Monthly Archives: May 2018
Methuen were a relative latecomer to the ‘sixpenny’ market established by Penguin in 1935. Other companies had reacted much more quickly, so by the time Methuen finally launched their new series in 1939, it was a crowded market. The Collins White Circle series was well established by then, as was the Hutchinson Pocket Library, and many other series too. All of these new series shared the key elements of the Penguin revolution – same size, same price, standard designed covers without cover illustration, and dustwrappers in the same design as the book cover.
Several of them also shared the idea of using a bird as their logo – Jackdaw Books, Toucan Books and Wren Books had already joined Penguin and Pelican. So for Methuen to choose a Kingfisher as their logo, as well as copying all the other elements that had become standard, was hardly breaking the mould. At least they didn’t call their series Kingfisher Books, settling instead for Methuen’s Sixpennies.
The series launched with the first four books in April 1939, although the list of titles on the back cover of the books already anticipated a roll-out of books up to number 14. In practice further batches of four books appeared in each of May 1939, June 1939 and July 1939, taking the series up to sixteen books, before it paused. There was nothing more for a full year, until another batch of four titles appeared, dated August 1940.
By this time of course the war was well under way and paper rationing was starting to bite. The effects of it are seen in the abandoning of dustwrappers, and the limiting of the length of the books to 192 pages. Pre-war issues had up to 320 pages and looked generally much bulkier. The wartime books have smaller type, smaller margins and thinner paper as well, so look meagre in comparison. The August 1940 batch are also coloured a pale yellow on the cover, although later titles revert to the pre-war white.
There were twelve more titles to come, published in three batches of four, in January, February and March 1941. Other than going back to white on the cover, they follow the same format as the 1940 issues and all are limited to 192 pages. The final eight books resort to advertising for ‘Shadphos’ tonic tablets (‘commonly known as “brain sparklers”‘!) on the back cover, rather than a list of other titles.
The selection of titles published in the series is generally middlebrow – the type of book that could easily have been published by Penguin. There are titles by Arnold Bennett and A.P. Herbert, Jack London, P.G. Wodehouse and Marjorie Bowen. Indeed all of these authors did, sooner or later, have books published by Penguin. There’s a good range of crime titles and thrillers too, if not by the very best known crime writers – they had mostly been snapped up by Collins. Authors such as Sax Rohmer, George A. Birmingham, Walter S. Masterman and E. Phillips Oppenheim were popular though in their day and still attract some interest today. And then there’s a single Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Overall from a selection of only thirty-two books, that’s not a bad list. It seems unlikely that the series failed because the books weren’t good enough. In the end it probably failed just because of bad timing – three years earlier and it might have succeeded. But launching in April 1939 into a crowded market, just before war and paper rationing were about to hit, was about the worst timing possible.
At the end of Part 1, I left the story in 1882 after Hardy’s first five novels had been published in the Tauchnitz series in two volumes each. His next novel, ‘Two on a Tower’, published that year in the UK, followed in the Tauchnitz Edition in 1883.
For the previous novel, Hardy seems to have considered leaving Tauchnitz to return to the Asher’s Series, but with that unpleasantness behind him, he now expresses full confidence in the firm in a letter of 12 December 1882. The price offered returns again though to the lower level of £40, earlier paid for ‘Far from the madding crowd’. ‘Two on a tower’ appears in two volumes in February 1883, as volumes 2118 and 2119 of the Tauchnitz series.
Tauchnitz at this point also asks Hardy to name a price for two of his earlier novels, ‘Desperate remedies’ and ‘A pair of blue eyes’. The first of these never appears in the Tauchnitz series, but ‘A pair of blue eyes’ does appear the following year as volumes 2282 and 2283 of the series. The first printing is dated September 1884 in paperback and copies in hardback should list only 6 other Hardy titles on the half-title verso of the second volume.
Front and rear wrappers of a rare first printing paperback copy of vol. 2283
After this though there’s a long gap before publication of anything further by Hardy in the Tauchnitz series. Between 1884 and 1891, Hardy publishes ‘The mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘The Woodlanders’ and ‘Wessex Tales’ in the UK, but none of these appear in continental editions. It’s not until August 1891, with publication of ‘A group of noble dames’ that Hardy is taken up again. This collection of short stories appears in a single volume as volume 2750, shortly after its UK publication.
The more significant event of 1891 though is the publication of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ in serial form in the UK publication ‘The Graphic’. Tauchnitz seems to realise quickly that this is a major work and pays Hardy £100 for the continental rights, a significant increase on earlier payments. The book appears in January 1892 as volumes 2800 and 2801 of the Tauchnitz Edition, shortly after UK publication in book form at the end of 1891. The first printing lists 8 other Hardy titles, from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘A group of noble dames’, on the back of the half-title of volume 2. There are multiple reprints, listing different numbers of titles (usually between 9 and 12) on the half-title of either volume 1 or volume 2, over the next 40 years.
First printing copy of Tess of the D‘Urbervilles, volume 2 in original wrappers
Another collection of short stories, ‘Life’s Little Ironies’ is published in a single volume in May 1894 as volume 2985, before the appearance of ‘Jude the Obscure’ in early 1896. This is again in two volumes as volumes 3105 and 3106, only very shortly after UK publication and dated January 1896 on the first printing in paperback. Hardback copies are even harder than usual to date. They should certainly list ten other Hardy titles in the first printing, but should also show ‘Printing Office of the Publisher’ at the back (page 296 in volume 1). Copies that instead show ‘Printed by Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig’ are much later reprints, even if they list only ten, or even fewer, titles.
First printing copy of Jude the Obscure, volume 1 in original wrappers
After ‘Jude’, Hardy gave up on novel writing and concentrated on poetry, although it’s not entirely clear whether that was because of the critical reception and the controversy generated by his last novel. He wrote a handful of further short stories and in 1913 a collection of short stories was published in the UK under the title ‘A Changed Man and other tales’. Tauchnitz as usual bought the continental rights, but rather than publishing it as a single two-volume work, obtained Hardy’s agreement to use two different titles. The first seven stories were published in volume 4458 as ‘A Changed Man … ‘, dated December 1913, and the other five stories appeared under the title ‘The romantic adventures of a Milkmaid’ in volume 4461, dated January 1914.
It’s worth noting that six of the twelve stories had originally been published before 1891 and were no longer under international copyright protection by this point. In line with the practice that had originally made the reputation of Tauchnitz, there was no attempt to capitalise on this. Hardy received an advance of £30 on each volume, with an agreement to pay a further £10 for every additional 1000 copies sold over 3000.
In terms of the main Tauchnitz series, that was that. Nine novels, in two volumes each and four volumes of short stories, adding up to 22 volumes, published over a period of almost 40 years. Other than a few verses in a later student textbook, Tauchnitz never published any of Hardy’s poetry.
The full set of Hardy volumes in Tauchnitz, in the usual ragged selection of bindings
During the First World War, when Tauchnitz could publish almost no new works, they did publish a short volume reprinting an excerpt from ‘Life’s little ironies’. After the war there were also two schools volumes of excerpts from his work (volumes 4 and 20 in the Students Series, Neue Folge’), and another selection again after the Second World War (volume 8 of the Tauchnitz Students’ Series, published from Hamburg). But these were just postscripts in the long collaboration between publisher and author, from 1876 to 1914.
In the early 1870s, when Thomas Hardy’s first novels were published, the Tauchnitz Editions were well established as the leading continental publisher of English language novels, but their position was not uncontested. The Berlin bookseller Adolf Asher started a rival series in 1872 and for the next few years the market was fiercely contested between the two publishers. The ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ tried to tempt away as many established authors as it could from Tauchnitz and of course tried to identify and sign up the most promising new authors.
Some authors, including notably George Eliot, were able to play one publisher off against the other and for a few years did very well out of it. Hardy seems to have been less successful. He was certainly not an established author when the Asher series launched and hardly even seems to have been identified as a promising new author.
But ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, published anonymously in 1872, had some success, and attracted the attention of Asher, who published it as volume 53 of the Asher’s Collection in 1873 (under Hardy’s own name). Sales were probably disappointing as neither Asher nor Tauchnitz rushed to publish Hardy’s subsequent novels. ‘Far from the madding crowd’, published in the UK in 1874, seems to have been ignored at first by both publishers.
It was Hardy himself who took the initiative to approach Tauchnitz, writing to them on 2 April 1876, after suggesting to his UK publisher that it might be useful to enter the Tauchnitz list as ‘a sort of advertisement for future works’. Tauchnitz was happy to oblige, but as usual wanted to publish the latest work, rather than bringing out one of the author’s previous novels. By 22 May, Tauchnitz was sending Hardy a cheque for £50 and an agreement to publish ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, which then appeared in two volumes as volumes 1593 and 1594 of the series in June 1876 – less than three months after the initial approach.
A damaged copy of the first printing of ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, vol. 1, dated June 1876
Emboldened by this success, Hardy pressed on, with further letters on 20th September and 22 October 1876, suggesting that Tauchnitz might follow up by publishing ‘Far from the madding crowd’. Tauchnitz agreed, but was clearly in no hurry, and was not willing to pay the same £50 fee. Noting that ‘you will be perhaps kind enough to consider that the book is not a new one and thereby has not the charm of novelty’, he proposed to reduce the fee to £40. ‘A new work of the usual length would be entitled to the same sum as for ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, he went on.
Hardy accepted. but even so, the book did not appear until early 1878, again in two volumes, as volumes 1722 and 1723. There is no recorded remaining copy of the first volume in its original wrappers, which would be dated March 1878, although a single copy of volume 2 survives at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.
As usual with Tauchnitz paperbacks from the 19th Century, copies rebound in hard bindings are easier to find, but harder to date. First printing copies should certainly list only one other Hardy title (‘The hand of Ethelberta’) on the back of the half-title of volume 1. It can’t be said with confidence that copies meeting this condition are first printings, but it’s certainly the case that any copies listing more titles are not first printings.
When Hardy shortly afterwards came out with a new novel, ‘The return of the native’, Tauchnitz was perhaps honour bound, not only to publish it, but to pay the higher fee of £50. It appeared early in 1879 as volumes 1796 and 1797 (paperback first printing dated January 1879, hardback first printing distinguished by the list of the only two earlier Hardy titles at the front of volume 2).
But still it seems that continental sales were disappointing and the upper hand in the negotiations remained with Tauchnitz. When Hardy offered ‘The Trumpet-Major’ to Tauchnitz in January 1880, he was disappointed by the offer of £50, but Tauchnitz would go no higher, noting that he was still carrying a combined loss of around £112 on the three earlier published novels. With the benefit of hindsight, we don’t need to feel too sorry for Tauchnitz – both ‘Far from the madding crowd’ and ‘The return of the native’ were still in print over 50 years later and amongst the company’s best selling books, so we can be pretty sure that he eventually turned a profit.
Hardy must have been considering a return to the Asher’s series, at that time enjoying a renaissance under the ownership of a new publisher, Grädener & Richter. But Tauchnitz issued a barely veiled threat. If he were to go elsewhere ‘I shall very much regret it – the more as it is a principle with me now, if an author gives a book of his into other hands for the Continent, not to issue also any of his future books’.
Hardy did not defect, although it is worth noting that Tauchnitz did accept back others who did. ‘The Trumpet-Major’ eventually appeared as volumes 1951 and 1952 in January 1881 and just over a year later, Tauchnitz was not only happy to accept ‘The Laodicean’ for publication, but asked to put a value on the work, offered an increased fee of £60. It appeared as volumes 2053 and 2054 of the Tauchnitz series in April 1882. As the fifth Hardy novel to appear it showed four other novels (from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘The Trumpet-Major’) on the back of the half-title in first printing.
So after his first decade as a published novelist, Hardy had five novels and a total of ten volumes in print in the Tauchnitz Edition. For a novelist whose works had frequently been controversial that represented both success and respectability of a sort. I’ll come back to the publication history of his later novels in a second post. (Follow this link for Part 2).