Monthly Archives: February 2016
For almost a century, from 1840 to 1940, the Tauchnitz Editions dominated English language publishing in Europe. Almost every significant work of English Literature from the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century appeared in their familiar buff covers.
By almost any measure, George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ was one of the most significant English language novels of the 19th century, but it never appeared in a Tauchnitz Edition. At first sight this is odd, as all Eliot’s other novels did – ‘Adam Bede’, ‘The mill on the floss’, ‘Silas Marner’, ‘Romola’, ‘Felix Holt’, ‘Daniel Deronda’ – they’re all there, along with various other works. Surely Bernhard Tauchnitz, usually such a sure judge of literary merit as well as sales popularity, wasn’t blind to the merits of ‘Middlemarch’?
Of course the answer is no. He would have loved to publish ‘Middlemarch’ but he was denied the opportunity. It went instead to a rival publisher, A. Asher & Co. in Berlin, who presumably outbid Tauchnitz and used the novel as the basis on which to launch a new series of English language novels in competition to Tauchnitz.
‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors – British and American’ was launched in 1872 with the first two books of ‘Middlemarch’ as Volumes I and II. The title of the series was perhaps a bit of a dig at Tauchnitz, whose own ‘Collection of British Authors’ failed to give any recognition to the nationality of the many American authors in its ranks. However, other than a token appearance of one novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne (who had died several years earlier), the early authors published seemed to be almost all British, and the American reference was later quietly dropped.
There was no doubt that ‘Middlemarch’ was Asher’s trophy asset and the firm must have paid heavily to acquire it. The novel is split into eight ‘books’ and each of them was published as a separately numbered volume in the series, spread out over the following year, with each volume priced at a premium 20 Groschen (2/3 Thaler), compared to 15 Groschen (1/2 Thaler) for all other volumes in the series. So the price for all eight volumes was over 5 Thalers, compared to 1 Thaler for the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Felix Holt’, or 2 Thalers for the later 4-volume edition of ‘Daniel Deronda’.
Confusingly, the eight books of ‘Middlemarch’ were also grouped in twos into four ‘volumes’. This resulted in an almost surreal numbering system, where for instance book 7 of the novel is also part 1 of the 4th volume, but is volume 52 of the Asher series.
However peculiar the numbering, the series was a serious rival to Tauchnitz. In its first year in 1872 it published around 50 volumes, almost all of them by authors who had previously had works published by Tauchnitz. As well as Eliot, other authors who defected to the new series in that first year included George Whyte-Melville, Henry Kingsley, George MacDonald, Rhoda Broughton, Ouida, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Margaret Oliphant, Louisa Parr, Harriet Parr (Holme Lee), Sheridan Le Fanu, William Hepworth Dixon and Matilda Betham-Edwards.
And yet Tauchnitz survived, and rather more than survived. In 1871 the firm had published a total of 66 volumes in its series, many of them by the authors listed above. Despite their defection, it managed in 1872 a total of 93 new volumes, which seems to have been a record number. Presumably there was some loss of sales, and it had to increase payments to authors to avoid losing more, but Tauchnitz clearly wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Bernhard Tauchnitz was certainly determined not to lose Bulwer Lytton, to whom he wrote in a letter on 3 October 1872 ‘I could not bear the thought to see your name in any other publisher’s hand’. As a result he paid Bulwer a record 8000 Marks (£400) for ‘Kenelm Chillingley’, published in early 1873 and recorded in the 50 year history of the firm as being the largest fee paid for a single novel. To protect margins, the price to customers was effectively increased by spreading the novel out over four volumes. To achieve this, the number of lines to a page went right down to 23, from a more normal 30 or so.
There was no immediate let up in the pressure on Tauchnitz in the early part of 1873. Further defections included Annie Thomas, Anthony Trollope and Charlotte Riddell, but gradually the outflow was stemmed. The number of volumes published by Asher in 1873 reduced a little to around 37, while Tauchnitz’s total remained around 90. Perhaps even more encouragingly, authors started to return. Some like Rhoda Broughton, Holme Lee, William Hepworth Dixon and Margaret Oliphant, having flirted briefly with Asher, came back to the Tauchnitz fold. Others like Trollope, Mary Braddon and Henry Kingsley continued to play one off against the other, publishing books under both imprints.
In 1874 the number of volumes published in the Asher series reduced again to 12 and it began to look as though it might have shot its bolt. Tauchnitz wouldn’t have been pleased though to see that the books published included one by Florence Marryat, who had previously been loyal to his firm, and whose father had been published by Tauchnitz since 1842.
In the later part of 1874, the books started to feature the name of Albert Cohn as publisher on the title page in place of A. Asher, although the series title continued to be ‘Asher’s Collection’. Adolf Asher himself had died long before and the business had been run by Albert Cohn for many years, but some of the business seems to have been sold in 1874, with other parts continuing under Cohn’s name. Could the sale have been partly the result of losses from the new venture?
Adolf Asher had been an antiquarian bookdealer and bibliographer as well as a publisher. He seems to have had a particular attachment to England and became one of the principal suppliers of books to the British Museum, so it was appropriate enough that the series bore his name. Albert Cohn too was a book dealer and literary scholar as well as a publisher and may have concentrated more on his antiquarian interests after 1874. After a brief period during which the books carried his name on the title page, they re-appeared in 1875 under yet another new name.
The first phase of ‘Asher’s Collection’ was over. It had certainly given Tauchnitz a scare, and forced it to pay higher fees to its authors. It had cost it ‘Middlemarch’ and a handful of other titles that it would regret, perhaps most notably ‘Lorna Doone’ and ‘Under the greenwood tree’. But it had failed to end the domination of Tauchnitz in continental Europe.
And if the first phase had ended, the full story of Asher’s Collection certainly had not. It would still be adding books, and causing irritation to Tauchnitz more than 15 years later. I’ll come back to the second phase of its story in another post – now on this link.
Launched in May 1930, the Collins Crime Club had been a huge success, surfing the wave of public interest in the golden age of detective fiction. By 1936 it had published around 200 titles and claimed to have around 20,000 subscribers, although it was not really a club – just a mailing list of potentially interested readers. The star writer was undoubtedly Agatha Christie, but there was a wide range of other writers including John Rhode, Freeman Wills Crofts. Philip Macdonald and G.D.H & M. Cole.
The books sold at 7 shillings and sixpence, a fairly standard price for UK hardbacks at the time, but one that put them out of the price range of most ordinary people, who perhaps borrowed them through libraries or waited for cheap editions to be published. A selection of the books was published in cheaper paperback editions in continental Europe through Albatross Books, with which Collins were associated. The Albatross Crime Club published only books from the Collins Crime Club, in distinctive red and black covers, but these could not be imported into the UK.
It was the success of Albatross in Europe that gave Allen Lane the idea for Penguin Books. Possibly Collins should have seen it coming, but they were experimenting in a rather different direction in the UK at the time, with a series of cheap hardbacks sold at 7d, less than 10% of the standard hardback price. This series certainly included crime novels, although I am unsure whether any of the titles had previously appeared in the Crime Club.
Quite why hardbacks at sevenpence were a failure, while Penguin’s paperbacks at sixpence were a roaring success is hard to say, but they were. Penguin’s launch in July 1935 was transformational. Within months, perhaps even weeks, it was clear that their format was a success. By October, Hutchinson had launched their own paperback series in a very similar format to Penguin, and a new market had been established.
Hardbacks at 7d, or paperbacks at 6d – the public knew which they preferred
Collins could see now that Penguin represented a threat to their core market. There had been only a handful of crime novels in the early titles, but enough to warn them of what could happen. In fact Penguin had issued what almost amounted to a direct challenge to Collins by including a novel by Agatha Christie in their first ten titles. ‘The mysterious affair at Styles’ was the first of Christie’s novels and like her other early novels had been first published by The Bodley Head, before she moved to Collins in 1926.
The Bodley Head was the Lane family company that Allen Lane worked for up to the launch of Penguin, so this was a book he had access to, or at least thought he did. As it happened, a copyright dispute over ‘The mysterious affair at Styles’ led to Penguin withdrawing it a few months later and replacing it with another early Christie novel ‘The murder on the links’, but the episode made clear that Penguin’s ambitions included becoming a major publisher of paperback crime.
Penguin’s original volume 6 and its replacement soon after, volume 6A
So Collins were now fighting a rear-guard action as they started to plan a paperback series of Crime Club novels. Some aspects were almost a given. The price would be 6d, the size would be the Albatross and Penguin size (using the golden ratio) and the books would have a dustwrapper in the same design as the cover. These were basic features of the market established by Penguin.
But the most important feature of the Penguin revolution was no cover illustrations, other than a standard logo. This feature, again copied from Albatross, seemed fundamental to Penguin’s success. It conveyed an image of seriousness and established a break with the traditions of earlier paperbacks, which had often had lurid cover illustrations. For the Collins Crime Club, cover illustrations had been an important part of their marketing, so it was a big decision to replace them with a standard designed cover.
In the end, Collins settled for a new design that created a standard identity for the series and established its up-market credentials, while still having a nod to the earlier Crime Club branding. It was sufficiently similar to the Penguin format to make clear that it was a direct competitor, but sufficiently different to be instantly recognisable as a Collins Crime Club novel.
Instead of Penguin’s central white band, Collins introduced a large white circle for the title and author. And as well as using colour to indicate genre (again green for crime), Collins splashed across the cover a stylised picture of two masked murderers carrying a pistol and a knife that was effectively a development of the original Crime Club branding.
In its own way this cover was as classic a design as was Penguin’s three bands, and indeed it lasted rather longer. It was still being used right up to the end of the series in 1959, long after Penguin had abandoned its three horizontal bands in favour of various experiments with vertical bands, other grids and even cover illustrations. But it has never quite achieved the iconic status of Penguin’s design, now used for everything from t-shirts and bags to deckchairs, and I have been unable to find out who the designer was.
It’s not clear that there was any intention at the start to use the white circle on the cover as a unifying element across different types of fiction, or to develop it as the name of the overall series. It’s not even clear that there were any plans at the start to publish fiction from other genres in similar paperback editions. It is very clear in the early books that the brand is ‘The Crime Club’ and there is no mention of ‘White Circle’ at all. It’s only from about July 1937 onwards, once other types of book have been published, that ‘White Circle’ starts to appear as a series name.
The next key decision of course was which books to publish, and here Collins were spoilt for choice. Penguin, in its early days, had to search across the market and negotiate with various hardback publishers, who were often reluctant to allow cheap paperback editions. As a result, they ended up with a lot of older books, where hardback sales had declined to a trickle. But Collins had a treasure trove of around 200 recent titles that had already been published in the Collins Crime Club and could take their pick.
Unsurprisingly they chose a more recent Agatha Christie novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, for volume number 1. The first 6 titles, published in March 1936, also included an Edgar Wallace and novels by John Rhode and Freeman Wills Crofts. The other two were by Philip Macdonald, one of them under the pseudonym of Martin Porlock. The next batch in June included further titles by Christie, Rhode and Macdonald as well as one from G.D.H. & M. Cole and these writers between them accounted for most of the first 30 titles, although other authors were gradually introduced.
By the time war broke out in September 1939, the series of Crime Club paperbacks had reached around 80 titles, and the wider White Circle series had extended to cover westerns, mysteries, romantic fiction, general fiction and even a small number of non-fiction titles. It was certainly in some respects a serious rival to Penguin, at least in the area of crime fiction. Even in that area, Penguin would eventually triumph, but not before the Crime Club paperbacks had reached almost 300 titles, published over a period of more than 20 years.
Was it a success in terms of broadening the reach of classic crime fiction and extending its popularity? I imagine it must have been. The print runs were probably at least 20,000 and quite possibly 50,000 or more, so sales are likely to have been far higher in paperback than they ever were in the original hardback editions. The wartime Services Editions will have extended that reach even further. But in the end, the Crime Club paperbacks did fail, presumably as another victim of Penguin when they ended in 1959, and it was the hardback editions that outlasted them, continuing right through to 1994.
This is the second of two posts about the continental European editions of major crime writers in Albatross Books. The first one reviewed the Agatha Christie editions and this one goes on to look at Dorothy L. Sayers, her great rival for the title of ‘Queen of Crime’ in the 1930s. There are quite significant differences in the way that the two authors appeared in the series that raise some interesting questions.
The two writers did not share a UK publisher. While most of Christie’s novels appeared in the Collins Crime Club, Sayers used a number of different publishers, but in the 1930s, mostly Gollancz. That was no barrier to being published in Albatross, which took books from across the range of UK publishers, but it was in practice a barrier to the Albatross Crime Club, which was effectively the continental arm of the Collins Crime Club. So instead of appearing in Crime Club branding, ‘The nine tailors’, the first Sayers novel to appear in Albatross in 1934, was in the main series as volume 212 of the Albatross Modern Continental Library.
This was the ninth book in the already well established series of stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, and it appeared very quickly after first publication in the UK. I don’t know the exact dates of either UK or European publication, but both were in 1934 and judging by the numbering sequence, the Albatross edition must have been around the middle of the year. Although it had once been normal for European editions, particularly by Tauchnitz, to appear simultaneously with the UK editions, this had largely died out. By the 1930s it was relatively unusual for UK publishers to allow a paperback continental edition within less than a year of the original hardback publication in the UK.
Perhaps allowing such an early continental edition was a mistake, because there was no repeat of it when the tenth story ‘Gaudy Night’ appeared the following year. There was a gap of two to three years before that appeared as volume 364 of the Albatross series in February 1938, with the next story, ‘Busman’s honeymoon’, following in March 1939.
‘Busman’s honeymoon’ was not only the last Lord Peter Wimsey novel, it was effectively Sayers’ farewell to crime writing. Marriage turned out not to be good for Wimsey’s crime fighting abilities and Sayers turned instead to religious writing and to translation, most notably producing an acclaimed translation of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.
In any case the war was coming and there was little time left for Albatross. But they had already gone back to some of her earlier crime writing, starting with ‘Whose Body?’, the story that had first introduced Lord Peter Wimsey. That had been first published in the UK in 1923 by Unwin, but the rights had subsequently been acquired by Collins.
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, Collins considered the book to be a mystery story rather than a crime story, so that it did not appear in the Collins Crime Club or the Albatross Crime Club. I suspect that the distinction has something to do with the rules established for classic detection novels to ensure that authors played fair with the readers, although to me ‘Whose Body’ looks remarkably like a crime and detection novel. I’d be delighted if anyone can explain to me why this is considered to be a mystery rather than a crime novel and whether the same applies to all of Sayers’ work.
Anyway the distinction seemed to be important to Collins, who established a separate series for mystery stories in their UK White Circle paperbacks and a separate series too, with its own logo, for the Albatross Mystery Club. The Mystery Club series started in 1937 with volume 401 and ‘Whose Body?’ appeared in July 1938 as volume 418. It was quickly followed by ‘Unnatural Death’, another early Wimsey story that had been acquired by Collins, again in Mystery Club branding, as volume 425 in October 1938.
Both books, like almost all of the Albatross Mystery Club titles, are now pretty difficult to find. The main series books are perhaps a little easier. ‘Gaudy Night’ and ‘Busman’s honeymoon’ were both reprinted after the war, probably with a longer print run, and copies dated 1947 are now much more common than the pre-war editions (and since they carry no mention of the earlier printing, very easy to mistake for first printings).
When Bernhard Tauchnitz first launched himself into the business of selling English literature in Germany in 1841, it would have been difficult to avoid the issue of Shakespeare. Tauchnitz started by selling the novels of contemporary authors, and that became the basis of the business empire that he built up over the rest of his life. But even in the time of Dickens, few living authors could command sales as high as those of the long-dead Shakespeare. And the tricky issue of copyright that Tauchnitz was wrestling with, could be avoided by going back to the bard.
So it’s hardly a surprise that the Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ had reached only 40 volumes, before welcoming Shakespeare into its ranks. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, including all 37 plays, his poems and a brief biography, appeared in 7 volumes as volumes 40 to 46 of the series in 1843 / 1844, and at the same time each of the plays was published individually as well. Publication of the seven volume edition was spread out over a period of more than a year, with the first volume appearing in February 1843 and the final volume announced in June 1844. So volumes 6 and 7 are dated 1844 rather than 1843, as are the final five individual plays, numbered 33 to 37. In both formats, the plays are double paginated, with page numbers for the individual plays in a top corner and numbers for the combined volume in a bottom corner. In this way, both types of publication could be printed from the same stereotype plates.
The text of the plays was provided by John Payne Collier, a noted Shakespearean scholar of the time, and his name appeared prominently on the title page of the collected edition. Unfortunately he was later exposed as a forger, and the use of his name became a source of embarrassment rather than pride. Later reprints from about 1860 onwards, don’t show Collier’s name, and in 1868 a new edition was issued using a text provided by Rev. Alexander Dyce. This new edition still used the same volume numbers, 40 to 46, but the title page date was changed to 1868. So copies of the books now found split into three categories – firstly those dated 1843/4 with Collier’s name on, then those dated 1843/4 but without Collier’s name, and then all later issues dated 1868. The 1868 issues continued to be reprinted for the next 70 years or so, and are of course the most commonly found. (Update – see separate post on the 1868 edition on this link.)
The 1843 edition is rarer, but bound copies are still not too difficult to find. As usual with Tauchnitz editions, it’s much more of a challenge to find copies in the original wrappers. Although the books were issued as paperbacks, the standard practice for many purchasers was to have them privately bound, and it’s these copies that survive best. There are also a few surviving copies in a publisher’s binding, sold more or less at the time of the first printing. So far as I know though, there are no surviving paperback first printings of the collected volumes. The earliest paperback copies that Todd & Bowden, the Tauchnitz bibliographers, could track down were a set in the British Library from around 1866, over 20 years after first publication.
You might expect that copies of individual plays in the original wrappers would be even more difficult to find. They’re such thin volumes that the chance of any surviving looks pretty small. But surprisingly, two library collections in the US hold significant numbers of them. The Royal Hanover collection at the University of Rochester includes copies of all 37 plays from the 1843/4 edition, the first seven of them bound and the other 30 in the original wrappers. The paperback copies cover a range of different dates, although unfortunately none are in the first printing state, showing the publisher as ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’, rather than ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC also has 4 individual plays from the 1843/4 edition in their original wrappers, again none of them in first printing state.
But at least two of the very earliest paperbacks have survived, even if in a pretty dreadful state, as shown below. They not only show the publisher as ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’, but the lists of other Tauchnitz Editions on the back wrapper show no titles later than mid-1843. With Tauchnitz Editions, this is really the best evidence you can get that they are first printings, or at least very early printings.
Albatross Books was founded in 1932 in Paris as a direct rival to the long-established firm of Tauchnitz, which had had a near-monopoly on the sale of English language books in Continental Europe for 90 years. It was phenomenally successful in the period up to the Second World War, and its effects were felt long after that, particularly in its key influence on the launch and development of Penguin Books.
In that period, from 1932 to 1939, it would have been difficult to ignore Agatha Christie. She dominated crime writing at the time, and crime writing was enjoying its golden age. Yet in some ways it was just a happy coincidence that she was able to appear in the series. There was no tradition of publishing detective stories in English on the continent. Tauchnitz had published the Sherlock Holmes books from 1891 onwards, but had shown relatively little interest in other developments in crime fiction after the First World War. Albatross too seemed at the start to be primarily interested in publishing literary fiction, championing D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Aldous Huxley amongst others. In its first 50 books, there were just 7 crime stories.
All that was to change though with the launch of the Albatross Crime Club in 1933. It was effectively a joint venture with the Scottish publisher, Collins, and came about because of the presence of two of the Collins family on the Albatross board. I don’t know how much of the initiative came from Collins, eager to establish a European outlet for their Collins Crime Club novels, and how much from Albatross, keen to expand their list into more crime novels. But either way, it provided the platform for Albatross to publish the works of Agatha Christie, as well as other leading crime writers.
And they seized the opportunity. Over the six years of the Albatross Crime Club, it included 14 Agatha Christies, starting with ‘Lord Edgware dies’ as volume 115 in 1933. Each volume followed shortly after its first appearance in the Collins Club, usually within a year, sometimes much quicker. And although overall the Albatross Crime Club published far fewer books than the Collins Crime Club, it seems to have taken all the Christies it could get. As far as I can tell, every Christie novel that appeared in the Collins series between ‘Lord Edgware dies’ in 1933 and ‘Appointment with death’ in 1938, was also published in Albatross.
The Albatross editions are not only the first continental European editions, they’re also the first paperback editions. Collins didn’t launch the White Circle series of paperbacks in the UK until 1936, after Penguin’s launch. The first volume in that series was ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, which had already been published by Albatross in 1934 (volume 121) and so far as I know all 14 of the pre-war Christie books published by Albatross were first paperback editions.
Albatross Crime Club edition (1934) and Collins Crime Club (1936)
Like all the Albatross editions, they’re beautiful books, and mostly not too difficult to find. The print runs would have been relatively low, possibly only a couple of thousand copies of each book, so it’s unlikely that more than a couple of hundred survive, but they’re still out there to be found and usually not too expensive. The first book, ‘Lord Edgware dies’ would have had a transparent dustwrapper, although these were naturally fragile and I have never seen a copy with the dustwrapper intact. All the later books had paper dustwrappers in the same style as the covers. I don’t think any of the books were reprinted, so all copies are first printings.
When Albatross attempted a revival after the Second World War, it still had some support from Collins, but it was much less successful and there was to be no re-launch for the Albatross Crime Club. Instead a small number of crime titles were published in the main series, just four in total, but two of those were by Christie. ‘Ten little niggers’ (since renamed as ‘And then there were none’ and televised recently by the BBC) appeared as volume 554 in 1947, followed by ‘One, two, buckle my shoe’ as volume 575 in 1950. The first of these was again a paperback first printing, but the second may just have been beaten by the White Circle edition that appeared the same year. It’s probably significant that unlike the pre-war publications, these were not recent novels, hot off the press. Both had been written, and published in the Collins Crime Club, several years earlier. Albatross was no longer the cutting edge publisher it had been in its pre-war glory.
Overall though 16 Agatha Christie novels, all of them continental European first printings, and possibly 15 paperback first printings, is not a bad representation for the ‘Queen of Crime’ in Albatross.
For other paperback first printings, see also the story of Agatha Christie in UK Services Editions.