Monthly Archives: April 2016

Printers’ Pie – the 1930s revival

The idea of Printers’ Pie as a magazine of stories and cartoons seems to date back at least  to 1903, when it was (first?) published by ‘The Sphere’ to raise funds for the Printers’ Pension, Almshouse, and Orphan Asylum Corporation.   The name ‘Printers’ Pie’ comes from the term used to describe unsorted type  – a jumble of different letters, and the Printers’ Pension Corporation was a long-established charity.  Its first Festival President was Lord John Russell in 1828 and later Presidents included Dickens, Disraeli and Gladstone amongst many other distinguished names.


The 1904 issue of Printers’ Pie


Over the next few years there were regular issues of Printers’ Pie, from around 1912 extended to two issues a year, with the addition of a Christmas issue under the title ‘Winter’s Pie’.  From 1909 to 1918 all or most issues featured drawings by George Studdy, best known for his drawings of the dog ‘Bonzo’.  After that it may have become less regular and eventually petered out.

But some time around 1935 the idea seems to have been revived under a slightly different name.  I have a copy of ‘Christmas Pie’ 1935, printed and published by Odhams Press, selling for 6d and now raising money not for a printers’ charity, but for the King George’s Jubilee Trust.   There’s a Foreword from Edward, the Prince of Wales, soon after to become King Edward VIII, noting (in underlined text) that the entire proceeds from sale of the publication would go to the Trust.  In contrast the front cover says only that the Trust would receive all profits.


The list of writers, who presumably contributed stories without being paid, includes many of the leading and most popular names of the time – A.A. Milne, A.E.W. Mason, G.K. Chesterton, Warwick Deeping, Ethel Mannin and Beverley Nichols among them.  All stories are illustrated, and all illustrators credited, as are the various cartoonists contributing ‘joke drawings’.


It was followed in 1936 by a ‘Summer Pie’, sporting a front cover design by Bruce Bairnsfather (celebrated in the recent RSC production of ‘The Christmas Truce’).  The charitable purpose of this issue is less boldly emblazoned, but profits were to go once again to the Printers’ Pension Corporation, as well as to the National Advertising Benevolent Society, a famous Fleet Street charity.


‘Christmas Pie’ 1936 returned to supporting the King George’s Jubilee Trust.  With Edward having become King in early 1936, the foreword is now written by Albert, Duke of York, himself soon to become King George VI after the Abdication, and who again insists that the entire proceeds will go to the Trust.  There’s a ‘Summer Pie’ 1937 too, supporting a new Children’s ward at Hornsey Central Hospital, as well as the National Advertising Benevolent Society.



After that I lose track of what happens.  There’s a Christmas Pie with reference to having been printed in 1939, but other references (and the lack of any reference to the war), suggest it may nevertheless be for Christmas 1938.   And then in Summer 1939 there’s a final pre-war issue, with stories by Agatha Christie, Noel Coward, Sidney Horler and P.C. Wren amongst others, and a double page centrespread cartoon by W.H. Cobb.  Was there a Christmas Pie in 1937 and a Summer Pie in 1938?   I’ll look out for them.  It’s likely though that the series was ended by the war after summer 1939, before coming back in a different form around 1943.  I’ll come back to that revival in another post (now posted on this link).

1939 2 Xmas Pie 1939



Asher’s to Ashes

My first post on Asher’s Collection of English Authors covered the period from launch in 1872 through to 1874 when the publisher’s name changed from A. Asher & Co. to Albert Cohn.  It was a story of early success, tempting large numbers of authors away from Tauchnitz, followed by a gentle pulling back as the harsh economic realities started to bite.   It was never going to be easy competing against Tauchnitz with its massively entrenched position.  Asher had a good go at it, but sales were probably not high enough to justify the high advances paid to authors to convince them to switch.

I can only guess at the financial position of Asher, but a record of around 50 volumes in 1872, 37 volumes in 1873 and 12 in 1874 tells its own story.  And the fact that the firm was divided and part of it sold off in 1874 suggests there may have been financial pressures.  A small number of books in late 1874 appeared under the name of Albert Cohn as publisher (Cohn was the owner of A. Asher & Co.) and then there was another change.

Over the next few years, volumes of ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ appeared under two different publisher’s names – Julius Engelmann in Berlin and Paul Ollendorff in  Paris.  I can’t tie down exact dates for either of them, but I suspect Engelmann came first, taking the series on from volume 99, possibly the last volume published by Albert Cohn in 1874, to around volume 120 in 1877.  There seem also to be volumes in this same number range with Ollendorff’s name as publisher, dated 1875 or 1876, but these may be later reprints, still showing the original date.  Or possibly both publishers collaborated, contributing different titles to the series.

Half-title and Title page of volume 109, published by Julius Engelmann

Ollendorff’s involvement with the series also seems to have largely ended in 1877.  Volume 123 in 1877 (‘Eugénie’ by Beatrice May Butt) appears with his name on, as does a single later novel, ‘Proud Maisie’ by Bertha Thomas, published as volume 133 and 134 in 1878.  Possibly this was a hangover, already in the pipeline before the series moved on to another publisher.  There seem  to be only a handful of new volumes published under Ollendorff’s imprint, together with reprints of some earlier volumes.  Although he went on to build a substantial publishing business, in 1877 Paul Ollendorff was just 26 and at the start of his publishing career.

Asher 123 Eugenie Title page

Whatever the exact history of the series in this period, it seems unlikely that it was a major threat to Tauchnitz.  A total of around 30 volumes between the two publishers over three and a half years would have made little difference to Tauchnitz’s output of nearer 300 volumes over the same period.  But Baron Tauchnitz would no doubt still have been disappointed to see occasional titles appearing by novelists that he had published regularly in his own series – Anthony Trollope and Mary Braddon among them.

A greater threat was to come when Asher’s Collection acquired yet another new owner.   The first appearance of the name Karl Grädener on the title page of a newly published volume seems to have been around volume 124 in 1877, although reprints of earlier volumes are again a complicating factor that makes it difficult to be precise.   Certainly Grädener added several volumes to the series in late 1877 and 1888, before striking off in a slightly different direction in 1879.

Up to early 1879, all volumes appeared under the series title ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ and followed a consistent numbering sequence from 1 up to around 150.  From around this point though a new numbering sequence starts again at 1 and a new series name makes its appearance.   The series is now referred to as ‘Asher’s Continental Library’ on the half-titles, although oddly the front wrapper still refers to the old series title.   It’s also slightly odd that the half-titles refer to a series ‘in one-shilling volumes’.  The books could not be sold in Britain or the British Empire, so a price in shillings is of little relevance, and the German price of 1.50 Marks corresponded then I think to one shilling and sixpence.

Continental Library 1 Half title
The half-title of the first volume in the ‘Continental Library’ …
Continental Library 1 Front wrapper
… and the front wrapper, still with the old series title

The new series grew quite rapidly over the next two to three years, but confusingly, novels that had already appeared in the original series, were now reprinted with different numbers.  So ‘Erema’ by R.D. Blackmore, having been first published as volumes 130 to 132 of ‘Asher’s Collection’ in 1878, then appeared as volumes 22 to 24 of the new ‘Asher’s Continental Library’.  It was followed as volumes 25 to 27 of the ‘Continental Library’ by a reprint of ‘Comin’ through the rye’ by Helen Mathers, which had previously been issued as volumes 105 to 107 of the original series, during Engelmann’s time in charge.

Grädener was still trying to tempt authors away from Tauchnitz.  On 4 October 1880, Macmillan, the British publisher of Henry James, wrote to him that ‘One Grädener of Hamburg who publishes “Ashers Collection of English Authors” has written to say that he would like to buy the right to print ‘The portrait of a lady’.  I fancy however that your books are published by Tauchnitz and will tell him so if you like.  I hope the Baron pays you well …’.  James did feel that he was better off with Tauchnitz and was one of those to stay loyal.

It looks as if the ‘Continental Library’ (later described as ‘Asher’s Continental Library of Favourite Modern Authors’) got up to about 55 volumes through a mixture of new publications and reprints by early 1881, before the emphasis switched back again to the original series name and numbering.  This change seems roughly to coincide with yet another change in the name of the publisher for the series.   The name of Karl Grädener is replaced in 1881 with Grädener & Richter, apparently because of a merger of the two firms.

Was it Richter who killed off the ‘Continental Library’ and proposed going back to ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’?  Anyway that seems to be what happened.  Numbers between 149 and 158 were allocated for 10 volumes of Shakespeare plays, which may have been published over a period of several years, and the original series got going again from volume 159 in 1881.  Around 20 volumes were added in 1881 and another 20 or so in 1882, but 1883 saw over 40 new volumes.

Asher 172 The chaplain of the fleet II Title page
Volume 172 of ‘Asher’s Collection’ now published by Grädener & Richter

The authors in that year included not only Anthony Trollope and Robert Louis Stevenson, but a string of other authors previously published by Tauchnitz, including James Payn, Bret Harte, William Black, W.E. Norris, Emma Marshall and Mrs. Alexander.  Clearly Tauchnitz was again in a fight, at risk of losing both authors and sales, but as in the early years of Asher’s Collection, it held firm.   It was to be Grädener & Richter that blinked first.

1884 saw a reduction to just under 20 volumes and for 1885 there was just a single 2 volume novel.  Occasional volumes continued to be added for another 6 or 7 years, and there were still two more changes of publisher name to come, first to just J.F. Richter and then to Verlagsanstalt und Druckerei (vormals J.F. Richter).  Over the 20 year history of the Asher’s Collection it had appeared under at least 8 different publisher imprints.

Both in the early years from 1872 to 1874 under A. Asher & Co. and then again around 1883 under Grädener & Richter, it had seriously challenged the dominance of Tauchnitz, without ever quite managing to dethrone it.

A New Zealand White Circle

New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful and successful country with much to celebrate in its own right, but seen from much of the rest of the world its fate is often to be considered as an add-on to Australia, a mere 1000 miles away.  Travellers plan a trip to Australia, and think about whether they can visit New Zealand on the way home.  Politicians talk to the Australian Prime Minister and wonder if they should contact the guy from New Zealand as well – if only they could remember his, or her, name.  Businesses set up in Australia and then think about whether to add on a New Zealand branch.  Publishers issue Australian Editions – and wonder if they should think about New Zealand.

It’s far from alone in this.  Scotland has long suffered from being seen as an afterthought to England, and the Australia / New Zealand relationship parallels the England / Scotland one in very human terms as well.  There are still a lot of New Zealanders of Scottish descent, and a lot of Australians with English heritage.  So the Scottish publisher Collins had good reason to remember New Zealand, when it started to issue Australian editions during the Second World War.

CC Cheyney Dangerous Curves War Savings
Advertisement in a Collins White Circle New Zealand edition

The move by British publishers to print local editions in their former export markets was driven by the introduction of paper rationing in Britain.   It no longer made any sense to print books in Britain and send them on a long and hazardous journey around the world.  So Collins started to print its White Circle paperbacks locally in Canada, in India, in Ceylon (India’s New Zealand?), in Australia … and of course in New Zealand.  Canada, India and Australia got long series and a wide choice of titles.  Ceylon and New Zealand had to settle for just a handful of different titles.

I’m sure that today book-buyers in New Zealand have just as wide a choice as those in Australia.  But back in the 1940s their choice may have been severely restricted.  Presumably the logic for issuing only a few titles was that they needed a long print run to keep the price down and the only way to sell a long print run in a small market was to restrict the choice.  Penguin did much the same, publishing a long series of books in Australia during the war and a much shorter series of titles in New Zealand.

So from Collins, New Zealand got a selection of titles that may have been as few as 6.  There’s no record of what they published and there’s no advertising for other titles within the books themselves, so the only way of knowing what exists is to find them.  John Loder’s pamphlet on the White Circle books in Australia lists 6 titles known to exist and I only have a copy of one of those.

CC Cheyney Dangerous Curves

It’s a Peter Cheyney novel, in an unusual Crime Club cover.  Unusual because in the UK, Cheyney’s novels were not published in the Crime Club.  They were considered Mystery novels, published in a separate Mystery series with its own cover style.  That distinction, which seems to have been important in the UK, for reasons that I don’t understand, rather broke down outside the UK, and there are several examples in Australia too of books appearing in the ‘wrong’ cover style.

CC Cheyney Dangerous Curves Colophon

Otherwise the books look very like UK, or Australian, or Indian White Circle editions.  Appropriately they were printed in Dunedin, a city named after the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, in another reminder of the historic links between Scotland and New Zealand.

Collins White Circle in Australia

I’ve recently come across a small pamphlet by John Loder on the Collins White Circle editions published in Australia.   The books themselves I’ve seen from time to time and without trying to collect them systematically, I’ve put together a small group of them over the years.   I’ve never known much about them though and certainly never had any knowledge of what titles existed, or how many.   So it’s great to find that somebody else has had enough interest to produce a checklist and a short history.

White Circles in Australia

As I’ve found before with series that are little researched, there are more books than you might think.  They’re not numbered, so there’s no easy indication of how many there might be, and most are also undated, so I wasn’t even sure when they were published.  It’s no surprise that they come from the 1940s, starting around 1942, possibly even a bit earlier.  But I am a bit surprised to find that there are over 100 different titles.  That includes several I have copies of that are not in John Loder’s checklist, so there are probably still other unrecorded ones as well.

The stimulus for the creation of the series was probably  the introduction of paper rationing in the UK and the increasing difficulty of shipping books out to Australia.  At much the same time, and for the same reason, Collins started local printing of paperbacks in Canada, in India and in Ceylon, Penguin started local printing in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Egypt, and Guild Books also started an Australian series.  The Australian market must have been getting quite crowded.

All three of the UK publishers starting to print locally in Australia stuck with their basic UK format.  Penguin’s launch in 1935 had transformed the UK market, with standard designed covers almost universally adopted, so that was what Australia got too.   Over the years the design of White Circle covers in Australia gradually diverged from the UK original, but they never seem to have followed Canada or India in rejecting the UK orthodoxy and adopting fully illustrated covers.

The basic UK design with some unusual colour combinations

 As in the UK, Australian White Circles come in different sub-series – Crime Club novels in green, Westerns in yellow, Mysteries in purple / magenta and ‘Famous Novels’ in mauve / lilac.   There were about 30 to 35 titles in each of the first three sub series, but only around 13 titles in the Famous Novels series, which seems to have been principally aimed at women, combining the general fiction and romance categories in the UK.  I think it’s fair to say that few of the titles could be described as famous today.

I’ve never quite understood the distinction between Crime novels and Mystery novels that applied in the 1930s and 1940s, although I imagine it was something to do with the rules of fair play between author and reader in classic stories of detection.  In Australia though the rules seem to have been slightly different, with more than one title switching to a different category from the one applying in the UK.

The books sold at 1s 3d, equivalent at the fixed exchange rate of the time to 1 shilling in British currency. This was more or less in line with post-war prices for paperbacks in the UK, although double the standard pre-war price.  Only around half of the titles published in Australia were also in the UK White Circle series, but the others are mostly books published by Collins in hardback in the UK and quite a few also appeared in the Canadian White Circle paperbacks.  There are though a few by local Australian authors, which were not all published elsewhere by Collins.  In particular, two ‘Jeffery Blackburn’ thrillers by Max Afford and two novels by Eleanor Dark.

I’m sure there’s much more to discover about the Australian editions, so I’ll come back to this another time.  Some day there are also a few New Zealand editions to investigate.