English to the end

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.

EL 73 My Jo, John front wrapper

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 English Library blurb

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.

EL167 Kipling The Jungle Book Title Page and Frontispiece

The best-known and most successful title in The English Library

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.

Kipling The light that failed reprint title and half title

Although dated 1891, this copy advertises other volumes published later

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.

Jungle Book (EL 167) and 2nd Jungle Book (Tauchnitz)

Copies of Kipling’s ‘The jungle book’ in the English Library and ‘The second jungle book’ in the Tauchnitz Ediiton

 EL 1 Kipling The light that failed  Binding x7a on vol. 3026 du Maurier Trilby

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.

Three men in a boat Brockhaus 1928

Brockhaus reprints from 1928 (above) and 1921, 1922, 1924 and 1937 (below)

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Posted on June 18, 2016, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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