It’s a wrap
I have no idea when the first wrap-around bands for books were introduced. But I do know that Tauchnitz were already using them by 1926, so their history is certainly a long one. They typically feature a short blurb about the book or a quote from a review, and are presumably intended to make the book stand out in the shop display. Just another marketing tool, but as they’re still used today, I suppose they must be reasonably effective.
The earliest band I’ve seen on a Tauchnitz book is from August 1926. It exists for volume 4743, ‘The secret that was kept’ by Elizabeth Robins, and it’s in full wrap-around style, glued together at the back. The book can only be opened by either slipping the band up and over the top of the book or by tearing it. Presumably most people tore it off and discarded it. Even those readers who carefully removed it without tearing, would hardly be tempted to put it back on later, so again would end up throwing it away. It’s surprising really that any of them have survived.
But one careful owner of a selection of books I bought a few years ago, slipped the bands in between the pages of the books, perhaps using them as bookmarks, and preserved them. Some are torn, others intact, but overall they’re in surprisingly good condition. I have eight of them, for books published between August 1926 and July 1929. The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions records one other known band in this style, so nine in total are known, but it’s possible that they existed for all 150 or so books published over this period. An alternative is that they were only used to boost sales on slower-selling volumes, but in this case it seems unlikely that they would have been so clearly dated. All the bands in this style are in white, and wrapped around an off white paperback would not have stood out particularly well.
So it was a natural next step to introduce coloured bands, which happened from around February 1930. With this change came also a change in format, so that the band was tucked in under the front and back covers, rather than glued at the back. Crucially this change meant that the book could be opened without removing the band. This allowed prospective buyers to open and look at the book in the shop, without taking the band off. If they were careful enough, they might even be able to leave it on while reading the book. Of course most were still removed and discarded, but more of these later bands survive. They’re mostly on books that were never read, which is the fate of many copies. Few buyers are so uninterested in a book that they will not even want to pick it up and flick through it, which involves taking off a full wrap-around band, but many buyers never get round to reading their book, so a tucked-in band has a better chance of survival.
The colours of the bands were not random. They were coded to indicate the genre of the book – red for crime and humour, blue for ‘serious’ books, yellow for novels and short stories of adventure, social life or historical novels, and green for love stories. The colour-coding seems to have been the brainchild of Max Christian Wegner, then Managing Director of Tauchnitz. Two years later, by then in charge of the rival Albatross Books, he developed the idea further, using the entire paperback cover for colour coding by genre, a practice also taken up by Penguin when it launched in 1935.
At Tauchnitz the colour-coded bands continued for over four years, through to mid 1934, at which point the firm more or less collapsed into the arms of Albatross. I’m aware of surviving bands for around 20 volumes, but again they may have been used on all the more than 200 volumes published over that period. The bands did their bit to brighten up the rather drab Tauchnitz books, but they were still unable to compete against the more colourful Albatross volumes.
After mid 1934 the two series were managed jointly by the Albatross management team and Tauchnitz fell into line with the Albatross practice of colour-coded covers with dustwrappers, but no wrap-around bands.
But it wasn’t quite the end of the story. After the end of the war, a number of attempts were made to revive both Tauchnitz and Albatross, one of which involved a short series of 40 volumes published from Stuttgart under the Tauchnitz brand from 1952 to 1955. Dustwrappers on paperbacks had by then gone rather out of fashion and wrap-around bands were again used. As ever, it’s impossible to verify that all volumes were issued with bands, but many of them may have been, with again only a small number surviving.