I’ve been collecting UK Services Editions for around thirty years. I can remember the moment I started, when I was looking for something else and came across a couple of Guild Books Services Editions in the Hay Cinema bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. I can remember other important moments along the way as well, when I suddenly found one I’d been particularly looking for, or found a whole batch of Services Editions together. After thirty years, I have put together a collection of around 400 different titles, but there are probably about 500 altogether, so I still have 100 to find. And I’ve ground to a halt. Almost nothing new for a couple of years now.
So I need help. I should say that the books are certainly rare, but sadly not very valuable, at least in monetary terms. Most of the copies I have, cost me no more than two or three pounds each. A few were more expensive, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that I’d have wanted to buy, but didn’t because it was overpriced. The problem is not that I can’t afford to buy copies that come up for sale. The problem is more that when copies turn up, they’re more likely to be thrown away as worthless, rather than even offered for sale.
These are thin paperbacks, printed on poor quality wartime paper (sometimes apparently made from barley, instead of esparto grass, which was more or less unobtainable in wartime) and often in poor condition, tattered and written on. But there is no collection of them in the British Library, or the Imperial War Museum, or the Bodleian Library. Collins, who published over 150 of them, have no record of them in their archives. There is not even a comprehensive list of what exists, so far as I know, although I’m doing my best to compile one. I have come across one other collector interested in them, but that’s it. I really feel that if I can’t find the remaining titles, they will be lost forever.
The longest series of Services Editions came from Guild Books. They’re very recognisable, as ‘Services Edition’ is scrawled right across the front of the covers, but they do come in two different formats, narrow and wide, as illustrated below. The wide format ones are all from 1946 and are mostly reprints, although not marked as such, so are of less interest, although there are a few I’m looking for – ‘Death in the doll’s house’, ‘Those Sinning girls’, ‘Men of Branber’ and ‘The pursuit of love’.
I still need far more of the narrow format Guild Books editions. They’re too many to list, and in many cases I don’t even know the titles. But any narrow format book dated 1943, many dated 1944 and almost any with red covers are difficult to find, and there’s a fair chance I’m looking for them.
The other long series came from Collins and are less easy to spot. They’re distinguished from other Collins White Circle paperbacks by having ‘Services Edition’ printed on the cover, but this is often quite small and easily overlooked. There are still fifty or sixty I’m looking for, particularly any dated 1943 or 1944 and any yellow westerns of whatever date.
Between them those two series account for almost 400 titles and the other series are relatively short. I have all the red-striped Hutchinson editions and all the Penguin Services Editions (although Penguin Forces Book Club editions are always welcome). I’m a bit less sure what exists from Hammond, Hammond & Co., Nicholson & Watson and Methuen, but I may well have all of these too. But there are certainly more of the H&S Services Yellow Jackets than I’ve been able to find, including ‘Greenmantle’, ‘Riders of the plains’ and ‘The range boss’.
Perhaps slightly outside the strict definition of Services Editions, I’m also keen to find copies of the Hutchinson ‘Free Victory Gift’ paperbacks, almost any of them, but certainly including ‘Feud at Silver Bend’, ‘Amazing Spectacles’, ‘The banner of the bull’, ‘Further adventures of Dr. Syn’, ‘Team work’, ‘The gentle knight’, ‘Contraband’, ‘Crime at Crooked Gables’ and ‘Keep it dark’.
And finally, the rarest of them all, in my experience, are the Indian editions, produced for the Army and the RAF in India and South East Asia. Around 40 different titles were produced for this series, but I have only been able to find copies of five, and I know of no other collection of them anywhere.
So I need help. If you have any of these books that you can offer to me, or can point me in the direction of where I might find some, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me through the ‘About Al’ page. And if you have hard-to-find books you’re searching for yourself, do let me know, particularly if they’re paperbacks.