Monthly Archives: June 2016
My first post on ‘The English Library’ published by Heinemann and Balestier in the 1890s looked at the story of the partnership between William Heinemann and Wolcott Balestier and of some of their authors. But what of the books themselves?
Physically they looked much like the Tauchnitz Editions that they were set up to compete with. They were of course paperbacks, and of the same size and with the same buff-coloured typographic covers. Nothing particularly to make them stand out in the shops they were sold in, presumably in most cases alongside Tauchnitz books. Like the various publishers of the Asher’s series before them, they saw no advantage in distinguishing the look and feel of their books.
That’s a common enough strategy today for any business challenging a market leader – often followed for instance by supermarket own-brands. Make your product look very similar to the market leader’s product in the hope that buyers will believe it’s of the same quality and can be bought with the same confidence. The other part of such a strategy though is to charge a lower price. Heinemann and Balestier instead offered volumes of the English Library at 1.60 Marks or 2 Francs, exactly the same as the price of Tauchnitz Editions at the time.
Perhaps they hoped to compete simply on the attraction of the titles and the authors. Asher’s had signed up George Eliot to launch their series with ‘Middlemarch’, whereas Heinemann and Balestier chose Kipling to launch the English Library and were aggressively signing up other authors. They were successful in attracting some popular and high profile authors, but others stayed with Tauchnitz and some even split their works between the two publishers. Comparing the lists now with the benefit of hindsight, it’s not obvious that either publisher had a more successful publishing programme.
The books published by Heinemann and Balestier that have become best known in the 125 year since then, are probably ‘The Jungle Book’ by Kipling, ‘Three men in a boat’ by Jerome K. Jerome, and ‘Diary of a nobody’ by George and Weedon Grossmith – certainly all classics, but perhaps a little on the lightweight side rather than literary blockbusters. Certainly these are books that Tauchnitz would have been disappointed not to publish, and there are relatively few other classics of English Literature that Tauchnitz missed out on throughout its entire history. Oddly the English Library also included ‘Hedda Gabler’, which was certainly a minor coup, although not one really within the remit of either series.
In comparison though over the period from mid-1891 to the end of 1892, which was the main period of competition between the two series, Tauchnitz published Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, the Sherlock Holmes novel ‘A study in scarlet’ and ‘New Grub Street’ by George Gissing, as well as other works by Hardy, Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson and Frances Hodgson Burnett. There’s no clear winner in terms of either literary quality or popular appeal and the eventual withdrawal of Heinemann and Balestier was probably more to do with financial strength, or with the consequences of Balestier’s death.
Tauchnitz though had the huge advantage of a strong back catalogue of over 2500 volumes to support its new works. It had continuing sales of many titles by Dickens, Hardy, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Wilkie Collins and a host of other writers, most of which had been acquired for a single payment rather than continuing royalties. This must have been a daunting prospect for any competitor.
In terms of identifying first printings, the English Library books share some of the same complications as Tauchnitz. Copies surviving in the original wrappers can be dated by reference to the other books listed on the wrappers, but inevitably most surviving copies have been privately bound and the wrappers discarded. As with Tauchnitz the title page date is not a reliable indicator, often left as the date of first publication even on later reprints. The only evidence of reprints may be the presence of later-published titles by the same author listed on the half-title verso. By this evidence Kipling’s books in the series seem to have been reprinted frequently, and the first volume, ‘The light that failed’ is often seen with other, later titles listed. Given the relatively short life of the series though, many books may never have been reprinted.
One of the oddest features of the series is that as well as turning up in the usual variety of 19th century private bindings, English Library volumes are also found in several of the standard bindings used by Tauchnitz, so that they would have looked almost identical in the bookshops. The Todd & Bowden bibliography classes various generally ‘art nouveau’ bindings from the 1890s and 1900s as Tauchnitz publisher bindings in series x7. But as the same bindings exist on English Library volumes, they were presumably produced by a bookbinder independent of Tauchnitz, even if sold directly by the firm. Tauchnitz did not start its own in-house bindery until 1900.
Kipling’s ‘The light that failed’ in The English Library, alongside George du Maurier’s ‘Trilby’ in Tauchnitz
Other examples of ‘Tauchnitz style’ bindings on English Library volumes
By the end of 1892 the series was in decline, although it limped on for some time. It reached volume 199 by 1894, but the last title I have been able to identify is ‘The mystery of the sea’ by Bram Stoker, published as volumes 210 and 211 in 1903.
Even that was not the end, as sometime shortly after this, the rights to the back catalogue seem to have been acquired by the publisher F.A. Brockhaus, also in Leipzig, who had previously been the main wholesale distributor for the series. Reprints continued to appear under their imprint, sometimes combined with that of Heinemann & Balestier, right through almost until the Second World War, although only a small number of the titles were reissued. Most of the Kipling titles were reprinted by Brockhaus, but as time went on, it seems to have been really only ‘The jungle book’ together with ‘Three men in a boat’ that continued to sell. For these editions it is much easier to date them, as the title page is updated. With the decline in private bookbinding, they also mostly exist in paperbacks, usually with a bright cover illustrated with poppies.
Brockhaus reprints from 1928 (above) and 1921, 1922, 1924 and 1937 (below)
Writing a detective story with football as a background seems such a good idea that it’s surprising it hasn’t been done more often. Dick Francis, and before him Nat Gould, made an entire career writing crime stories based on horse racing, but football-themed crime stories seem thin on the ground.
There is though ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’, written by Leonard Gribble and first published by Harrap in 1939. It was made into a film later the same year and it’s perhaps the film that’s now better remembered than the book. My interest though comes neither from the film nor from the first printing of the book, but from its later issue as one of the early Services Editions for the British Armed Forces.
First though the story and its background. Arsenal were the dominant football team of the 1930s, winning the league title 5 times, including three consecutive wins in 1932-33, 1933-34 and 1934-35. They were managed by the great Herbert Chapman until his death in 1934 and from the 1934-35 season by George Allison. Both Chapman and Allison and many of the Arsenal team from those years would have been household names, as familiar as Jose Mourinho or Cristiano Ronaldo today. The story features all of them, with a significant role for the manager, George Allison, and the book starts with a page of autographs of all the team.
Without giving away any plot spoilers, the obvious difficulty is that real people featuring in a detective story can hardly be either the victim or the murderer (or the detective), and if they can’t be the murderer, it’s difficult to make them credible suspects either. So inevitably they have a limited role. To provide plenty of suspects, the author has to invent a fictional team for Arsenal to play against, and a more dysfunctional team you could hardly imagine, despite the author’s insistence that building the team has been a fantastic achievement.
Having been first published in 1939, just before the outbreak of war, ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ was an obvious candidate when the British Publishers’ Guild, an association of publishers, was looking for books that could be added to its series of Services Editions – paperbacks published for distribution to the armed forces. They wanted popular fiction, including crime fiction, and they wanted up-to-date books, preferably not previously published in paperback.
The first two books to be provided by Harrap were this one, published as volume S19 in the series, and ‘Murder at Wrides Park’ by J.S. Fletcher, published as volume S20, both books appearing in 1943. The print run was probably 50,000 copies of each book, but they are both almost impossible to find now. Even the reprint of ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ printed in a wider format by The Amalgamated Press (possibly another 50,000 copies?), with spare copies sold on by W.H. Smith after the war, has almost completely disappeared. The printing history on the reprint is not updated, so still says 1943, but it is certainly later, probably 1946. The narrow first printing, printed by C. Tinling & Co. Ltd., is like all early Services Editions exceptionally rare (although sadly, probably not very valuable). My copy was found only after almost thirty years of searching.
When I did find it though, it came with a letter written by the author, and dated some 15 years later. Leonard Gribble seems to be answering a letter that asked for information about the pseudonyms he wrote under. He refuses to answer, saying he is bound by contractual terms, but refers his correspondent to Who’s Who. The modern equivalent, Wikipedia, suggests he wrote under a series of names including Leo Grex, Piers Marlowe, Bruce Sanders, Dexter Muir, Sterry Browning, Louis Grey and Landon Grant. Few of his other works though achieved the success of ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’, and he came back to the idea of football themed mysteries in 1950, publishing ‘They kidnapped Stanley Matthews’, again featuring Anthony Slade as the detective.
If you spend some time looking for, or looking at, Tauchnitz Editions, it won’t be long before you come across one or two that are bound in vellum, with old albumen tourist photos of Italy bound in at various places throughout the text. They’re often attractively decorated on the front cover, sometimes very elaborately, and often still in relatively good condition for books that are well over 100 years old. Booksellers seem to have very little idea of how to value them, and I’ve seen them for sale at prices varying from two or three pounds to many hundreds of pounds.
From a book collector’s point of view they’re a nuisance. The same titles are found over and over again, almost all Italian-themed novels or travel books, almost always reprints and usually with the half-title page missing. Or anyway from my point of view, as someone who collects Tauchnitz first printings, they’re a nuisance. I guess there may be some book collectors who find them more interesting than the standard unadorned Tauchnitz editions. I assume most of the copies priced in the hundreds of pounds go unsold, but there may be some buyers out there to justify the high prices.
The most famous Tauchnitz collectors of all, William Todd and Ann Bowden, who compiled the Tauchnitz bibliography, did have some time for them, if only as a curiosity. Alongside their main Tauchnitz collection, which ended up at the British Museum, they put together a separate collection of the extra-illustrated editions, which is now at the Princeton University Library.
The books seem to have been produced and sold as travel souvenirs, to some extent almost as guide books, with tourists visiting the sites mentioned in the stories. Although produced in huge numbers, each book seems to be almost a one-off, with no two copies identical. The cover designs all seem to be slightly different, and the choice of photographs is always different too, as is the number of photographs, which can range up to almost 100. Did customers design their own book in some way, making their own choice of photographs and of design, possibly pasting photographs onto blank leaves inserted into the binding?
The choice of books though seems to be much more limited than the choice of designs. The most common title by far is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Transformation’, which has an alternative title of ‘The romance of Monte Beni’ on the title page but is often referred to as ‘The marble faun’ on the covers, the title by which the book is known in America. This book alone accounts for 37 of the 53 books in the Todd collection at Princeton, and there are around another 30 copies of it currently offered for sale on ABE, at prices ranging from £10 to £450.
The story of ‘The Marble Faun’ is set in Rome and it’s usually found illustrated with postcards of Rome. The next most common title, ‘Romola’ by George Eliot, is set in Florence and usually found illustrated by postcards of Florence. Other titles include ‘Pictures of old Rome’ by Frances Elliot, ‘The last days of Pompeii’ and ‘Rienzi’ both by Edward Bulwer Lytton, and ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ by Macaulay.
For Tauchnitz, the trade must have been a blessing, massively increasing sales of titles that might otherwise have sold relatively few copies. ‘Romola’ had been one of George Eliot’s least successful novels, when first issued in 1863, but probably ended up as one of Tauchnitz’s best selling titles after being taken up by the Italian tourist trade some 20 years later.
Not all of the Italian vellum bindings have postcards bound in. Some like the copy of ‘The divine comedy’ illustrated above, look similar externally, but have no photos. There is also another range of elaborate custom bindings, almost all on Italian themed books, that I’ll come back to another time.
One of the most intriguing titles to have been given the Italian travel souvenir treatment is ‘Childe Harold’s pilgrimage’ by Byron, which was issued in 1862 as the first book in the short series of Tauchnitz ‘Cabinet Editions’. These were, for Tauchnitz, ‘de-luxe’ editions in a smaller format than usual, nicely bound with gilt edges, and selling at a premium price. They were not a success. The series ran to only four titles, and most are now very difficult to find. Like ‘Romola’ and ‘Transformation’ though, ‘Childe Harold’ seems to have enjoyed a second opportunity when it was discovered by the Italian binders. Too small to have postcards inserted, it was nevertheless given a wide variety of vellum bindings and is now signficantly easier to find than the other volumes in the series.