’s translation of St. John’s gospel and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, through to the poems of Thomas Gray.   It was quite untypical of the series, which had built its reputation on copyright editions of contemporary novels, but Tauchnitz had an eye on history in preparing and presenting it and the implicit comparison of 500 volumes with 500 years of English history was too tempting to resist.

The print run was probably much longer than for the normal volumes and copies of the book are not now difficult to find.  As all the extracts contained in it were out of copyright, sales did not have to be restricted to the continent, and an edition for sale in the UK was also prepared by Sampson Low.

Rather more unusual though are presentation copies, signed by the publisher with individual dedications to authors or other friends and contacts of the firm.  The Bodleian Library in Oxford holds a copy with a dedication to the author Charlotte Yonge and a similar copy with a dedication to Disraeli is held at his former home, Hughenden Manor, now owned by the National Trust.  These copies differ from the standard copies, not only in being specially bound in full leather, but also in containing a frontispiece portrait of Tauchnitz himself.

  Tauchnitz 500   Tauchnitz 500 frontispiece

My own Tauchnitz collection now includes a similar copy with a dedication to Johann Jacob Weber, a fellow publisher in Leipzig and founder of the firm J J Weber.  It is in less than perfect condition, but still has an air of history about it.  The book seems to have been passed down through Weber’s family as it has a Jugendstil bookplate, presumably dating from around 1900 and identifying as the owner, his son Dr. Felix Weber, who followed him as head of the firm.

Tauchnitz 500 dedication    Tauchnitz 500 bookplate

There is one slightly false note struck by the book, which refers on the title page to a ‘preface by the editor’.   The preface is signed by Bernhard Tauchnitz, which seems to identify him as editor of the book, and there are no other names referred to that might contradict this.  A later memorial volume is more explicit that the editor of this 500th volume was Dr Carl Vogel.  I suppose it might be argued that Bernhard Tauchnitz was in some sense the editor of the series, but this hardly meets modern standards of full disclosure.

Publishing in the shadow of the Nazis. Tauchnitz, Albatross and Brandstetter in the 1930s.

By the time the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, the firm of Bernhard Tauchnitz had existed in Leipzig for almost a century and had already survived a world war as well as the hyperinflation and depression that followed it.   The printer and publisher Oscar Brandstetter, also based in Leipzig, was fast approaching its 75 year anniversary.   Although the leaders of the two firms must surely have known each other within the Leipzig book trade, they were at that point unconnected, as far as I can tell.  They were shortly to be brought together by the intervention of a third firm, Albatross, based not in Leipzig, but in Paris, and which had existed for only a few months.   They presumably had little awareness of this, but may have had more awareness of some of the complications likely to arise from Hitler’s rise to power, which were to play a significant part in the coming together of the three companies.

On 10th May 1933, in the Opernplatz in Berlin, German students and brown-shirted stormtroopers gathered to burn books that they considered un-German.  It was followed by ceremonial book-burnings in other German university towns, including Leipzig.  Did a collective shiver pass down the spine of the German book trade, for so long based in Leipzig?

book-burning 2
The Opernplatz in Berlin – 10 May 1933

As well as the works of many prominent German authors, books by a long list of English and American authors were banned, many of them published by Tauchnitz, including H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos.  All of these writers had books published by Tauchnitz before May 1933.   No further books by any of them were published after that date, although a few reprints with later dates exist, possibly only for sale outside Germany.

Several of the banned authors had in any case already defected to Albatross, whose books were vastly more attractive than the Tauchnitz volumes, and had quickly established the upper hand in the marketplace.   So in the face of a formidable competitor, Tauchnitz was being asked to compete with one hand tied behind its back.   To make matters worse, Albatross was led by Max Christian Wegner, who had previously managed Tauchnitz in Leipzig, where he had tried to push through various changes, before the Board, finding his changes too radical, decided to part company with him.

At Albatross he found a Board, led by the Italian publisher Arnoldo Mondadori, that was more attuned to his way of thinking and he was able to implement many of his ideas, with striking success.  Amongst those ideas was the separation of the printing from the publishing side of the business.  Unlike Tauchnitz Editions, Albatross books were never printed in-house.  The first few were printed at Mondadori in Italy, but from volume 21 onwards, most were printed by Brandstetter, or more specifically by the Jakob Hegner department of Brandstetter in Leipzig.

printing colophon volume 29
Colophon for an early Albatross book printed by Hegner

How did the contact with Brandstetter / Hegner come about?   Had Wegner already had discussions with them when he was at Tauchnitz, possibly with the thought of them taking over the printing work for Tauchnitz?   Up to the point when he left, in May 1931, Tauchnitz books had always been printed in-house, but by the end of the following year books were being printed by the Bibliographisches Institut in Leipzig or by the Offizin Haag-Drugulin.  Was that one of the changes he had proposed?

It would take more than a change of printer to save Tauchnitz though, and by mid-1934 its financial situation had deteriorated to the point where it was put up for sale.   Although it was effectively unable to compete with Albatross, it had a back catalogue of over 5000 volumes that would have some value in the hands of the right owners, and in particular would have some value for Albatross.

But it was not Albatross who bought Tauchnitz, despite the rumours circulating at the time.  Albatross had too many Jewish links, both in terms of its owners and its managers, for that to be allowed in the political climate of the time.   Instead there was an effective partnership between Albatross and Oscar Brandstetter, where Brandstetter became the new owner of Tauchnitz and took on all the printing work, while editorial control was taken on by Albatross.

So Brandstetter may have been reluctant and largely nominal owners of Tauchnitz, there only to satisfy the authorities, happy to benefit from the substantial printing work, but with little interest in the publishing side of the business.   It’s hard to know for sure.  They were certainly not just printers.  They did have other publishing interests, but publishing contemporary English literature would be quite a specialised area that they might not have felt able to take on.  They surely would not have wanted anyway to go into direct competition with Albatross, one of their major printing clients.  A partnership where Brandstetter were the legal owners of Tauchnitz, but Albatross controlled the editorial side, would tie the two companies together and guarantee a substantial volume of printing work from both businesses.

But if that arrangement suited Brandstetter, other changes under way were more threatening.  The department of Brandstetter dealing with Albatross was run by Jakob Hegner, who despite converting to Christianity, came from an Austrian Jewish family and was strongly opposed to National Socialism.  He had been a publisher in Vienna, but his firm had run into difficulties in 1930 and was acquired by Brandstetter, with Hegner himself moving to Leipzig.  In 1936 though he was excluded from the Reichsschrifttumskammer, which effectively barred him from the book business in Germany, and he moved back to Vienna, before fleeing to England in 1938 after the Anschluss.  Interestingly Brandstetter published a short volume in 1937 celebrating the work of the Jakob Hegner business, with the title ‘Wirklichkeit und Wahrheit’ (Reality and Truth).  The title came from a work by Josef Pieper published by the firm, but could it also have been a commentary aimed at the German authorities that had effectively driven the founder of the firm out of the country?

Jakob Hegner book title page

Albatross had similar problems to deal with.  The distribution business of the company was run from Hamburg by Kurt Enoch, who was also Jewish.  Although a decorated officer in the German Army from the First World War, he was effectively required under the Aryanisation programme to sell his business, and he too emigrated, first to Paris and then in 1940 to the US, where he went on to work for Penguin Books and to found the New American Library.   Max Wegner moved back to Germany from Paris to take on Enoch’s role in distribution, leaving John Holroyd-Reece in charge of the editorial side.

Holroyd-Reece is rather demonised by the Tauchnitz bibliographers, Todd & Bowden, but almost certainly unfairly.   He did have some potentially difficult decisions about which books to publish under the Albatross brand, and which in the Tauchnitz Edition, but did so in a way that distinguished the brand images – Albatross more edgy and modern, Tauchnitz more conservative and traditional.  While Todd & Bowden accuse him of unfairly favouring Albatross, his decisions were restricted by censorship in Germany, and in any case the reality is probably that without the intervention of Albatross, Tauchnitz would have had no new publishing programme at all after 1934.   They had failed commercially and anyone else would have struggled to compete with Albatross in anything other than reprinting previous successes from their back catalogue.  Brandstetter, as legal owners of Tauchnitz would have had little cause for complaint about Holroyd-Reece’s stewardship of the company in the few years before the Second World War.