The Portuguese Albatross
In the 1930s, Albatross Books had been massively successful in selling English language novels in continental Europe. But by the end of the Second World War, Europe was a completely different place. Attempts to recreate the series in the new circumstances were doomed to failure. The market for English language novels could be more efficiently served by the cheap paperbacks that flooded in from Britain and from the US. In the end it was probably Penguin, that owed so much in concept and in design to Albatross, that was to kill off its own inspiration.
But if there was to be no future in selling English literature in the original language, what about English literature in translation? In the years from 1946 through to about 1950 there were various attempts to create new Albatross series in local languages. A small number of Albatross Books appeared in German, others in Swedish and Norwegian, in Portuguese and in Spanish.
Of these various series, the one that looked physically most similar to the classic Albatross design was the short Portugese series. It was produced in collaboration with Portugalia Editora, the local publishers who were also the post-war distribution partners for Albatross in Portugal and in Brazil. As far as I can tell, only three books ever appeared, although more were clearly planned. A leaflet launching the series explains the colour scheme that would apply, as with other Albatross books – red for crime and adventure, blue for love stories, green for travel and so on. Only yellow and red seem in practice to have been used.
In typically enthusiastic style, the leaflet reports that the books would be rigorously selected by a committee in London from amongst the works of leading contemporary novelists and assigned to the best translators. The first book was to be ‘Myra Carrol’ by Noel Streatfeild, a book that had earlier appeared in the Albatross series as volume 572 in 1947. The exact date of the Portuguese publication is not entirely clear, but my best guess would be 1948 or 1949.
Surprisingly the next two books to appear had not already been published in the English language series. ‘Died in the wool’ by Ngaio Marsh was translated as ‘Um cadáver na lã’ (which I suspect loses some of the nuance) and ‘The case of the constant suicides’ by John Dickson Carr appeared as ‘O caso dos suicidios’. I’m not sure why these books took precedence over the many other crime novels that had already been published by Albatross in English, but it may have been to do with rights for translation, or perhaps even the availability and preferences of translators.
And that it seems was that. I’ve seen these books several times, but never any other Portuguese Albatross books, so I suspect the series ended there, presumably because of poor sales. Albatross had other problems anyway, so may not have had the time, the money or the inclination to continue.